Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Before we entirely leave the subject of edible stomachs, here's a display that I saw at the Minnesota State Fair last week.  More about that later.  There in the diary building was a fascinating model of a cow's stomach, with explanatory notes, and a small boy who might or might not have been trying to guess the breed.  (It's clickable if you want to see more detail).  I know that some early haggis recipes did indeed feature cow stomach rather than sheep. Given the size, you could have had yourself quite a feast.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


An anonymous commenter asked which of the sheep’s 4 stomachs is used for haggis.  He thought it was the omasum.  I had no idea.  Research is amazingly tricky here.   My knowledge of sheep stomachs is growing exponentially but not all of it tells me what I want to know.  The general word (including Alan Davidson) is that it’s “the big stomach” that's used, though you can obviously find online dissenters.  There's a commercially available "Lamb's Traditional Haggis" which claims to use "the smaller stomach," whatever that might mean.  Here’s an anatomical diagram.

That image comes from this website:

There you will also find this handy chart:

        Capacities of digestive tract of mature sheep
.       Compartment
.      Capacity
        1.2 to 2.0 quarts
        5.0 to 10.0 gallons
        0.5 to 1.0 quarts
        2.0 to 3.0 gallons
  Small intestines
        2.0 to 2.5 gallons (80 ft)
         Large intestines
     1.5 to 2.0 quarts

The site tells us that the reticulum is honeycombed, so I think we can definitely rule that one out.

So it appears the rumen is the most likely. It’s certainly the biggest stomach, though a ten gallon haggis would be a fearsome object and I certainly don't think I've ever seen one that big, though I'd definitely like to.


I’ve been reading Nicholson Baker’s filthy new novel House of Holes.  Above are respectively the UK and US covers by which you might judge it.  It certainly contains lots of sex and madness, but not much food, and mouths are generally involved with things other than eating.  Still the book reminds us – if you need reminding - that a sherry cobbler was served to Charles Dickens when he made his speaking tour of America in 1842.  Baker, or rather his characters, also tell us it was the first drink made with crushed ice, that Dickens loved it and had his character Martin Chuzzlewit drink one, and that in 1850 Dickens bought five pounds’ worth of Wenham Lake ice, the transatlantic ice trade then being big business.

The passage from Martin Chuzzlewit runs as follows.  It seems the term ice cube had yet to be invented.

He produced a very large tumbler, piled up to the brim with little blocks of clear transparent ice, through which one or two thin slices of lemon, and a golden liquid of delicious appearance, appealed from the still depths below, to the loving eye of the spectator.
 ‘What do you call this?’ said Martin.
But Mr. Tapley made no answer; merely plunging a reed into the mixture — which caused a pleasant commotion among the pieces of ice — and signifying by an expressive gesture that it was to be pumped up through that agency by the enraptured drinker.
Martin took the glass with an astonished look; applied his lips to the reed; and cast up his eyes once in ecstasy. He paused no more until the goblet was drained to the last drop.
“There sir,” said Mark, taking it from him with a triumphant face, “If you should ever happen to be dead beat again, when I ain’t in the way, all you’ve got to do is, to ask the nearest man to go fetch a cobbler.”
         “Go and fetch a cobbler!” said Martin.

A character in House of Holes also says, “You know the English talk a good game, but they’re such hypocrites.  All that business about how vulgar it is to have ice in drinks.” This, as the English would say, is bollocks.  They English are not hypocritical about vulgarity: they’re proud of it.  It’s true that the English use less ice than Americans, and the Scots very definitely don’t want ice in their whisky, but it’s got nothing to do with any imagined vulgarity, it’s because they don’t want their booze diluted.  It’s the same reason that Americans don’t want ice in their martinis.  But hey, the English don’t need me to defend them.

It seems the sherry cobbler did indeed enjoy a vogue in the late nineteenth century.  Recipes, of course, vary, but a typical one involves 3 oz sherry, 1/3 oz triple sec, 2 oz soda water, 1/4 oz sugar syrup.   I can’t say it really gets my juices flowing, but an awful lot is going to depend on what kind of sherry you use.

