Friday, December 21, 2007

Splat that pike! Disfigure that peacock! - words for early modern festive occasions

“It was the opinion of Lucallus the Noble Roman, that there was as much care to be taken in the well managing a Feast, as in the Marshalling of an Army; that the one might be as pleasing to Friends, as the other terrible to Enemies;

in cutting up therefore all manner of small Birds,

We say ‘thigh them’ as Wood-cocks, Pidgeons, Partridges, &c.

The term for a Plover, is, ‘Mince it’;

for a Quail, ‘wing it’;

for a Pheasant, ‘allay it’;

a Curlew, ‘attach it’;

a Bittern ‘unjoynt it’;

a Peacock, ‘disfigure it’;

a Crane, ‘display it’;

a Hern, ‘Dismember it’;

a Mallard, ‘unbrace it’;

a Chicken, ‘frust it’;

a Hen, ‘spoil her’;

a Capon, ‘Sawce it’;

a Swan, ‘chit it’;

a Goose, ‘tear her’;

a Coney, ‘unlace her’;

a Dear, ‘Creak it’;

Brawn, ‘leach it’;

and for Fish, viz. A Salmon, ‘chine it’;

a Lamprey, ‘string it’;

a Pike, ‘splat it’;

a Place or Tench, ‘sawce it’;

Bream, ‘splay it’;

a Haddock, ‘side it’;

a Barbel, ‘tusk it’;

a Trout, ‘culpon it’;

an Eel, ‘transon it’;

a Crab, ‘tame it’;

a Sturgeon, ‘Tranch it’;

and a Lobster, ‘barb it’.

Thus having the terms, we shall direct such as need it how to cut up some of these, by which means being brought dexterously to handle their Knife and Fork, they may the better manage the rest, To life a Swan, slit her right down in the middle of the breast, also through the back bone, from the Neck to the Rump, and so laying the divided parts in the Dish, the inward parts downwards; let your Sauce be chaldron, apart in Saucers, and then every one may cut as best likes the party. To rear or break a Goose, is to take off the legs very fair, then to cut off the belly piece round, close to the lower end of the breast, and with your Knife lace her down, quite through the breast on each side, a thumb’s breadth from the breast bone, then take off the wings on each side, with the Flesh you first laced, raising it from the bone, and then cut up the Merry-thought, and having cut up an other piece of Flesh which you formerly laced, then turn the Carcass and cut it asunder, the back bone above the Loins, take the Rump end of the back and lay it at the sore end of the Merry thought with the Skinny side upward, then lay your pinions on each side contrary, set your legs on each side contrary behind them, that the bond end of the Leg may stand up in the Middle of the Dish, and the wing pinions on the out sides of them put under the wing pinions on each side, the long slices of Flesh which you cut off the breast bone and let the ends meet under the leg bones. To deal in like manner with a Turkey or Bustard, raise the leg very fair, then open the Joint with the sharp point of your Knife, but take not the legs off, then lace down the breast on both sides, and open the breast pinion, but take it not off; then raise up the Merry-thought between the breast bone and the top of the Merry-thought; lace down the Flesh on both sides of the breast bone. And raise up the Flesh called the Brawn, turn it outwards on both sides, but break it not, nor cut it off, then cut off the wing pinions, at the Joint next the Body, and stick on each side the pinion in the place where you turned out the Brawn, but cut off the sharp end of the pinion, take the middle piece, and you will find it just fit the place: and in the like manner a Capon, Pheasant, and most Fowls of largeness may be cut up. A Capon cut up in this manner, only differs in placing, slit the Gizzard, in the place where the pinions, of the Turkey, as aforesaid are laid. In dismembering a Hern, take off both the legs and lace it down the breast, then raise up the Flesh, and take it quite off with the pinion, then stick the head in the breast, and set the pinion, on the contrary side of the Carcass, and the leg on the other side, by which means the bones ends will meet cross over the Carcass, and the other wing crossing over, on the top of the Carcass. To unbrace a Mallard, raise the pinions and legs, but take them not off, raise the Merry thought from the breast, and with your Knife lace it sloping on each side the breast. To unlace a Coney, place the belly upwards, and take off the flaps from the Kidneys, then put in the point of your Knife between the Kidneys, and loosen the Flesh from the bone on each side, then turn up the back, and cut it cross between the wings, and lace it down close by the done on each side, then open the Flesh from the bone against the Kidneys, and pull open the legs softly with your hands, but not quite off, then thrust in your Knife, between the Ribs and Kidneys, and slit out, and lay the Legs close together. In displaying a Crane, unfold his Legs, and cut off his Wings by the Joints, then take up his Wings and Legs and sauce them with Mustard, Vinegar, Salt, and Powder of Ginger well mixed together: The same Sauce is for a Hern, and though a Bittern is to be dismembered, after the same manner, yet seldom any thing is used with it, except Salt: And for a Partridge minced, Wine, Ginger and Salt over a Chafing-dish of Coals, and the like for Quails. In allaying a Pheasant, you must raise the Wings and Legs, and cut it up as a Capon.

--- This may give an Insight to the Art of Carving, which however it may be disesteemed by some, and thought beneath their Notice, yet we tell them that to be ignorant is it, shows a great defect in Table-knowledge, for a Carver not being at hand at all times in all places. It will look very odd to see Ladies with covered Table before them, to which they have brought keen Appetites, and yet sit gazing on each other, and none of them knowing how to begin according to the accepted way of dividing their Dainties; or to tear them to pieces, after the rustick manner, is very undecent, and not only upbraids them with want of all, but in some manner shows, such delicates have often strangers to their Bills of Fare…”

Adapted from The ladies dictionary, being a general entertainment of the fair-sex a work never attempted before in English (1694). Imagine unjointing and munching through a bittern or a bustard (it recalls the surreal recipes in James Hamilton-Paterson’s Cooking with Fernet Branca – ‘bustard with custard’ was one). Out cycling last Sunday, we saw a flock of fieldfares: Birds Britannica tells me how tasty they were considered.

I had trouble deciphering some of this: the EEBO images are from a tight-bound copy, but I did get ‘frust’ right for carving a chicken (and this made me think of Hector in Troilus and Cressida announcing that he will ‘frush’ the Greek who unwisely shows up in ‘goodly’ armour – ‘strike violently’, but with this sub-sense of carving a chicken.

As for your own carving at Christmas, we seem to have lost ‘merrythought’ as a word for the wish-bone. John Aubrey cannot be right can he?

1697 J. AUBREY Remaines Gentilisme & Judaisme (1881) 92 'Tis called the merrythought, because when the fowle is opened, dissected, or carv'd, it resembles the pudenda of a woman. 1708 Brit. Apollo 26 Nov., For what Reason is the Bone next the Breast of a Fowl, &c. Called the Merry-thought..? The Original of that Name was doubtless from the Pleasant Fancies, that commonly arise upon the Breaking of that Bone.

Image off the Web Gallery of Art, Vincenzo Campi, a poulterer's stall, painted 1580's.

Season’s greetings to all fellow bloggers.


Natalie Bennett said...

Easy to see why being sent off to a higher-class household to learn to "dress" meat was a typical part of a gentle girl's training!

DrRoy said...

Indeed, but NH's own description of how to carve shows that a generalised vocabulary was used. The whole 'Ladies Dictionary' is amazingly patronising: a gazetteer of famous women in history, interspersed with admonitory essays. NH, a know-all, probably hits a high level of fallacious information.