Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb, Poultry, Fowl, Fish and Game.
Variety is indeed the spice of life!
Victorian cookbooks cover meat recipes in extensive detail. The recipes are generally divided by type of animal. A chapter will typically begin with how to choose the best animal when at market (always shop with the same seller so as to build rapport and not be swindled), followed by directions on how to butcher the animal or where the different cuts of meat are located on the animal. The homecook would have had considerable knowledge – and practice – in butchering, boning, trussing, and dressing various animals and cuts of meat.
After covering of the basics, the author will present recipes that may – or may not – be organized based on how the animal is to be prepared: roasted, stewed, fried, in pies … There are plenty of options!
The round in large families, one of the most profitable parts usually boiled, and, like most of the boiling parts of beef, generally sold at less than the roasting joints. ~1872
Selecting Your Cut.
The excerpt below is from an 1870s cookbook. Of course, some authors went so far as to provide sketches of the different cuts on the carcass.
“Well-fed beef may be known by the texture and color; the lean will exhibit an open grain of deep coral-red, and the fat will pappear of a healthy, oily smoothness, rather inclining to white than yellow. The suet firm and white. Yellow fat is a test of meat of an inferior quality. Heifer beef is but a little inferior to ox beef; the lean is of a closer grain, the red paler, and the fat whiter. Cow beef may be detected by the same signs, save that the older the beast the texture of the meat will appear closer, and the flesh coarser to the sight, as well as harder to the touch. The grain of bull beef is coarser and closer still, the fat hard and skinny, the lean of a deep red, and it has a stronger scent. Ox beef is the richest and largest; but in small families, and to some tastes, heifer beef is preferred if finely fed. In old meat, a streak of horn runs between the fat and lean of the sirloin and ribs; the harder this is, the older, and the flesh is not finely flavored; that is to say, the horn has becomes o firm as to appear like bone; but oxen are always the better if kept until fife or six years old.”
The proportion of persons who are fond of pork to those who dislike it, are as a hundred to one, and yet it is falsely considered in vulgar taste. ~1872
Selecting Your Cut.
To Choose Pork. If the rind of pork is tough and thick, and cannot easily be impressed with the finger, it is old.
If fresh, the flesh will look cool and smooth; when moist or clammy it is stale. The knuckle is the first to become tainted.
Pork is often what is called measly, and is then almost poisonous; measly pork may easily be detected; the fat being full of small kernels. Swill or still-fed pork is not fit for curing either dairy or corn fed is good.
Fresh pork is in season from October to April.
In cutting up a large hog, it is first cut in two down the back and belly. The chine [sic] or backbone should be cut out from each side the whole length, and is either boiled or roasted. The chine is considered the prime part. The sides of the hog are made into bacon, and the inside or ribs is cut with very little meat; this is the spare rib.
Poultry & Fowl.
All feathered friends were possible dinner dishes. Recipe collections include your standard chicken, turkey, and duck, but they also cover wild birds and songbirds alike. Do you remember that nursery rhyme line: “Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie?” No doubt that someone, somewhere, at sometime was eating raven or crow.
Pigeons were a particularly popular dish. Housekeepers would raise pigeons for food, but also to sell for extra income at the local market. The lady of the meager house our country home would have been expected to care for, raise, and market her own flock of birds. To that end, cookbooks often included a section on animal husbandry for various kinds of birds.
Carving birds was as big of an ordeal 150 years ago as it is today! The presentation. The show. The expectation. Again, diagrams with step-by-step instructions helped our cooks navigate the complexities of Victorian etiquette when faced with a large roast turkey.
Fish dishes were common on menus, but by no means were chefs limited to just fish. Victorian cookbooks include a wide variety of recipes that included bounty from both fresh and saltwater bodies. If you enjoyed shellfish, shrimp, oysters, lobster, eel – and more – you’re in luck! Oysters in particular were a popular starter or side dish. Easily harvested, they served as quick, delicious appetizers. If you could catch it in the water, you would probably find it on your plate or in your bowl.
Many Victorian Era cookbooks include a chapter on wild game. These recipes covered animals native to wherever the cookbook was published. Rabbits, or hares, squirrel, deer, elk and more all make appearances. Game recipes often call for roasts, stews, hash, smoked meat, and jerky. Here’s a recipe for stewed venison from the 1860s:
Interested in learning more about Victorian Era cooking? Feel free to explore Convivial Supper.