when you’re tired of bacon and beer

Vincent M Holt published an excellent pamphlet in 1885 suggesting his readers look further afield than bacon and beer for delicious menu items

image found here

“What a pleasant change from the labourer’s unvarying meal of bread, lard, and bacon, or bread and lard without bacon, or bread without lard or bacon, would be a good dish of fried cockchafers or grasshoppers.

Fried grasshoppers found here

Cheese-mites, the grubs of a small fly, are freely eaten by many persons, whom I have often heard say “they are only cheese.” There is certainly some ground for this assertion; as these grubs live entirely upon cheese; but what would one of these epicures say if I served up to him a cabbage boiled with its own grubs? Yet my argument that “they are only cabbage” would be fully as good as his. As a matter of fact, I see every reason why cabbages should be thus served up, surrounded with a delicately flavoured fringe of the caterpillars which feed upon them.

Sushi caterpillar found here

At one time, insects being prescribed as remedies by village quacks and wise men made people, at any rate, familiar with the idea of swallowing them. Wood-lice, which conveniently roll themselves up into the semblance of black pills, were taken as an aperient; centipedes were an invaluable specific for jaundice; cockchafers for the plague; ladybirds for colic and measles.

Steelblue Ladybird found here

In Arabia, Persia, and parts of Africa there are regular locust shops where they are exposed for sale; and among the Moors they are highly valued, appearing in the menu at the best tables. Their method of cooking is to pluck off the head, wings, and legs, boil for half an hour, flavour with pepper and salt, and fry in butter. As I can myself bear witness, of which more hereafter, this recipe applied to our English grasshoppers renders that despised insect a truly tasty morsel.

cooked grasshopper found here

The Chinese, making use of “the worm, a thing that crept on the bare earth, then wrought a tomb and slept” as food, eat the chrysalids of the silkworms after the silk has been wound from off the cocoons. They fry them in butter or lard, add yolk of eggs, and season with pepper, salt, and vinegar.

male silkworm found here

Even Spiders have been relished as tid-bits, not only by uncivilized nations, but by Europeans of cultivation. For Reaumur tells of a young lady who was so fond of spiders that she never saw one without catching and eating it. Lalande, the French astronomer, had similar tastes; and Rosel speaks of a German who was in the habit of spreading spiders, like butter, upon his bread.

spider cupcakes found here

Wood-louse sauce is equal, if not distinctly superior to, shrimp sauce.The following is the recipe: Collect a quantity of the finest wood-lice to be found, and drop them into boiling water, which will kill them instantly, but not turn them red, as might be expected. At the same time put into a saucepan a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, a teaspoonful of flour, a small glass of water, a little milk, some pepper and salt, and place it on the stove. As soon as the sauce is thick, take it off and put in the wood-lice. This is an excellent sauce for fish. Try it.

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm  Comments (47)  
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you look like a fabulous chicken

In 1962, writer Liz Smith had dreams of being discovered as a newer sexier version of Estelle Parsons. Hanging out with her friends Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton gave her plenty to write about…..


“While we wait for Elizabeth to have Alexandre do her hair, I overhear a secretary ordering lingerie from Henri Bendel. Someone is always ordering lingerie around the Burtons. You visualize a world of hotel suites with lovely once-worn panties, bras, slips and body stockings left behind and delighted maids exclaiming over the windfall. Richard, on the other hand, claims to have only six sets of drawers to his name. He declares either he or his wife washes out a pair nightly.

lingerie made from discarded cans

Elizabeth is wearing a coffee-colored suede coat trimmed with a dramatic flounce of fox at the bottom and a matching explosion at the top. Richard is very Southern Californian in a white cardigan and wraparound sunglasses. Alexandre has on something by Cardin, and there’s a bodyguard who is neither introduced, nor distinguished by tailoring. We pile into a robin’s-egg-blue Rolls to go two blocks. All in all, we are as likely to escape notice as an orange tie on St. Patrick’s Day.

nurse’s uniforms by Pierre Cardin

Grand entrance into David Webb’s jewelry emporium on 57th Street. ”I am omniscient and triprescient,” Richard murmurs, as the place dissolves into elegant pandemonium. People are springing to attention as if we were wearing stocking masks.

Elizabeth says to the salesman: ”Well, look, Andrew, what will these three pieces be with my spectacular discount?” She indicates leopard, zebra and serpent rings. ”Never mind — send them to the hotel, and these, too.” She points to a $2,500 lighter and a $29,000 shell purse…..

Zebra Handbag $4995.00

Weeks later she accompanies them to a party in Paris.

The Burtons enter in a crush. Elizabeth is wearing glittering emeralds and white egret feathers worked into her hair with diamonds. As she wedges her way past, I whisper, ”You look like a fabulous chicken.”

