Saturday, September 08, 2012

How quickly does a deer go off?

 by KARL STEEL

To ensure the blog stays as eclectic as possible, I'm here to talk, again, about deer carcasses, so you may want to read Jeffrey first and never come back. I'm also here to avoid grading my first set of papers (incidentally, on Žižek's "Bring Me My Philips Mental Jacket," for English 2, "The Research Paper," with a theme of "Nature," and a set on Marie's Lais, and a small set of Chaucer translations). Enough of that!

The fourteenth-century Diuersa Servicia comprises 92 recipes, for "blomanger," "egerduse" (i.e., aigredouce, "sweet and sour"), and so on, and two guides for dealing with rancid venison.
57. For to kepe venisoun from restyng, tak venisoun wan yt is newe & cuuer it hastely wyþ fern þat no wynd may come þereto and wan þou hast ycuuer yt wel led yt hom & do yt in a soler þat sonne ne wynd may come þerto. & dimembre it, & do yt in a clene water & lef yt þere half a day, and after do yt vpon herdeles for to dre; & wan yt ys drye tak salt, & do after þy venisoun axit, & do yt boyle in water þat be so salt als water of þe see and moche more. & after lat þe water be cold, þat it be þynne, & þanne de do þy venisoun in þe water & lat yt be þerein þre daies & þre ny3t; & after tak yt owt of þe water & salt it wyþ dre salt ry3t wel in a barel, & wan þy barel ys ful cuuer it hastely þat sunne ne wynd come þereto.
58. For to do awey restyng of venisoun, tak þe venisoun þat ys rest & do yt in cold water & after mak an hole in þe herþe & lat yt be þereyn þre dayes & þre ny3t; & after tak yt vp & frot yt wel wyþ gret salt of poite þere were þe restyng ys. & after lat yt hange in reyn water al ny3t or more. (73)

57. To keep venison from going rancid, take venison when it is new and cover it quickly with ferns so that no wind can reach it and when you have covered it well take it home and put it in a cellar so that no sun or wind can reach it. and dismember it and put it in clean water and leave it there half a day, and afterwards put it on hurdles to dry it; and when it is dry, take salt and salt your venison as much as it needs, and then boil it in water as salty as sea water and even much more. and afterwards, let the water cool so that it thins [i.e., so that the sediment settles to the bottom], and then put your venison in the water and leave it there for three days and three nights; and afterwards, take it out of the water and salt it with dry salt very thoroughly in a barrel, and when your barrel is full, cover it hastily so that neither sun nor wind can touch it.
58. To salvage rancid venison, take the venison that is rotten and put it in cold water and afterwawrds make a hole in the earth and leave it there for three days and three nights; and afterwards take it up and rub it well with saltpeter [potassium nitrate] where it is rotting. and afterwards hang it in rain water all night or longer.
The two guides appear only in Bodleian Douce 257, dated to 1381, which includes "various mathematical and calendrical treatises, riddling verses, and practical jokes" (Hieatt and Butler 18), mostly in Latin. If the manuscript's available online, or even just a full list of its contents, please let me know in the comments.

EDIT: grading procrastination update, several hours after first posting. Douce 257 was formally Douce 21831. Some of the Middle English appears in the DIMEV here; and contents summarized briefly here (A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford 569-70); and summarized at more length here (Catalogue of the printed books and manuscripts bequeathed by Francis Douce, to the Bodleian Library 40-1).

It's no great surprise that Diuersa Servicia items 57 and 58 appear only in this manuscript, as the other extant versions are missing many or most of the other recipes. It's more surprising that none of the other cook books in EETS ss. 8 have guides for preventing or correcting putrefaction, and that neither do any of the (few) others I've examined (eg, these two Anglo-Norman cookbooks; or this first foray into Taillevent). I've vainly looked for bits about rotten meat in the cynegetic manuals of William Twiti and Edward of York, but if my search is to be anything but preliminary, ARLIMA's list tells me I have much more hunting to do.

Turning from what we can loosely call practical advice to what we can just as loosely call textual advice, Hildegard's Physica doesn't help me, while Albert the Great's De Animalibus and the very similar material in Thomas of Cantimpré tantalize with "The innards of a deer are very malodorous, a condition Pliny ascribed to the bile diffused through them" (97; in Thomas, "Intestina cervi fetida valde sunt, et hoc opinatur Plinius proptera, quia fel in intestinis habet, quod abhominantur canes" [which dogs hate]; see also Vincent of Beauvais, "intestina cerni [sic, for cervi] valde foetida sunt, vnde non comeduntur a canibus, nisi sint valde famelici" [hence they won't be eaten by dogs unless the dogs are very hungry]). Also, says Albert, and Thomas, and Vincent,  "twenty worms reside in the deer's cervical spine."

To me, that seems like a lot of worms.

For the time being, I'm at bay, with no clear way out. I do know that medieval cooks are a passionate lot, and hunters just as much so. If you're one of these--or even if you're just an interested passer-by--weigh in. You think I can take "venison" in the Diuersa Servicia as meaning just or primarily "cervids"? Is this concern about rancid venison unusual? Just practical advice any hunter would know? Where else should I look? I haven't yet looked at Walter of Bibbesworth, but a helpful spirit on Facebook tells me I'll come up empty. Walter of Henley's on his way to me. Where else?

7 comments:

Unknown said...

On "venison," I think it's unfortunately uncertain. Twiti calls the beasts of venery the hart and hind, boar, and wolf, and the MED gives ("venesoun," c): "c1300 SLeg.Magd.(2) (LdMisc 108) 342: Huy nomen with heom into heore schip ... Venesun of heort and hynd and of wilde swyn." Still, I'd bet that it does primarily refer to deer, especially in quantity of meat eaten.

