Thursday, November 29, 2012

Secrets of Meat Keeping and Meat Cooking.

Today we continue trolling the cyber-pages of Eighteen Books Of the Secrets Of Art & Nature, Being the Summe and Substance of Naturall Philosophy, Methodically Digested … (1661) by John Wecker (I love you, Google books.)

At peak holiday and entertaining times, we all struggle with refrigerator space. Imagine the challenge of keeping meat for more than a day or two in warm weather in the olden days. Olden day cookery books abound with hints on how to preserve flesh and how to retrieve it when it was already putrefied. Our source of the day has some comments and ideas.

To keep flesh long uncorrupted.
It is reported that in the Mountains of West-India, flesh is kept so long uncorrupted that is beyond belief, for near the City Cuzcum, Horses having been killed above four Moneths, will be as fresh and without any ill sent, as if they were but newly killed. I suppose the cause to be not only the cold, which though it be exceeding great here, yet in greater cold flesh will not be preserved so long. Wherefore I conceive that the Ayr is thin and brackish, may be the flesh of itself conduceth something thereto. For flesh corrupts sooner in Water than in the Ayr because the Ayr is thiner, if all other things be alike. And again by the fame reason flesh Will keep longer if you fasten a brass Nail into it, because the force of the Brimstone dryeth it.

The final hint is repeated elsewhere in the text, without the explanation of the force of the brimstone.

To keep flesh from corrupting.
If a Nail of Brass be stuck into Hogs or Crows flesh, Plutarch saith, That by its astringent faculty and drying, it will keep their flesh long uncorrupted. Those that dig forth Mettals know this by certain experience by abiding in the Mines; and Langius saith, That he that shall enquire after it may here be satisfied of it.

Of course, the rationale for ‘hanging’ meat and game is that it tenderises the flesh (and improves the flavour.) If, back in 1601, it was time to kill an elderly, hard-working farm beast, the flesh would have been far too valuable to used as pet food, but would surely have been expected to be very tough? I wonder if the following hint would have worked?

That flesh may soon grow tender.
The flesh of Cattle that are slain will soon grow tender and soft, that are hung in a Figtree. Plutarch in his Symposiacks demands the reason of it. For faith he, when a Cook had amongst the Meats of Ariston had offered a dunghill Cock, in sacrifice to Hercules, that was, fresh, tender, and would even break in pieces, Ariston said, the Figtree made it tender so soon, affirming that all Birds be they never so tough will grow tender by hanging in a Figtree. The reason he gives is this, That the Figtree sends forth a vapour that is strong and digesting, and thereby flesh is digested and concocted. The same is done by laying them into an heap of Wheat, and cover them all over with it.

If it was still suspected to be tough after its allotted time in the fig tree, then it could still be rescued in the kitchen:

That old flesh may sooner by boyled and wax tender.
Monks Rheubarb*, some call it patience, (it is a plant with a great top, and large long leaves, and the stalk is red when it is ripe, and the root yellow,) boyl this with flesh, and it makes them tender and more fit to be eaten.

*Rumex patientia, or Patience Dock: a member of the Dock family, related to, but not the same as the rhubarb used for pies.

Finally, on another meat-tack altogether: have you ever bought mince for bolognese, then wished for pot roast instead? You could have solved this problem a few hundred years ago by using the instructions given below. This is definitely not recommended today as Comfrey can be dangerous when taken internally due to its high alkaloid content, which can induce liver failure. 

That flesh cut in pieces may grow together again.
The roots of Comphrey that are black without and white within, and glewey, if they be boyled with chopt Meat, will soon make them grow together again, as if they had never been cut.


Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Good grief, I never knew comfrey was so dangerous!

I am fascinated by how our ancestors kept and stored perishables. I once met a guy who had been the surveyor for a hotel that was being built in Camden, London. While they were digging the foundations they broke through into the caverns by the canal, which had been used in 19th century to store the ice that was imported from Canada. I think the clue should have been in the fact that they were building by The Ice Wharf and it shouldn't have been such a surprise!

Shay said...

I love Google Books too...they're a great way to avoid work!

I'm going to have to go look for this one.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Marmaduke Scarlet: Yes, comfrey can be dangerous when taken internally in sufficient quantitY. I am fascinated by the idea of I importing/exporting ice. I read recently of importing ice to India in the 19th C - what a task!