What Dickens actually wrote in American Notes was this:

“The planter’s house was an airy, rustic dwelling, that brought Defoe’s description of such places strongly to my recollection. The day was very warm, but the blinds being all closed, and the windows and doors set wide open, a shady coolness rustled through the rooms, which was exquisitely refreshing after the glare and heat without. Before the windows was an open piazza, where, in what they call the hot weather — whatever that may be — they sling hammocks, and drink and doze luxuriously. I do not know how their cool rejections may taste within the hammocks, but, having experience, I can report that, out of them, the mounds of ices and the bowls of mint-julep and sherry-cobbler they make in these latitudes, are refreshments never to be thought of afterwards, in summer, by those who would preserve contented minds.”

I don’t know what he means.  Is his mind discontent because he can’t recreate the drink?  Surely he could.  Or does he think the drinks are so vile that the mere thought of them sets his mind in a whirl?  Perhaps there’s a deliberate ambiguity.

And yes, that “planter’s house” is a giveaway - Dickens was on a slave plantation, though he says of the owner,  “I believe that this gentleman is a considerate and excellent master, who inherited his fifty slaves, and is neither a buyer nor a seller of human stock; and I am sure, from my own observation and conviction, that he is a kind-hearted, worthy man.”

Incidentally when Dickens made his second visit to the United States, in 1867, Charles Ranhofer of Delmonico’s in New York, created a number of dishes bearing his name, including “veal pie a la Dickens” and “beetroot fritters a la Dickens.”  There was also a dinner at Delmonico’s in his honor where “timbales a la Dickens” was served, though not the veal pie or the beetroot.  The menu, which appears in Ranhofer’s book, The Epicure, makes no mention of sherry cobbler.

Monday, August 15, 2011


I have discovered that the haggis is an endangered species.  I should probably have known this already.  Of course, in America the haggis has scarcely ever lived.  A true haggis contains sheep lung (part of the “pluck” – along with liver and heart) which is illegal here, dismissed as unfit for human consumption.  There were some reports in 2010 that the ban was to be lifted but it came to nothing, and frankly I never expected it to.  Most Americans seem to be untroubled by this situation.

But even in Scotland there are problems, apparently, and they are, wouldn’t you know, caused by global warming.  Because the Scottish climate is now less icy and windblown than it used to be, the lungworm parasite that affects sheep is suddenly thriving.  The rest of the sheep remains good, but the lungs become inedible.  Consequently Scottish butchers are importing lungs from Ireland; though I must say I’m slightly baffled by that.  Has global warming not affected Ireland?  Is Ireland now colder than Scotland? Or are their sheep simply more resistant to lungworm?

I didn’t know about these development when I recently bought a haggis in one of those American shops that specializes in all things English, from Branston Pickle to models of double-decker buses.  These places always make me uneasy – but where else are you going to buy a haggis?

You could certainly argue that the thing I bought wasn’t a “real” haggis.  As you see, it came in a can for one thing, and it was “skinless”  i.e. it was just the filling, without the stomach, though how else would you be able to can it? And despite calling itself “Scottish Haggis” it was actually “prepared in the USA” for Stahly Quality Foods, of Fife.  Still, beggars can’t be choosers.   I bought it, took it home, and only then did I start wondering how, and if, they’d got around the problem of the illegal lung.

Well, a quick look at the list of ingredients told me they’d managed to avoid the issue completely.  There was lamb heart and lamb liver in there, but no lung.  That, of course, made me wonder how authentic it was going to taste.  I mean with any haggis it’s not as though you sit there eating it, savoring the heady taste of lung: the contents are ground up and largely unidentifiable, but I wondered if the lung might be a vital component of the overall flavor, or indeed “flavor profile.”

         Other ingredients included pork, pork fat, oats and “natural flavors.”  Authenticity seemed to be flying out the window here, and yet, and yet. Maybe it wasn’t the best ever, and of course I couldn’t enjoy the Burns Night ritual of piercing the stomach with a dirk, but all in all it was very good, meaty, oaty and peppery in all the right ways.  And with neeps and tatties it made a meal for which you didn’t need teeth.