She blows a feather out of her face: ”You mean I look like a chicken’s behind.”


She wiggles her fingers and says, ”Bye, bye,” as she goes down the hall like a delicious snowdrift on legs……

Want to eat like the Burton’s did? Here’s their recipe for Chipped Beef a la Krupp Diamond:

Chipped beef




Curry powder

Hard-boiled eggs.

Shred the chipped beef, dredge in flour. Saute in melted butter in a hot skillet. In a saucepan, make a white cream sauce using three tablespoons of flour and a little milk. Add several pinches of curry powder to this. Serve over the beef. Add a few hard-boiled eggs to dip in sauce, or slice them and place on top. (Elizabeth’s verdict: ”We eat this at high noon; 11 a.m. if it’s ready!”


Published in: on July 25, 2010 at 7:17 am  Comments (36)  
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tricks with british wine

I don’t know a lot about British wine, and after having read these recipes, I’m not sure I want to

image found here

To keep British wine from turning sour: Boil a gallon of wine with half an ounce of beaten oyster shells or crabs’ claws burnt into a powder; then strain out the liquor into a sieve and when cold put it into the wine of the same sort. It will destroy the acid and give to the wine a pleasant taste.

oyster shells found here

To take away any unpleasant scent from British wines: Bake a long roll of dough stuck well with cloves; hang it in the cask and it will draw the disagreeable scent from the wine

bread roll found here

To preserve wine when ropey: Tap the cask of wine and put a piece of coarse linen cloth upon that end of the cock which is inserted into the inside of the cask then rack it into a dry cask ; to 30 gallons of wine add 5 ounces of powdered alum, roll and shake them well together (Ropey wine signifies that which is foul, thick or mothery)

image found here

To sweeten musty casks: Take some dung of a milking cow when it is fresh and mix it with a quantity of warm water so as to make it sufficiently liquid to pass through a funnel, dissolve 2 pounds of salt and 1 pound of alum, put the whole into a pot on the fire, stir with a stick and when nearly boiling pour into the cask and bung it up tight.”

milking cow image found here

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 7:58 am  Comments (49)  
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I’d scream three times too

escaping mouse found here

According to Mary Roach’s book Stiff, there is a famous Chinese recipe called Scream Three Times, in which newborn mice are taken from their mothers (first scream), dropped in a hot fry pot (second scream) and eaten (third scream).

image found here

However, this is not the oddest Chinese dish she writes about.

“Key Ray Chong describes a historical phenomenon wherein children, most often daughters-in-law, were obliged to demonstrate filial piety to ailing parents, most often mothers-in-law, by hacking off a piece of themselves and preparing it as a restorative elixir.

image by Hu Ming found here

Chong presents evidence in the form of a list, each entry detailing the source of the information, the donor, the beneficiary, the body part removed and the type of dish prepared from it.

In what may well be the earliest documented case of stomach reduction, one enterprising son presented his father with “lard of left waist”. He also cites a Taiwan News story from May 1987 in which a daughter cuts off a piece of her thigh to cook up a cure for her ailing mother.

image by Alex Prager found here

While researching this, I located a related article about cannibalism in contemporary China. Due to its extremely disturbing content I haven’t linked to it here but it’s easy to find via a google search on “cannibalism + China”

1870 engraving found here

macaroni or ortolan?

The Ortolan Bunting is a small European songbird, now a protected species that is illegal to sell in France. They used to be netted in great numbers, kept alive in a dark box to disrupt their feeding schedule, and fed with grapes, figs, oats and millet. In a very short time they would become enormously fat and were then killed by drowning them in Armagnac.

image found here

Cooking l’ortolan is simplicity itself. Simply pop them in a high oven for six to eight minutes and serve. The secret is entirely in the eating. First you cover your head with a traditional embroidered cloth. Then place the entire four-ounce bird into your mouth. Only its head should dangle out from between your lips. Bite off the head and discard. L’ortolan should be served immediately; it is meant to be so hot that you must rest it on your tongue while inhaling rapidly through your mouth. This cools the bird, but its real purpose is to force you to allow its ambrosial fat to cascade freely down your throat.

image found here

When cool, begin to chew. It should take about 15 minutes to work your way through the breast and wings, the delicately crackling bones, and on to the inner organs. Devotees claim they can taste the bird’s entire life as they chew in the darkness: the wheat of Morocco, the salt air of the Mediterranean, the lavender of Provence. The pea-sized lungs and heart, saturated with Armagnac from its drowning, are said to burst in a liqueur-scented flower on the diner’s tongue.

