Posts on offal often elicit strong comments and emails, and I don’t think it is any surprise to say that the subject polarises cooks and diners. In times past, folk were not so squeamish, and there was no question of discarding any form of good animal protein when a beast was butchered.
From the mid-eighteenth century, virtually every significant cookery book had several recipes for brains. The earliest recipe I have found so far is:
To make Brain-cakes.
Take a handful of bread - crumbs, a little shred lemon - peel, pepper, salt, nutmeg, sweet-marjorum, parsley shred fine, and the yolks of three eggs; take the brains and skin them, boil and chop them small, so mix them all together; take a little butter in your pan when you fry them, and drop them in as you do fritters, and if they run in your pan put in a handful more of bread-crumbs.
English Housewifry, exemplified in above four hundred and fifty receipts,
giving directions in most parts of cookery (1764) by Elizabeth Moxon.
A similar recipe from a few decades later is a little more graphic in its description of the sourcing and preparation of the brains:
To Make Brain Cakes.
When the head is cloven, take out the brains; take out any strings that may be amongst them, and cast them well with a knife; then put in a little raw egg, a scrape of nutmeg, and a little salt, and mix them with flour to make them stick together; cast them smooth; then drop them like biscuits into a pan of boiling butter, and fry them on both sides a fine brown.
Lambs brains are done in the same manner.
Cookery and Pastry (1789) by Susan MacIver
Brain balls or cakes were a common accompaniment and side-dish:
Brain Balls, or cakes, are a very elegant addition, [to Mock Turtle Soup] and are made by boiling the brains for ten minutes, then putting them in cold water, and cutting them into pieces about as big as a large nutmeg; take Savory, or Lemon-thyme dried and finely powdered, nutmeg grated, and pepper and salt ,and pound them all together; beat up an egg, dip the brains in it, and then roll them in this mixture, and make as much of it as possible stick to them, and dip them in the egg again, and then in finely grated and sifted bread crumbs, fry them in hot fat, and send them up as a side dish.
The Cook’s Oracle (1827) by Dr.William Kitchiner
Brain-Balls and Cakes for Made-Dishes.
These may be made either for lamb’s or calf’s-head by the same process. Clear the brains of all the fibres and skins that hang about them, and having scalded them, beat them up in a basin with the yolks of two eggs, a spoonful of bread-crumbs, another of flour, a little grated lemon-peel, and a small dessert-spoonful of finely-shred parsley, and if for calf’s-head, a little shred sage and thyme. Put seasonings to the mixture, and a large spoonful of melted butter , and dropping the batter in small cakes, fry them in lard of an amber colour. They may either be served as a garnishing, or as a small side dish to accompany a dressed calf ’s-head or lamb’s-head.
The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1829) by Margaret Dods (pseud.)
The final recipe in my little series on brains provides a little mystery …
When soup is served, they are very delicate in it; make them with equal quantities of bread or vegetables and suet, and season a little higher than the soup; test as other farces. Any chitterlings of meat or fish, particularly skate, may be served in these turtles [i.e mock turtle soups], prepared as for the real.
If there is more farce than what is necessary, roll it in large quenelles, and served dobbed fried potatoes with them in a brown ragout; or a little of the turtle sauce, with coriander powder.
The cook ought always to think of saving herself trouble, by making nice dishes of every little thing, and at all times double the quantity of farce may be made, without any additional trouble.
Domestic Economy, and Cookery, for Rich and Poor (1827) by Maria Eliza Rundell
I had not previously heard or read of ‘dobbed’ fried potatoes. Searching the usual sources and references for the word only turns up examples from Mrs Rundell’s book:
“the beef being dobbed with bacon”
“dobbed with large seasoned lard”
“[tongue] … the lesser ones slit, and a wedge of nice white bacon put into them, or dobbed.”
“the tongue dobbed through”
“the rump, after being pickled, may be boned, farced, and dobbed through and through, with lard an inch thick”
“tongues dobbed through with bacon”
“lamb sweetbreads dobbed with ham”
The Oxford English Dictionary gives ‘dob’ as a variant of ‘dab’ (and presumably ‘daub’) and gives several meanings, including this one:
“To smear with fat or grease (Now spec. to do this to leather.)”
Mrs Rundell is clearly using ‘to dob’ as meaning ‘to lard’ – but I do not know how one could lard a potato as one can lard a large piece of beef or tongue. Perhaps she is indicating potatoes cooked with bacon? Or stuffed with bacon? I also cannot understand what is meant by “dobbed” in conjunction with “fried,” and as usual, welcome your comments.
As an aside, the OED also gives two other uses of the verb ‘to dob’ which could be applied in a culinary sense, although they do not fit the recipe above:
“To cut off the comb and wattles of (a cock).”
“To place good wares in the upper part of a basket and inferior beneath” [an ancient usage of the word]