         Actually, when I was in Scotland a few years back, well before the lungworm scare, I had a surprisingly hard time finding haggis.  I ended up going to a fancy restaurant that served “ostrich haggis” which was very good, but Rabbie Burns would surely have had a fit.

          Having eaten my canned “Scottish Haggis” I read a couple of the “serving suggestions” on the label.  The most improbable was “Haggis Jacobean” – a couple of ounces of haggis in an individual serving dish with a teaspoon of whisky added, heated up, then served with fresh cream. 

         As far as I can tell, this dish is an invention by the food technicians at Stahly Quality Foods.  A browse through my books on the history of British cooking didn’t bring up anything remotely similar.  I did however discover the wonderfully named “Haggis Royale” (sic).

         Fans of Pulp Fiction will naturally think this involves the addition of cheese.  But no.  I found the recipe in Antony and Araminta Hippisley Coxe’s Book of Sausages, and they claim it comes from The Cook and Housewife’s Manual by Meg Dods, which it does, though she calls it “royal” not royale (Antony and Araminta were getting a bit fancy there).  

Dods claims she got the recipe from “the Minutes of Sederunt of the St Ronan’s Club.”  In any case it bears almost no relation to a traditional Scottish haggis.  You mince three pounds of mutton, add the crumbs of an oatmeal penny loaf, suet, marrow, egg yolks, anchovies, red wine, cayenne pepper, wrap the whole thing in a veal caul and roast it.  There are no lungs whatoesever.  You could legally eat it in America.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


And speaking of Ernest Hemingway, I found the terrific (low res) picture above of Hemingway with Errol Flynn. Flynn used to be a major obsession of mine – faded slightly now – and of course Flynn appeared in the movie of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, though this picture was taken at the El Floridita in Havana in 1959, presumably while Flynn was in Cuba filming his last movie, Cuban Rebel Girls.  

Yes, that's right, Beverly Aadland was his "protege." There are, as with Hemingway, various cocktails around with Errol Flynn’s name on them.  One is equal parts cognac and grand marnier, another is a fizz involving rum, lime juice, and egg white.  Who’s to say Flynn wouldn’t have approved? I’ve always had the impression that Flynn would drink pretty much anything that was put in front of him.  He seems to have been primarily a vodka man – Zubrowka being his favourite brand - though apparently he did have a “gin period,” and as you see below he was happy enough to shill for Heublein.  I’d lose the hat if I were you, Errol.

The story goes that when Errol Flynn was in one of his cleaner periods, or at least trying to give that impression, he used to appear on set carrying oranges – the oranges having been injected with vodka, which I can’t imagine ever fooled anybody. I don’t think that really qualifies as a cocktail, nor does the concoction he served to Peggy Salterlee, one of the victims in his statutory rape trial.  This is her, below with Jerry Giesler, Flynn’s attorney.

 When she was cross-questioned in court by Giesler, she testified that she’d been out with Flynn, and was drinking a glass of milk with her dinner. She went to the bathroom and when she returned Flynn had put a shot of rum into the milk.  She asked him why he’d done that and he replied, “Because it’s good for you before going to bed."

Which reminds me just a little of the Loved One’s grandmother who, alas, I never met.  I’m told she always used to have a beer for breakfast but she put an egg in it because she said it was important to start the day with some protein.

Anyway, there's really no doubt that Flynn had sex with Peggy Satterlee: it was statutory rape because she was 17.  In fact Beverly Aadland was even younger when she  started having sex with Flynn, 15 seems to be the best guess.  Here's a picture of them, also from 1959, at the Lido Club in London. 

 People always bang on about how terrible Flynn looked at the end of his life because of all the drink and drugs, but I don't think he looks so bad here.  It is the last year of his life, and OK, he doesn't look as good as he once did but he still looks better than most of us ever will. And whatever ever age we are, very few of us ever get to date the likes of Beverly Aadland: you may decide for yourself whether that's a good or a bad thing.

(These Flynn/Aadland images come from a wonderful website: www.nickelinthemachine.com )