Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Calves-Head Conundrum Continues

History has shown us that all sorts of foods we eat –– frogs, fries, falafel –– can carry quite a bit of political weight, but with all this mudslinging of the Calves Head Club, I started wondering if its traitorous and blasphemous associations carried over into England’s eating and cooking habits at large. 

What were cookery books saying about calves heads?  Who was eating them?  One would think a monarchy-friendly cookery book such as Patrick Lamb’s Royal Cookery, or the Compleat Court Cook (1726) would eschew calves head concoctions.  Right?

Not so much.  I found not one but four calves head delicacies. 

--“Roasted:” Skull and mouth stuffed with oysters and marrow, then slow roasted on a spit.

--“Hashed:” Strong gravy and white wine jus, mixed with forc’d meat balls of veal. 

--“Dressed:” brains and tongue, seasoned with sweet herbs, lemon peel.  Garnished with barberries and horseradish.

-- “Patty of Calves Brains” (In case my intrepid readers feel up to trying this at home, I included the recipe below.) 

“Clean the Brains very well, and scald them: Then blanch some Asparagus-Tops in a Sauce-pan, with a little Butter and Parsly.  When they are cold, put them in the Patty with the Brains, the Yolks of five or six hard Eggs, and some of the forc’d Meat, for which you have the Directions in Letter F. When it is bak’d, squeeze in the Juice of a Lemon, pour in some drawn Butter and Gravy: So serve it. 


So it doesn’t seem like any of the negative publicity caused cooks to raise any eyebrows.  In fact, by the 1760s, calves head had earned the status of the “mock turtle” in "mock turtle soup."  (And lest you assume by the word “mock” that this dish was intended for the lower classes, I would like to point out that even the cosmopolitan and rather aristocratic Thursday’s Club dined on it repeatedly)

Another Calves Head Image from the 1734 Riot
The head is being held above the bonfire
(See the last post for the 'view from inside')
Thus, neither the political consternation nor the visceral disgust elicited by the Calves Head Club had anything to do with the fact that one was eating ... well... a head.  It was the context –– the ritual and its treasonous tenor –– that provoked events like the image of the 1734 riot you can see on the left. 

I found only one reference to actual gustatory sensations associated with the club.  But instead of describing dinner, it describes the character of a typical "Calves Head Clubb Man." 

“…when he disputes his Principles he is as Hot as Pepper, as biting as Mustard, and as sower as Vinegar…. and snuffs up his Nose at the Name of the King, as if the very Title it self was grown offensive to his Nostrils.” 

Perhaps the sense of taste is being politically mobilized in some way or another.  But it appears in a very different way that one would expect.