Soused pig's face!
It's Captain Jack Aubrey's favorite dish. In one of her letters, Jane Austen describes having just eaten some. But what is it, actually? Obviously there are pigs involved. My initial guess would have been that alcohol was somehow involved in the cooking process, like the 1815 equivalent of drunken chicken, but my limited Internet research, which led me to this fascinating book, suggests this is not the case:
SOUSED PIG’S HEAD AND FEET.
Clean them extremely well, and boil them; take for sauce part of the liquor, and add vinegar, lime or lemon juice, salt, cayenne, black and Jamaica pepper; put in, either cut down or whole, the head and feet; boil all together for an hour, and pour it into a deep dish. It is eaten cold with mustard and vinegar.
In fact, the first definitions listed of souse as a verb are "to pickle, or to plunge or steep in a liquid, or to make wet." The slang sense of "to make or become intoxicated," which is the one I thought of first, is only No. 4.
I've been thinking a lot about food in 1815 lately, having been writing a chapter in which my time-traveling characters go to dinner at Henry Austen's house. In general, they find the food of 1815 hard to get used to, particularly since in their world of 2089 nearly everyone is a vegetarian, and meat-eaters are regarded with the kind of pitying disdain that cigarette smokers face today. (I am imagining the world of 2089 with certain politically correct, eco-friendly trends of today taken to ridiculous extremes.)
In 1815 everyone was a locavore; there was no choice in the matter. My characters probably approve of this, but not so much Mrs. Dalgairns's merciless way with overcooking vegetables, i.e.:
TO BOIL LARGE WHITE CABBAGE.
Wash and clean them thoroughly; if large, cut them into quarters, or divide them; put them on in boiling water, and throw in a little salt; boil them for nearly two hours.
TO BOIL YOUNG GREEN CABBAGES.
Wash and clean them well; put them on in boiling water with a little salt in it, and let them boil quickly from three quarters to nearly an hour; serve with melted butter.
Quickly boil for nearly an hour? How is that quick? More proof of what we already suspected, that the 19th century had a different sense of time. Or maybe it just means a rapid boil?
Another fascinating difference: The Practice of Cookery has, in addition to a chapter about pork, a chapter about pigs: How to care for them and what to feed them, how to handle them after they are killed. (There are no instruction for actually killing the pig, making me wonder whether the potential readers of the cookbook outsourced this job, or it was something so obvious as to need no explaining.)
Your Sunday Austen Meditation
3 days ago