Some time ago I gave you some snippets from the Food Journal Vol. I, (London, 1871) and I have been dipping into it again. It is the journal that just keeps on giving. One article that caught my eye was on frogs, and the French predilection for them as a gourmet item, and the second brief story was on the African manatee. I bet not many of you have eaten manatee. Apparently it tastes like pork.
First, on frogs, the 1871 English view:
We believe that the notion that Frenchmen live principally on frogs, is somewhat discredited in England at present; but the following would go to show that the creed of our grandfathers is not altogether without foundation even at the present day:—" The exportation of frogs to France," says the Echo du Luxembourg, "has developed considerably of late. A man named 'B.,' of Vance, has forwarded 200,000 in the last three weeks; on Thursday he sent off 30,000. They are chiefly sent to Rheims, Nancy, and Paris. A thousand frogs fetch 13fr. (10s. 6d.), and weigh 50 kilogrammes (1 cwt.). They enter France duty free. At Rheims 25 pairs of frogs' legs can be bought for sixty centimes (6d.). The thighs, as everyone knows, make delicious joints (des succulents rolis) with white sauce and in a fricassée. They are thus a dish by no means to be despised. But the rest of the body, and the skin—the sticky, slimy skin—what is done with that? Why, they make turtle soup of it! Yes, that savoury mork turfle (sic!), over which the gourmands lick their lips, has for its chief foundation the animals which haunt the marshes and the fields of Luxembourg. The autumn and the spring are the best time of year for frogs."
Secondly, part of the article on the manatee:
The Manatee. … Indeed, the manatee seems nowhere to have been common; and until the missionaries at Old Calabar sent home a few skulls, it was one of the rarest creatures in museums. Dr. Vogel only got one specimen, and Dr. Balfour Baikie found a head in a Dju-dju, or sacred heap, near a miserable village on one of the interminable dreary creeks at the mouth of the Niger. It is a royal perquisite, like the sturgeon in Britain, and is generally taken to the chief's table; but none of my missionary friends seem to have tasted it. Dr. Vogel, however, speaks of it as very good, its flesh and fat being like pork, and very well flavoured. There is no reason why it should not be so. It is herbivorous, feeding on sea weeds when in the sea, and on grass, etc., when in the rivers or marshes. It reaches i o ft. in length, and becomes very fat. We know, too, that its near relative, the now extinct Rhytina Stelleri, during the short period which elapsed between man's discovery of it, and his eating it off the face of the earth (it was discovered in 1741, and the last survivor was consumed in 1768), supplied a large store of what is described as most excellent food to the whalers who annually wintered at Bearing's Island, where they congregated in numbers for the purpose of economising their stores, and feeding on the fresh supplies which that animal afforded. A similar fate probably awaits the manatee, although its wider distribution no doubt gives it a longer day.
I could find no recipes for manatee, no doubt it is cooked like pork, but perhaps it is protected – I hope. I have frogs for you however.
Grenouilles Frites, or Fried Frogs.
Use only the hind-quarters of the frogs. After washing them in warm water, soak well; then put them into cold vinegar with a little salt, and let them remain one or two hours, after which throw them into scalding water, and remove the skin without tearing the flesh. Wipe them dry, dust flour on them and fry in butter or sweet oil, with plenty of chopped parsley.When brown, dust pepper and a little salt over them, and garnish with crisped parsley. Stewed frogs are seasoned with butter, wine, beaten eggs and parsley chopped fine.
La Cuisine Creole (New Orleans, 1883) by Lafcadio Hearne.