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Cock Ale and other culinary oddities

Home made pork pie

I’ve been researching food and drink history recently (and trying out a few traditional recipes like the very tasty pork pie over there –>).

It’s a fascinating subject and it’s apparent that our ancestors had a much less finicky approach to food and drink. Among the oddities I have unearthed are a Medieval recipe for “Garbage”, made with all the bits of a chicken you’d normally throw in the…umm..garbage, like the head, feet and entrails. They also had assorted ways of cooking pretty much anything that flies, walks or swims (boiled heron, anyone?) and some rather novel ideas for flavouring alcoholic beverages, which brings me to the Cock Ale.

Now I can see that this particular beverage might have led to a misunderstanding that has formed the basis of generations of stag night revelries, largely since the recipe opens with “Take 10 gallons ale, a large cock…” fnar! fnar! But in this case the cock in question is, in fact, of the crowing variety… No, not that kind of crowing, we’re talking cock-a-doodle-do…fine, have it your own way. Either way, this recipe is not for the faint-hearted, so if you are squeamish,  read no further!

 

Cock Ale (1780)

Take 10 gallons ale, a large cock (the older the better). Slay, caw and gut him, and stamp him in a stone mortar. Add spice and put all in a canvas bag. Lower him into the ale while still working (fermenting). Finish working and bottle.

Mmm-mmm! Aren’t you just salivating to try that?… No? Well how about some nice Cornish cider instead? …Yes? Here you go, made in the traditional way with sheep’s blood, hot and freshly slaughtered, though sometimes still alive… No? Sure? Oh well, alright then.

The idea behind using blood stems from a primitive belief that the strength and courage of the beast would be thus absorbed. There were stories of human bodies being concealing in hogsheads of ale. (Hmm, maybe hogshead is rather more literal than I’d imagined – if anyone is familiar with the origin, perhaps they’d care to comment?)

These days, we are much more civilised. We stuff our food and drink with chemicals, preservatives and hydrogenated fats instead and, in the course of the mass manufacturing process, season it with assorted bugs, rat hairs, mouse droppings and the odd fingernail (in very small proportions, of course). Yum! Yum!


26 February 2011

6 Comments to “Cock Ale and other culinary oddities”

  1. Shoooman beans…in the ALE???? Makes a wee ‘roofie’ in your lager shandy seem quite innocent!

    I may never look at my pear cider in the same light again….

    Ali x

    • Ali, I think your pear cider is probably sterilised to within an inch of its life, bug poo and all! TBH, I’ve always thought sterility was overrated. We never would have discovered the joys and horrors of alcohol without mould, let alone penicillin 😀

  2. Scary stuff, Ania, both medieval and modern! Were you inspired by Heston, or just by your medieval fairs? And are you going to try making the ale, or stick to pork pies?

    • Chloe, I’m aware of Heston in much the same way as I am aware of the M4 services of the same name – I know the name but I’ve never been there LOL
      I’ve been interested in food history and traditional recipes since the early 80s (long before my involvement in medieval fairs).
      I don’t think I’ll be trying the cock ale, though I have made a few period ales in my time – Elizabethan herb ale, nettle ale, saxon honey ale, as well as assorted meads, including cyser and metheglin. I’m drink my own wine at the moment 😀
      I recently started making cheese (have some draining now) and have a long-held desire to have a smoke-house. Believe me, pork pies are just scratching the surface 😀

  3. I’ve never liked pork pies; and your tales here just prove how hardy our ancestors were….

    • I never liked pork pies (or sausages) either, until I tried really good examples of them. Home-made means you know what has gone into them, i.e., real meat and not lips and arseholes. It’s a whole different kettle of trout 😀

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