Thursday, October 01, 2015

Wanted – New Meat for the English Bill-of-Fare.

The desire for new and exotic tastes is an extreme privilege of the extremely over-privileged, and the article I reproduce for you below shows that it is not a new pursuit. The piece is taken from the English publication, the Spectator of 17 October, 1891.

Wanted – A New Meat.
The lack of variety in those meats which, whether flesh or fowl, must always form the ground-work and basis of an English bill-of-fare, is a want keenly felt, but most difficult to remedy. To judge from the list of fresh food which the improved transport of the last few years has made available for the London dinner-table, a natural inference would be that, so far as novelty has been studied, we had made provision, not for man as humanised by Schools of Cookery, but for a race of fruit-eating apes. We have a dozen new fruits, shaddocks, limes, custard-apples, bananas, pines, Italian figs, pomegranates, lichees, ground-nuts, gourds, water-melons, and avocado pears. But among the thousands of tons of foreign game imported yearly, there is hardly a beast or bird which may not be had in better quality and condition at home, except the prairie-bird and the quail; for those canvas-backed ducks which escape the keen search of the New York dealers and find their way across the Atlantic, alight only on the tables of City Companies and millionaires, like the caladrus of old, that appeared only at the deaths of Kings. Yet there are probably twenty people in this country who have eaten canvas-backed duck for one who has ever tasted swan, or rather cygnet, the finest water-fowl for the table alike in size and flavour, a bird easy to rear, most prolific, rivalling even the breast of a teal, without the fatal drawback of that excellent little bird, that no one has ever been able to get enough of it. Even now, though so neglected by the world, swans may be had from the Norwich Swan-Pit for £2 each. They weigh some sixteen pounds, and with them is forwarded an ancient recipe for cooking them,—"done into rhyme by a Person of Quality."
Another "fowl" which was once reserved for the tables of Kings, and is now hardly thought good enough for aldermen, is the peacock. What roast swan is to roast goose, such is roast peacock to roast turkey. Many owners of county houses who keep peacocks and let them run wild and nest in their woods and shrubberies, take little trouble either to fatten or cook the pea-chicks. If they did, they would perhaps take more pains to rear these birds for the table. The meat is very white, and of exceedingly fine and close grain, and has the true game-flavour, with none of the stringiness of the common turkey. The American wild turkey is, however, an even finer bird for the table than the peacock. Those which appear in the poulterers' shops of London generally arrive in such bad condition from careless packing and refrigerating, that they are inferior to the domestic bird. But when allowed to run wild and nest in English woods, as is done on some estates, on its merits, and apart from any tricks of cookery, it is perhaps the very best land-bird that is available for food. The game-flavour is not too pronounced, but gives a character to the whole which is altogether absent in the tame black turkeys of the farmyard.
But flesh, and not fowl, is what is mainly desired to widen the possibilities of the dinner-table. Fatted swans, or peacocks, or American turkeys might be increased and multiplied without affording more than an occasional relief to the monotony of the menu and the brain-searching of housekeepers. What is wanted is some new and large animal, whose flesh has a character of its own which would readily distinguish it from beef or mutton, and an excellence which shall make it in- dependent of any special treatment in cooking,—something which shall combine the game-flavour with the substantial solidity of a leg of mutton. An increase in the quantity of venison reared in this country naturally suggests itself ; and it is not impossible that, in neglecting the produce of our deer-parks, we are hardly less careless than in losing sight of the culinary possibilities of the swannery. Good doe-venison may be bought in the neighbourhood of some large parks at a much lower price than mutton ; and the quantity of first-class venison which finds its way to London is surprisingly little, considering the number of parks and private herds in the country. It is objected that deer can never pay to fat for food, because the annual growth of their horns reduces them so much in condition as for a time to make the venison worth- less. But this applies only to the bucks; stags might be kept like bullocks, and doe-venison might still be remunerative. As early as 1740, an enterprising Jersey squire, of the name of Chevalier, who had succeeded to an estate in Suffolk —whose descendants still constantly sit in Parliament— had formed a small park for fattening deer and sending them up to London. His accounts of the cost and profits of the enterprise are still preserved, and he abandoned the scheme, not from difficulties encountered in fattening or selling the deer, but because of the uncertainty of carriage to London. Venison, even when reared under the present unscientific method, or rather, want of method, varies greatly in quality, that from certain parks being much superior to that grown on less suitable pasture; and it is not too much to hope that, if bred and fattened solely for the table, venison would be in demand as something more than an occasional luxury.
