Frequently, reference questions offer tantalizing tangents utterly unrelated to the original question. I recently pulled a book called The Hare (1896), from the Fur and Feather series edited by Alfred E. T. Watson, for a visitor that was interested in information on coursing. In addition to information about hare hunting, this book includes a section on Cookery. Interesting and practical!
In his introduction to the series Mr. Watson says, “Each volume of the present series will, therefore, be devoted to a bird or beast, and will be divided into three parts. The Natural History of the variety will first be given ; it will then be considered from the point of view of sport ; and the writer of the third division will assume that the creature has been carried to the larder, and will proceed to discuss it gastronomically.” (The Hare, Preface page v.)
Intrigued by the possibilities of 1896 cookery, I leafed through hare cookery only to stumble across this line, “The only meat I know which might be taken for hare is that of the porcupine, not only in flavour and closeness of grain, but also in appearance, ‘which the blacknesse thereof convinceth,’ for, contrary to the general impression, it is not white. A young porcupine about half-grown is really a delicacy.” (p. 262).
Really? Porcupine meat was so commonly consumed that it could be used as a reference to describe hare? I suppose the porcupine, trundling along through the woods, would be a lot easier to catch than the speedy hare but even so it seems like the porcupine would be the exotic meal, not the hare.
On to the cookbooks for further research! NSLM has quite a few modern day, game cookbooks which I perused looking for porcupine recipes.
Next to the expected recipes for pheasant and venison, I did indeed find quite a few recipes for porcupine! I also found preparations for a whole host of other critters that I didn’t realize people ate outside of survival situations. Items on the menu include, crow, fox, groundhog, muskrat, opossum, and raccoon. Recipes are generally preceded by tips on the appropriate dressing and handling of game. This is especially critical to those of us who have only cooked with prepared, packaged meat from the grocery store. The recipes themselves cover a wide range of preparations and, for the most part, sound pretty tasty. It’s interesting to consider the culturally determined rules governing what is considered food and what isn’t.
Just as I was turning away from the cookbook shelf, I noticed a bright green cover and made the mistake of pulling it out for a look. In my hands was, The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director by Richard Bradley, originally published in 1736.
Of course I couldn’t resist checking out what cooks were up to in 1736. On a positive note, they were very thrifty and what we would call “green.” They used EVERYTHING. However, here’s a short list of some less savory tidbits from back in the day: Recipes for “Viper-Soup from Mr. Ganeau” (p. 149-150), for “Calf’s-Head Pie” (p. 158-159), how “To Prepare the Caviar, or Spawn of the Sturgeon” (p. 23), and “The Manner of Pickling and Drying of Sheeps Tongues, or Hogs Tongues, which they call Stags Tongues, from a celebrated practioner of forty years standing in London” (p. 27).
I also found out that, “The badger is one of the cleanest creatures, in its food, of any in the world, and one may suppose that the flesh of this creature is not unwholesome. It eats like the finest pork, and is much sweeter than pork” (p. 145).
Ugh, maybe I’ll stick with the porcupine.
If you would like some fresh ideas on cooking game I’d be happy to show you our cookbooks any time. They contain many ideas for preparing game fowl, as well as both large, and small game. Alternatively, if you’d like to challenge Anthony Bourdain and his Parts Unknown show to a time traveling episode, I have a cookbook that’ll be just the thing!
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail