Monday, July 30, 2012

Mermaid Pie.

There was a great deal of interest in mermaids in the seventeenth century. Sailors and coastal inhabitants reported sightings of the strange creatures, showmen exhibited cannily crafted specimens for a suitable fee, and the clergy discussed whether or not they had souls.

If it could be determined that merfolk had souls, then eating them would have been an act of cannibalism, and a great sin. I don’t know if the clerics of the time ever satisfactorily settled the debate, but a cook of the time certainly had some fun with the idea. Common belief was that human flesh tasted like pork, so if one wanted to simulate cooked mermaid, it would make sense to use that animal as the substitute.

Mermaid pie had its brief time in the culinary limelight in the seventeenth century. The recipe appeared in several cookery books of the time, and then disappeared, apparently forever. I like to think that the cook who invented the concept had a sense of humour, and wanted to give his guests a momentary frisson of horror and disbelief when the dish was revealed. I certainly hope that a slight persisting sense of naughtiness added piquancy to what would otherwise have been a fairly standard seventeenth century pig pie.

Take a Pig, scald it, and bone it; and having dried it well with a Cloath, season it with beaten Nutmeg, Pepper, and chop’d Sage; then take two Neats-Tongues; when dried and cold after boiling, and slice them in lengths, and as thick as a Half-Crown, and lay a quarter of your Pig in a square or round Pye, and the slices of the Tongue on it; then another quarter, and more Tongue: and thus do four times double, and lay over all these some slices of Bacon, scatter a few Cloves, put in some pieces of Butter and Bay-leaves, then bake it; and when it is so, fill it up with pieces of sweet Butter, and make your Past white of the Butter and Flower. This Pig, or Mermaid-Pye, so called, is to be eaten cold.
The family dictionary, or, Houshold [sic] companion …(1695) by William Salmon.

Quotation for the Day.

Men may come and men may go ..... but Pie goes on for ever.
            George Augustus Sala, 'America Revisited' (1882)

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