The New Year has started and we’ve all eaten our fill of all things we usually wouldn’t and are trying to bounce back. Well, maybe I can help. Because where we celebrate our festivities of the season with sweet potatoes and sugar crusted cookies, people of long ago had a more interesting palate. Caution: you may lose your appetite a little.
First let’s discuss the dormouse – you know, that cute little mouse thing from Alice in Wonderland who was always sleepy and had to have jam put on his nose when he got upset? Well, the Romans would have found that entirely delicious. They loved dormouse so much, they actually had a terra cotta pot, glilarium, created just for the keeping of dormice for consumption purposes. The dormice was quite the delicacy and could either be eaten as an appetizer or slathered in honey and eaten as a dessert. The dormouse went beyond culinary appeal in the Elizabethan period when the fat was rendered from the little rodent notorious for its hibernation and used by insomniacs to encourage their own sleep.
The Tudor period is my absolute favorite in history. Between the scandal of all Henry’s marriages to the way he had crosses painted all through the castle to discourage urination inside the castle halls, there are just so many fascinating facts to know about this time period. Their food is no less interesting. It was not uncommon for fowl to be consumed on a regular basis, but chicken was the poultry of peasants. Swan and peacock – those were truly meant for royalty. Not only would they be prepared and placed upon the place of honor at the dinner table, they would also be trussed up in their own feathers for decoration. I personally have a hard enough time eating a fish with the head still on (like he’s watching me with that bulging, glossy eye) – I can’t even imagine the whole skin being swept proudly off before I eat it. Blech.
Another interesting tidbit about Tudor food is that during Lent when they weren’t allowed to eat meat or eggs, cooked fish was often times pressed and dyed to resemble the forbidden meats. Eggs were even carefully pushed into eggshells to resemble eggs. Though the taste wasn’t the same, it somehow seemed to placate the court by kind of letting them eat food they weren’t supposed to eat.
While we’re on the topic of eggs, there are a couple different eggs that were considered a delicacy (and still are). The first of which are Virgin Boy Eggs. These are essentially eggs that have been boiled in little boy pee. Yes, little boy pee. They cost twice as much as a regular boiled egg and are said to increase one’s yin where it might otherwise be flagging.
Another egg delicacy is Balut (I’m not going to post a pic of because even I’m not THAT mean) which is a fertilized egg that has gone 17-21 days before being cooked. The end result is a partially formed fetus whose bones have been softened by the cooking process. While some make think it’s gross, it is still hugely popular in Vietnam and Cambodia where it’s eaten with hot sauce and vinegar.
By far the worst disgusting food I’ve encountered in my research is ambergris. First, let me explain what ambergris is: this is a gray, waxy substance that balls up in sperm whale’s intestines to help it pass the sharp edges of fish bones through its system. These chunks are either defecated or, if too large, regurgitated and can be up to 100 pounds. Ambergris has a foul odor when fresh, but then that fades into a sweet, musky sort of scent that has been applied to perfumes and lotions for centuries. But that isn’t all. Through history, it was also stirred into teas and mixed into desserts to add flavor through scent. It was an ingredient only the very wealthy could afford. Charles II of England’s favorite dish was eggs and ambergris. Kinda makes me wonder if he actually knew what he was eating… (I’m thinking no)
As if eating questionable food wasn’t enough, some cultures actually ate poisonous food. In the Regency period, a color called Paris Green was used to color desserts and other various foods. What they didn’t realize was that Paris Green had high amounts of arsenic in it and people would oftentimes become very ill after dinner parties where green food coloring was used. In the mid-1800’s a group of Austrian men actually made a tonic out of arsenic that acted as a stimulant. That’d be a pour you’d want only from a professional.
Ironically, foods that were healthy were sometimes avoided as being thought of as poisonous – like the common tomato. People were initially put off by its bright red appearance and stayed away from it for quite a long time before incorporating it into their diets. I can’t help but wonder about the guy who had the balls to try eating it for the first time…
So, there you go – automatic appetite suppressant for 2015. J What are some gross foods you’ve either eaten or heard of people eating?