Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Helping of Hippo.

It is some considerable time since I gave you a story on exotic meat, so I hope you enjoy today’s little offering.
The Times of London of August 20, 1930 carried a rather tongue-in-cheek article on the suggestion, by “an American with vision,” that a hippopotamus-meat industry be established in the United States. I give you the article in its entirety:-

A Helping of Hippo.
An American with vision is suggesting that more use might profitably be made of the hippopotamus. He sees no reason why the Great Lakes and the Mississippi should not house their share of such commodious monsters, and thinks any initial difficulties about temperature could be overcome with a little science on man’s part and a little forbearance from the hippopotami. The great advantage claimed is the amount of meat that will be available. There is a lot on a hippopotamus, and housewives who have long ago decided that chickens yield too little meat for the price and that cheese is the best value will have to revise their views about the butcher’s shop. The part of the hippopotamus which would make crackling if he were roasted like his relative the sucking pig might present some difficulties had not the chewing gum habit fortunately prepared the way and spread through the States a habit of patient mastication. Those who have delighted to jeer at the narrow lives that were spent with a single flavour in the mouth must regret their abuse today and recognize that the chewers were pioneers. America may not be able to spread westward any longer, but there is still the call for the pioneering spirit, and nowhere more than in the field of dietetics.
The time has come to change gears and move into a stronger and more spacious range of foods. -Something better suited to be food for record-breaking men than the mediocre sheep or cow can surely be devised with the help of modern science. In every direction of human achievement – be it tree-sitting or remaining in the air in an aeroplane – the records that have been set up seem to be about as much as human endurance can stand. There does not seem to be very much room for advance, at the present level of human capacity. If it is really desired that these records shall be broken as repeatedly as possible – and there can be no two opinions about that – more care will have to be given to food. Men are proverbially what they eat, and the present records might in fairness to their holders be classified as the records for men reared on the present meats and vegetables. But there is nothing to suggest that a general movement towards a stronger menu will not yield exceedingly rich rewards in the record field. Nor does any creature suggest brighter hopes in this direction than the hippo. So many animals which might make powerful vicarious contributions to the world’s records do not get any chance to do so. They are only eaten during emergencies, by people accustomed to other meats just because they are not available. But it is plainly no valid test. The besieged citizen who eats a rat or a cat, the explorer who eats a hyena or a crocodile, do not come with fresh minds to their meals and do not make sufficient allowance for the deadening influence of habit. It is probable that a new start were made and children were given a new animal diet from infancy there would be few complaints. At any rate the complaints would be no louder than are habitually produced and disregarded in the manner of rice pudding and its near relatives. The gain would be one to make all cooks glad, for the truth is that our present meats do not satisfactorily fill the week. All the cunning in the world cannot disguise the way the sheep, the cow, and the pig troop round and round the stage like a Roman army and double and treble their parts. Putting to one side the great scientific interest and athletic value of new foods in making new and perhaps amazing men, the harassed housewife will hail the hippopotamus as her deliver from the monotony and deceit that a restricted choice imposes on her today.

There is one outstanding, comprehensive historical source of information on the eating of exotic animals - The Curiosities of Food: Or, The Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained from the Animal Kingdom, (1859) by Peter Lund Simmonds. There are two instances of reference to hippo flesh in Simmond’s book:

“The flesh of the hippopotamus used also to be eaten on the east coast of Africa, roasted or boiled, and fetched a high price as a delicacy. The fat was used in making puddings, instead of butter. The Portuguese settlers were permitted by the priests to eat the flesh of this animal in Lent, passing it off as fish from its amphibious habits, and hence their consciences were at ease.”

“In all the large rivers of Southern Africa, and especially towards the mouths, the hippopotami abound. The colonists give them the name of sea-cows. The capture of one of these huge beasts, weighing, as they sometimes do, as much as four or five large oxen, is an immense prize to the hungry Bushman or Koranna, as the flesh is by no means unpalatable; and the fat, with which these animals are always covered, is considered delicious. When salted it is called zee-koe speck, is very much like excellent fat bacon, and is greatly prized by the Dutch colonists, not only for the table, but for the reputed medicinal qualities which are attributed to it. In Abyssinia, hippopotamus meat is commonly eaten.”

The famous explorer, Dr David Livingstone also wrote of eating hippopotamus flesh in his account of his expedition to the Zambesi in 1856-1864:-

“…. Next day one of the men crawled over the black rocks to within ten yards of a sleeping hippopotamus, and shot him through the brain. The weather being warm the body floated in a few hours, and some of us had our first trial of hippopotamus flesh. It is a cross-grained meat, something between pork and beef, - pretty good food when one is hungry and can get nothing better.”

Sadly, I have not been able to find explicit instructions on the cooking of hippopotamus flesh. I feel sure that it could be substituted in any recipe for beef or pork or chicken stew. As compensation, I give you a completely unrelated dish – a cake using very little butter:-

Poor Man's Cake.
A cake that requires very little butter is the following : 2 ozs. Butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 cup sweet milk, 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon soda, 2 teaspoons cream tartar, and a little citron.

The Queenslander, 28 November, 1874

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