Tuesday, May 18, 2010
FROM SOUP TO NUTS
I’ve been thinking lately, the way you do, about the Bucklands, father and son, William and Francis. William (1784-1856) was a geologist, the first man to identify what we now recognize as a dinosaur fossil, though he used the word megalosaurus. That's a pair above. This is him below:
His son Francis (1826-1880) was a surgeon, then a naturalist, and an important figure in the history of fish farming,nd here he is. The thing in his left hand is a tile for cultivating oysters.
Both of them were zoöphages: animal eaters, who tried to eat their way through the entire animal kingdom. No Leviticus-style prohibitions for them, and William was indeed a clergyman. As the crown of creation, man was obviously entitled to eat all the other creatures on earth, though some were a lot more palatable than others.
Between them they certainly ate giraffe, leopard, porpoise, hedgehog, puppy, rhinoceros, elephant, and eland, among a menagerie of others. And William certainly once, experimentally, and slightly accidentally, tasted bat urine. For a long time he said the mole was the worst thing he’d ever tasted, though he later decided it was the bluebottle.
In February 1868 Richard organized a horse-flesh dinner at the Langham Hotel in London, and served horse in various form to 160 people. It wasn’t a great success apparently, and it surely can’t have helped that they passed round a photograph of one of the horses before dinner.
Buckland concluded “Among the better classes the flesh of horses will never become popular; for in the first place cooks will not cook it … in the second place, the ladies will object to it; and thirdly the master of the house will find it vastly inferior to beef and mutton.”
Of course, once in a while, I think of eating my way alphabetically through the animal kingdom, and I start out pretty well, having eaten alligator, bear and camel, but I can’t get any nearer to Z than whelk, which you could argue isn’t really an animal, anyway.
Waverley Root in Food, and Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food, both start with the aardvark, Dutch for “earth pig” and which Davidson says is porky tasting. At the other end of the alphabet Root’s last entry is zebra, which his pals tell him is “more palatable on the plain than on the plate.”
Davidson also includes zebra but goes as far as the zebu, the African and Asian hunchback cattle. He doesn’t say how that tastes, but perhaps it’s not so different from any other cattle.
Both Waverley Root and Alan Davidson mention the eating of rats - the latter gives a Maori recipe, which is a kind of confit- but neither specifically discusses mice. William Buckland would have thought this a serious omission. He evidently served mice to his guests. John Ruskin wrote, “I have always regretted a day of unlucky engagement on which I missed a delicate toast of mice.” Good for him, you’d have thought Ruskin might be a bit squeamish in these matters, but no.
I don’t know anywhere that serves a good dish of mouse on toast, but there is a place here in LA where you can at least go to look at one, and that’s the Museum of Jurassic Technology. A couple of mice are displayed there in a vitrine, laid out on a slice of toast, not as an example of a culinary treat but as a cure for bewetting. The mice have to be eaten whole, fur, bones, head and all; I’m sure the Bucklands, father and son, would have had it no other way.