In a number of recent posts I have looked at methods of preserving meat in pre-refrigeration days, but have barely touched on the major problem of the era – what to do with a quantity of raw meat which is past its prime – but far too valuable a source of protein to simply discard.
The seventeenth century Londoner Samuel Pepys described an encounter with some unpleasantly tainted venison in one of the entries in his famous diary, and this was the subject of a blog post some time ago (here.) Cookery books generally record practices which have been in actual use for some time (sometimes a considerable time) before the date of publication, so it is possible that, had he had the opportunity, Pepys could have used the suggestion in Hannah Wooley’s Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673):
Venison how to recover when tainted.
Take a clean cloth and wrap your Venison therin, then bury it in the Earth one whole night, and it will take away the ill scent or favour.
If you had a piece of stinky venison, it was still considered possible to bake it in a pie, with proper preparation:
To recover venison when it stinks.
Take as much cold Water in a Tub as will cover it a Handful over, and put in good Store of Salt, and let it be three or four Hours; then take your Venison out, and let it lie in as much hot Water and Salt, and let it lie as long as before; then have your Crust in Readiness, and take it out, and dry it very well, and season it with Pepper and Salt pretty high, and put it in your Pastry.
Do not use the Bones of your Venison for Gravy, but get fresh Beef or other Bones.
The complete family-piece : and, country gentleman, and farmer's best guide (London, 1737)
Prevention is always better than cure however, and here is a recipe that helps do both:
To Keep Venison Sweet, and to recover it when tainted.
To keep venifon sweet, you only need to wipe it clean with a dry cloth, and hang it in a place where the air can come to it freely. If it is necessary to keep it a considerable time, then it will be proper to rub it very well with dry clean cloths, and to rub it all over with beaten or powder'd ginger, hanging it in an airy place as before. When it is musty, or smells strong, take some luke-warm water, and wash it well and clean. Then take some new milk and water, make it luke-warm and wash it again. Afterwards dry it very well with clean cloths, and rub it all over with powder'd ginger. It will be necessary to hang it in an airy place, till the time of use, which must not be long. When it is roasted, rub it with a clean cloth, and paper it as above*.
Cookery reformed; or, The Lady's assistant. (London, 1755)
And for completeness sake, I give you the instructions from the preceding recipe in the book so you may know ho ‘to paper as above,’ whether your venison be sweet or not.
To Roast Venison
Take a haunch of venison and put it on the spit, then roll four meets of white paper about it, well butter'd -, tie the paper on with a small string, and baste the haunch well all the time it is roasting. Take care that the fire be very good and brisk; and then it will be sufficiently done in two hours ; if the haunch be small, an hour and a half; if large, two hours and a half. When it is enough take off the paper, and dredge it a little to make a froth. But you must be as quick as you can, to prevent the fat from melting and dripping away. Put some very good gravy in a boat or bason, and sweet sauce in another. A neck and shoulder must be roasted in the same manner, and will take an hour and a half.