A Recipe for Disaster? Animal Parts

Many of us today still consume animal parts which don’t always consist of just the meat or muscle. Even so, many of the ingredients that used to be included in some recipes can still make us shudder. Some of the recipes below include ingredients like a pigeon’s gizzard (which grinds their food) and ox gall (digestive fluid or bile produced in the small intestine).

Some ingredients also call for certain animals that, for many in the UK, are family pets rather than food. A recipe to cure convulsive fits uses a ‘whelp’s liver’ – the liver of a puppy. This seems not only somewhat barbaric to our modern sensibilities, but also useless. However, many of these recipes rely on a different system of medicine that we now understand. While they may sound strange to us, using ram testicles and crab eyes, or cooking recipes in a hare’s womb was believed to cure a range of ailments.

WYL280/626 – For Convulsive Fits, 1670s
Take [the] Liver of a whelp [a puppy], cut, dry & rub it into powder, & give it in any Liquor, [which] the child will drink’.

One of the recipes for a pretty cream (a dessert) includes ambergris. Ambergris is often used as an ingredient in historical perfumes; it is a waxy substance which originates from the intestine of a sperm whale. It’s thought to act as a protective membrane against the sharp beaks of squid and cuttlefish. Fresh ambergris has a faecal stench but as it ages becomes a sweeter, muskier smell. It can be passed through the anus or regurgitated.

Pretty creams WYW1352/3/4/7/3
Take a pint of cream, 7 whites of Eggs, Sugar you out Tast[e] 2 or 3 Bay-leafes. Set your Cream on the Fire ‘till ‘tis warm, then put in the rest of your Things, stirring it till it is thick. Just before you take it off put in 5 or 6 drops of amb’r grease then put it into high sweetmeat Glasses & when cold set it amongst Tarts or by Themselves.

Some recipes call for soap. Commercially, there were two main types of soap used from the late medieval period: hard and soft. Hard soap was made using tallow (animal fat) and lye. It was solid at room temperature and was held in frames while it congealed after boiling before being cut into bars to be sold. There were two different types of hard soap in sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century England and the most preferred was white soap. White soap was imported from Spain and France and is often referred to in recipes as ‘Castile’. Grey soap was also a hard variety and was more mottled because it often retained metals. Soft soap was made with oils and lye made of pearl ash or potash. Soft soap was semi-liquid and so was sold in barrels or pots. There were also two types of black soap. One was made of fish and whale oil and so was incredibly cheap to buy. It also retained a rancid stench from its raw products. Another was again imported, made of materials like olive and rape seed oils. These were more preferable (and smelled sweeter!). Whichever variety used, it still wasn’t something you’d want to consume. It was more likely used to bind ingredients together than as an actual cure itself.

WYL280/626 – For a Hernia, 1670s
Take a new laid Egg, & roast it in the shell till it be so dry that you can powder it, then take the same weight of prepared crab’s Eyes and as much of the powder of Comfry root & mix them all together, take as much of this powder as will lye upon a sixpence three mornings, about every new & full moon in a little sage posset drink, and drink a draught after it. Take bean meal, the white of an egg, & a little honey for a plaister: Dr Malm
Sharp humours in the blood WYW1352/2/4/7/5
Take One Gallon of new milk, Two calves hearts cut ‘em into thin slices, 1. Handfull of Rosemary flowers, 1. Handfull of Violet flowers 1. Handfull of Burrage leaves 1. Handfull of houseleaks 1. Handfull of Enduis, put all these together, & distill off from a cold still, steeping em one night before you distill ‘em, these are best green, but they will do when dry… Take a quart of a pint of this Water morning & Evening.
WYL280/626 – To cure the king’s evil, 1670s
Cut of the leggs of a great or old Toad, & put them into a linnen bagg after they have been 6 or  days dryed then put the said bagg with the 4 feet into another bag & hang it about your neck. In the year 1699 one Blackburn a youth in Ribchester Parish, who was full of Sores, & had the Kings Evil from his birth, – whom I saw. I have tried it I am convinced.