Since you've gone the cookbook route, which seems like it'd be the most useful, you might try game rolls. Cummins, The Hound and the Hawk, includes in Appendix II (pp. 260-65) an abbreviated version of the Framlingham Park Game Roll of 1515-16, which he takes from E.P. Shirley, Some Account [sic] of English Game Parks (London 1867). Though I don't see anything about rotting venison in the appendix, it does list large numbers of deer that have died from sickness, weather, dog attacks and such, and the full version might have something useful.

Another tactic might be to look at poaching. Poaching was frequent and there was even a booming black market in venison as a prestige dish, and while poachers would kill live deer, perhaps they also would take carcasses they found? Some accounts of such activities might include how the venison was preserved, though it's probably mostly legal records. Derek Rivard and Jean Birrell have good articles on poaching, as does Barbara Hanawalt. I skimmed a couple trying to answer your question, but saw nothing that immediately jumped out at me in them. You'd probably have to follow up their sources. I can send you pdfs of these ones mentioned with no trouble, if you don't have them and if you'd like.

One other avenue might be the forest eyres, but I believe they're mostly in untranslated Latin and I'm not sure how much slogging you want to do for what would likely be glancing references.

Good luck!

Ryan Judkins

Unknown said...

By the by, re: Thomas of Cantimpre and Vincent of Beauvais, Edward of Norwich relates that during the curee, the dogs were usually fed on the innards of the deer, including the stomach, lungs (if they be hot) and the intestines, after they'd been washed, usually chopped up and all mixed together with blood and bread (p. 177 in the 2005 Univ. of Pennsylvania ed. of Master of Game and p.271 in McNelis's 1996 diss. edition).

Ryan Judkins

Karl Steel said...

Thanks very much Ryan! Since yesterday, I am increasingly thinking that venison could mean boars and cervids in this context, since my wife looked at the first recipe and said, "oh, that's how you make salt pork. Remember that Kentucky Ham?"

However, all the records of the particular law I'm interested in (the bit about distributing "fera" to lepers) concern deer, not boar, so all I'll have to claim is that these two reciples could concern the carcasses of cervids. And that's certainly correct.

I'll look at the Shirley, which is available online here. This will be useful, as was this famous account of the deer-stealers of Inglewood and also this set of Staffordshire pleas of the forest. In a larger sense, I'm interested in the way that deers' independence as living, desiring things frustrates human mastery of the forest: what's a king to do when the deer are dying of disease or fighting each other (and Albert, Thomas, and Vincent all remark on the terrible violence of rutting deer). It's one thing to fight human or lupine poachers, but how does a king fight, well, the energies of life itself? This is where biopolitics comes into the picture (and here's the kernel of an argument I'll be making for an article due at the end of October).

I did a lot on hunting in the dissertation (almost none of which made its way into my book), so I've read the Rivard and Hanawalt a lot of Birrell, but it'll be good to return to this material with my current interests driving me. I'm pretty sure I have pdfs of this stuff handy.

I'd be happy to dig through the eyres, at least the edited ones!, since I imagine the latin's so formulaic that it'll just be a matter of looking for a few key words. Apart from the excerpts I have listed above (and the Turner's gargantuan Select Pleas of the Forest), what else do you recommend?

In re: feeding the dogs, I have a little bit on that in my book, and also a little blog post in mind on the topic, if I can squeeze in time today when I'm not grading Marie de France papers...

Karl Steel said...

correction: Alison denies saying anything about hams, Kentucky or otherwise.

Ryan Judkins said...

In this context of deer frustrating human control, I wonder if it would be interesting to talk about people who heal sick deer (i.e. people attempting to control illness or the effects of predation, especially, for your purposes, if they fail at it)? It might fit into the broader context of deer parks, where the parker tries to ward off predators and provides food for semi-tame deer. There's the romance trope (as in Marie de France) of a knight wounding a deer and then being compelled to go on a quest to heal it. There are also a few accounts of deer being kept more or less as pets (I gave a paper on two accounts of pet deer at Kalamazoo a couple of years ago), so people might have tried to patch them up.

For forest pleas, Turner would have been my go-to volume. Maybe these other two Selden Society volumes will be useful (it looks like they've been removed from the Internet Archive, though they're still listed):

William Craddock Bolland, ed., Year Books of Edward II. Volume 8. The Eyre of Kent, 6 and 7 Edward II. A.D. 1313-1314. Volume 3. (1913) (Internet Archive - Text Archive)

William Craddock Bolland, ed., Select Bills in Eyre. A.D. 1292-1333 (1914) (Internet Archive - Text Archive)

Ryan

Anonymous said...

I think the problem of rotten venison was particularly pressing because venison was often a prestigious gift from a lord to his non-hunting peers or retainers. Sending gift chunks of deer by messenger several days' travel must have made freshness a special issue for both sender and recipient. 17th cent. Samuel Pepys is very pleased and proud to be given a haunch of venison by his patron, Lord Sandwich. Pepys in turn impresses his friends by giving them a dinner party featuring venison pasty, a prestige dish. Along these lines, I recall a 17th cent. cookbook's advice on how to disguise rotten venison in pie-making (salt and spices).

Karl Steel said...

Anon -- great points (hadn't thought of point that recipes a response to a practical problem not inherent to the meat but rather to how it's used). And I'd be VERY grateful if you could direct me to some likely sources for this 17th c. cookbook. I checked one (which, I can't remember) and found nothing like that in it.