Benjamin Franklin was an enthusiastic scientist, and one of his special interests was electricity. In December 1750, one of his electrical experiments did not go quite as he had planned. He described the rather unfortunate event in a letter to a friend:
"I have lately made an Experiment in Electricity that I desire never to repeat. Two nights ago being about to kill a Turkey by the Shock from two large Glass Jarrs containing as much electrical fire as forty common Phials, I inadvertently took the whole thro' my own Arms and Body."
The unpleasant experience did not stop Franklin from experimenting with electricity. By 1773, he had come to believe in the power of electricity to tenderize meat, as the following letter shows:
TO MESSRS. DUBOURG AND D'ALIBARD.
Concerning the Mode of rendering Meat tender by Electricity
[This letter is undated, but the one to which Franklin is replying is dated May1, 1773]
My Dear Friends,
My answer to your questions concerning the mode of rendering meat tender by electricity, can only be founded upon conjecture; for I have not experiments enough to warrant the facts. All that I can say at present is, that I think electricity might be employed for this purpose, and I shall state what follows as the observations or reasons, which make me presume so.
It has been observed, that lightning, by rarefying and reducing into vapor the moisture contained in solid wood, in an oak, for instance, has forcibly separated its fibres, and broken it into small splinters ; that by penetrating intimately the hardest metals, as iron, it has separated the parts in an instant, so as to convert a perfect solid into a state of fluidity: it is not then improbable, that the same subtle, matter, passing through the bodies of animals with rapidity, should possess sufficient force to products an effect nearlysimilar.
The flesh of animals, fresh killed in the usual mannerr is firm, hard, and not in a very eatable state, because the particles adhere too forcibly too each other. At a certain period, the cohesion is weakened and in its progress towards putrefaction, which, tends to produce a total separation, the flesh becomes what we call tender, or is in that state most proper to be used as our food.
It has frequently been remarked, that animals killed by lightning putrify immediately. This cannot be invariably the case, since a quantity of lightning sufficient to kill, may not be sufficient to tear and divide the fibres and particlesof flesh, and reduce them to that tender state, which, is the prelude to putrefaction. Hence it is, that some animals killed in this manner will keep longer than others. But the putrefaction sometimes proceeds with surprising celerity. A respectable person assured me, that he once knew a remarkable instance of this: A whole flock of sheep in Scotland, being closely assembled under a tree, were killed by a flash of lightning; and it being rather late in the evening, the proprietor, desirous of saving something, sent persons early the next morning to flay them: but the putrefaction was such, and the stench so abominable, that they had not the courage to execute their orders, and the bodies were accordingly buried in their skins. It is not unreasonable to presume, that between the period of their death and that of their putrefaction, a time intervened in which the flesh might be only tender, and only sufficiently so to be served at table. Add to this, that persons, who have eaten of fowls killed by our feeble imitation of lightning (electricity) and dressed immediately, have asserted, that the flesh was remarkably tender.
The little utility of this practice has perhaps prevented its being much adopted. For though it sometimes happens, that a company unexpectedly arriving at a country-house, or an unusual conflux of travellers to an inn, may render it necessary, to kill a number of animals for immediate use; yet as travellers have commonly a good appetite, little attention has been paid to the trifling inconvenience of having their meat a little tough. As this kind of death is nevertheless more sudden, and consequently less severe, than any other, if this should operate as a motive with compassionate persons to employ it for animals sacrificed for their use, they may conduct the process thus:
Having prepared a battery of six large glass jars (each from 20 to 24 pints) as for the Leyden experiment, and having established a communication, as usual, from the interior surface of each with the prime conductor, and having given them a full charge (which with a good machine maybe executed in a few minutes, and may be estimated by an electrometer) a chain which communicates with the exterior of the jars must be wrapped round the thighs of the fowl; after which the operator, holding it by the wings, turned back and made to touch behind, must raise it so high that the head may receive the first shock from the prime conductor. The animal dies instantly. Let the head be immediately cut off to make it bleed, when it may be plucked and dressed immediately. This quantity of electricity is supposed sufficient for a turkey of ten pounds weight, and perhaps for a lamb. Experience alone will inform us of the requisite proportions for animals of different forms and ages. Probably not less will be required to render a small bird, which is very old, tender, than for a larger one, which is young. It is easy to furnish the requisite quantity of electricity, by employing a greater or less number of jars. As six jars, however, discharged at once, are capable of giving a very violent shock, the operator must be very circumspect, lest he should happen to make the experiment on his own flesh, instead of that of the fowl.
As the recipe for the day I give you an interesting idea for chicken or turkey from the first American cookery book, published a few years after Ben Franklin’s death.
To smother a Fowl in Oysters.
Fill the bird with dry Oysters, and sew up and boil in water just sufficient to cover the bird, salt and season to your taste - when done tender, put into a deep dish and pour over it a pint of stewed oysters, well buttered and peppered, garnish a turkey with sprigs of parsley or leaves of cellery: a fowl is best with a parsley sauce.
American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life (1796) by Amelia Simmons.