Francois Mitterand ate foie gras, oysters and two ortolans as his last meal

image of Mitterand found here

After grabbing the last of 12 birds, the dying president disappeared for a second time behind the large, white napkin, which is ritually placed over the head of anyone about to indulge in the act of eating an entire ortolan. The table listened in embarrassment as the former president masticated the little bird to a paste behind the napkin, in the approved manner, before swallowing it. Then Mitterrand lay back in his chair, his face beaming in ecstasy. He refused to eat again after that; suspending all treatment for his cancer he died just eight days later.

image found here

Prisoners on death row don’t seem to be the least bit interested in gourmet meals. A quick search of deadmaneating.com reveals a preference for pork chops, fried chicken, french fries, tacos and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Followed by strawberry ice cream and 16 or so Pepsis.

image found here

My last meal would consist of dishes that have great memories attached to them. I’d start with my mother’s Bluff oysters fried in beer batter followed by giant succulent Vietnamese prawns dipped in chili salt, the pumpkin stuffed ravioli in burnt sage butter that Stephen used to make, then brandy snaps filled with New Zealand cream, just like the ones we used to buy in South Dunedin’s cake shop near my old high school.

image found here

If you could choose anything at all, what would your last meal consist of?

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 9:26 am  Comments (48)  
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spell this

Lady Jane Wilde was not only the mother of Oscar, she was also the compiler of Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions. One of her cures for sore breasts is to rub them all over with butter.

Here is her advice for those who wish they had more money

“Kill a black cock, and go to the meeting of three cross-roads where a murderer is buried. Throw the dead bird over your left shoulder then and there, after nightfall, in the name of the devil, holding a piece of money in your hand all the while. And ever after, no matter what you spend, you will always find the same piece of money undiminished in your pocket.”

Her recipe for the lovelorn is even more gruesome

“Go to a graveyard at night, exhume a corpse that has been nine days buried and tear down a strip of the skin from head to foot. Tie this around the leg or the arm of the one you love while he sleeps, but remove it before he wakes. As long as you keep this secret strip hidden from all eyes you will retain his love.”

***This is not what she meant……..

*** Not to be viewed while eating

Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 8:08 am  Comments (42)  
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the engastration of a helmeted cock

Engastration is the technical term for the process of stuffing a bird inside a bird inside a bird. It is derived from Greek words meaning “in the belly”

“A well-known English example of the nineteenth century was Pandora’s Cushion, a boned goose stuffed with a boned chicken, which was stuffed with a boned pheasant, itself stuffed with a boned quail.”

image found here

Going back further in time to the Middle Ages, people were eating fanciful creations such as the cockentrice and the helmeted cock.

image found here

Cockentrice: take a capon, scald it, drain it clean, then cut it in half at the waist; take a pig, scald it, drain it as the capon, and also cut it in half at the at the waist; take needle and thread and sew the front part of the capon to the back part of the pig; and the front part of the pig to the back part of the capon, and then stuff it as you would stuff a pig; put it on a spit, and roast it: and when it is done, gild it on the outside with egg yolks, ginger, saffron, and parsley juice; and then serve it forth for a royal meat.

Helmeted Cocks: A piglet and poultry such as a cock are roasted, the poultry should be stuffed – without skinning it then glazed with an egg batter. And when it is glazed it should be seated astride the piglet; and it needs a helmet of glued paper and a lance couched at the breast of the bird, and these should be covered with gold-or-silver-leaf for lords, or with white, red or green tin-leaf. The combination of pig as noble steed & chicken as knight-errant had many amusing connotations.

Helmeted cock found here

Other exotic dishes one could expect to eat in the Middle Ages include Brewet of Stag Testicles, Pettitoes and Spanish Farts***

image found here

*** boiled egg whites stuffed with meatballs and glazed with batter

Published in: on February 1, 2010 at 7:07 am  Comments (38)  
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do you want beaver with your nuncheons?

What did you have for breakfast today? If you lived in 19th century England you may have eaten this Sunday menu from Breakfast, Luncheons and Ball Suppers

Fried skate and shrimp sauce

Curried pig’s feet

Breakfast cakes

Potted anchovy

Devilled hot meat

Hot buttered toast


The author, Major L, also tells you how to boil an egg

“A new laid egg takes longer to boil than one which has been laid some days, and if you wish the white set it should be put in boiling water four minutes and a half. If you prefer the white running all over your plate, and dropping all over your dress on the way to your mouth, let it boil three minutes and a half.”

“Nuncheons” was the name given to a meal break for manual workers. “Bever” (pronounced as beaver NOT as bever-age) meant much the same thing –  a light meal, possibly a lump of bread, a gobbet of cheese or some seed cake, always served with something liquid, usually beer or ale.

Raincoaster’s beaver recipe

Gabriel Tschumi was Master Chef to three monarchs – Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V.