But swan, peacock, and venison are, after all, only revivals of the old bill-of-fare which was available in the households of Old England. To find a new meat, we must take stock of the world's resources of animal food, and inquire, after due survey, if there does not still exist some neglected quadruped which will furnish what we seek. Roughly speaking, our main supply of animal food is drawn either from the rodents, the ruminants, or the pachyderms,—represented by the rabbit, the ox or sheep, and the pig. To vary the supply at our disposal, we shall probably not be able to go beyond these limits; for the general experience of civilised man has already pronounced judgment on the question, and science supports the verdict. It is no good to eat a wolf; for the wolf has already got the benefit of eating the lamb, and left no surplus for us. Of the three great tribes, the rodents may be dismissed from our search; for those that are not already used as food are either too small to be useful, as the lemming or the guinea-pig, or too repulsive in appearance, like the capybara, or in habits, like the rat. Of the pachyderms, we find only one which is domesticated for food, the dear, familiar Berkshire or Yorkshire piggie. The larger pachyderms are too big; the smaller, like the peccary, too savage; the wart-hog and other African varieties too repulsive. Clearly, then, we must have recourse to the list of ruminants if we are to find one to add to the British bill-of-fare. At first, the choice seems wide enough. It embraces all the deer-tribe, the wild sheep and antelopes, goats and ibexes, which are numerous; but all have a rank and disagreeable flavour, which must prevent their coming into the list of first-class food. The possibility of extending the supply of venison, we have already considered. The wild sheep would probably differ too little in flavour from mutton to make it worthwhile to domesticate them, though those of the Himalaya will breed freely in confinement. The antelopes, therefore, alone remain, and it is among their number that the animal wanted must be found, if it is to be found at all. If the accounts of African hunters are to be relied on, the venison obtained from the larger kinds of antelope found in South and Central Africa is really excellent, that of the koodoo, the oryx, and the eland being the best. Perhaps the highest and most modern authority available for quotation on the subject is Lord Randolph Churchill. Those of his Lordship's admirers who have read and sympathised with his sufferings under the cuisine of the Donald Currie line, and the intolerable roast and boiled of South African dinners in his honour, will have marked with a feeling of relief that he confesses to have "made an excellent supper off stewed roan antelope," on the eve of his encounter with the lion. His Lordship's verdict on the eland, the flesh of which is said to surpass that of all other antelopes as much as Welsh mutton does Lincolnshire "teg," will be of material interest to the present inquiry. Less educated palates have pronounced it peculiarly excellent, having in addition the valuable property of being tender immediately after the animal is killed, which makes it much appreciated in Central Africa, where the meat is usually as tough as shoe-leather and nearly as dry." In addition to the quality of the meat, the eland has the additional requisite of large size. A full-grown eland is as large as a two-year-old shorthorn, and has far more the appearance of a high-bred bullock than an antelope. Its horns are short and straight, pointing backwards, and it has a dewlap like an ox. It can live on the hardest fare, and soon grows very fat on good pasture. Best of all, it becomes quite tame, and is easily acclimatised. The writer remembers to have seen a splendid group of these fine animals in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, an old bull nearly sixteen bands high, a cow, and two young, apparently a yearling and a two-year-old. They were in good condition, though living in a paddock with only an open shed to shelter them from the weather. The late Lord Derby kept them at Knowsley Park for many years. It seems to be a waste of the resources of Nature to allow these fine creatures to be exterminated, as they soon will be, in our new African Empire. The argument that because the South African Negroes have not tamed them we should not attempt it, is of little force. The African keeps cows to give milk; meat was supplied in inexhaustible quantities by the wild antelopes, until the white man came with guns, and with far less trouble than domesticated animals give. We are far too apt to forget that England owes the best of her trees, vegetables, and animals to other countries. All are now so good, that we are prone to think that they can neither be added to, nor improved. Perhaps Admiral Rous was right when he declared that it made him " simply sick," when an "Arab cross" was suggested as a means of improving our thoroughbreds. But why should we not save the eland, the harness antelope, the koodoo, and other large African antelopes from extermination,—and even try to rear some in England? The experiment may be recommended to some of the noble owners of parks and chases, who have already done so much to preserve our own deer and wild cattle from extermination. America has allowed the bison to perish. Shall we not take warning, and preserve for our own use the splendid African antelopes which, within the memory of man, were a thousand times more numerous than they are to-day?
As the recipe for the day, I give you the instructions for cooking antelope (or venison) from The Table: how to buy food, how to cook it, and how to serve it (New York) by Alexander Filipini.
Antelope Chops, Port Wine Sauce.

Broil six fine antelope chops exactly the same as in No. 885*. Heat a glassful of port wine in a saucepan, add two cloves, one bay-leaf, eighteen whole peppers, a gill of currant jelly, thoroughly stir until the jelly is completely dissolved, then thicken with half a gill of sauce Espagnole, lightly heat again; then strain on a hot serving-dish, neatly dress the chops over it, and send to the table very hot.


korenni said...

Ostrich is pretty tasty.

MakingSpace said...

I've been reading your blog for some time but am commenting for the first time here. This author seems VERY determined to convince people to eat antelope. One wonders what he had a surplus of in his larder at the time. ha!

Anonymous said...

I keep getting thrown by the references to pigs as "pachyderms," and expecting to hear about cooking elephants!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Making Space and Sandra – thanks for the comments, and my apologies for not responding sooner. I have been beset with problems on my new computer and am only just emerging from a full re-set.
I think the author must have been a dedicated hunter!
And yes, to pigs as pachyderms Sandra!