In his autobiography, Tschumi recalled that for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee banquet 24 chefs were brought over from Paris to help with the cooking and that the younger apprentices in the royal kitchens attempted to grow their moustaches to resemble those of their French superiors. The book reproduces the recipe for Côtelettes de bécassines à la Souvaroff, served by Tschumi at King Edward VII’s coronation banquet in 1902. This consisted of snipe cutlets covered in brandy, pâté and breadcrumbs, placed in a pig’s caul, and served with beans, truffles, mushrooms, and a Madeira and truffle sauce.

Pig’s caul (and duodenum, uterus etc.) found here

Tschumi doesn’t dish the dirt on any of the royals but he does reveal a snippet about Queen Victoria’s eating habits.

“Towards the end of her life she was not a large eater. Rumour had it that her breakfast was usually a boiled egg, served in magnificent style. According to the upper servants, she used a gold egg cup and a gold spoon, and two of her Indian servants, in their showy scarlet and gold uniforms, stood behind her chair in case she wanted anything.”

image by Banksy found here

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 7:01 am  Comments (42)  
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solder a crackt one

Dreams and Moles was published around 1750. It was particularly helpful for men who wanted to be sure they were marrying a virgin

“Take a piece of alabaster, burn it in the fire till it may be beat to powder, sift through a fine piece of muslin then put it in her drink when you are merry-making. If she drinks it and no visible alteration appear, she hath already parted with the toy you covet.

Anita Ekberg looks good in fine muslin

Women could also use it to ascertain if a bachelor was chaste

Dry thistle seeds and beat to a powder, take the pith that grows on the shell of an oyster, dry powder it too and mix together. Put this in your young man’s drink and if he be chaste he will oftener than usual be observed to make urine.

Dick Dene failed the urine test

Prospective brides who wanted to disguise the fact that they had already parted with the covetous toy, could restore it thus

To restore a lost maidenhead, or solder a crackt one, take myrtle berries and beat to a powder, add to the beaten flour of cotton, mix and drink a little of the powder in the morning, in a glass of wine, and you will find the effects wonderful”

Tallulah Bankhead recommends wine in the morning

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 7:20 am  Comments (44)  
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unadulterated delicacy

alain delon

Alain Delon goes fishing for fugu

Regular readers know that nursemyra loves exotic food and I’m always keen to try something new. I’ve never had the opportunity to sample fugu but Adam Platt has and he tells us about eating a certain part of it here

art by chen fei

Art by Chen Fei

With the possible exception of the illicit liver, no part of the fugu creates quite the same flutter of excitement among blowfish lovers as the fugu sperm sac. The literal translation of shira-ko is “white babies.”  The appeal of the dish, according to Chef Masa, comes in part from its pure, milky texture (“It’s smooth,” he says, “like Brie cheese”) and its obvious overtones of virility. But the dish’s most enticing quality is its extra touch of lethality. It’s the only edible part of the fugu innards, and when not fully engorged, the sperm sac looks uncannily like a set of the deadly fugu ovaries. “If you eat fresh ovary by mistake,” says Hashimoto, “then you die.”


Presently, Hashimoto returns from his little kitchen with what looks like two glistening plastic bags of condensed milk. He wants us to see the real thing, the raw, unadulterated delicacy, before he starts preparing his dish. The shira-ko are as white as snow, bouncy to the touch, and disturbingly large, about the size of a pair of healthy water balloons. As we examine them politely Shinji’s eyes light up. “That’s a really nice sperm sac,” he says.

Another dish I’ve never tried is Eskimo Ice Cream.

The native people of Alaska have a distinct version of ice cream. It’s not creamy ice cream as we know it, but a concoction made from reindeer fat or tallow, seal oil, freshly fallen snow or water, fresh berries, and sometimes ground fish. Air is whipped in by hand so that it slowly cools into foam. They call this Arctic treat akutaq, aqutuk, ackutuk, or Eskimo ice cream.

reduce your flesh

Akutaq can also be made with moose meat and fat, caribou meat and fat, fish, seal oil, berries and other Alaskan things. Traditionally it was always made for funerals, potlatches, celebrations of a boy’s first hunt, or almost any other celebration. It is eaten as a dessert, a meal, a snack, or a spread

Here in Australia we also eat unusual foods like the ubiquitous Vegemite, kangaroo steaks (delicious and low in cholesterol) and an Aboriginal favourite – witchetty grubs


Witchetty grubs are traditionally eaten live and raw. Their meat is rich in protein and makes for a highly nutritious snack if you’re tramping through the bush. Raw witchetties have a subtle, slightly sweet flavour and a liquid centre.

Barbecued, witchetties are often eaten as an appetizer. They are cooked over a fire on pieces of wire, rather like shasliks or satays. It takes about two minutes each side for the meat to become white and chewy and the skin crusty. Barbecued witchetties taste quite like chicken or prawns with peanut sauce.


Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 8:53 am  Comments (41)  
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