More on Cats for Cooking

May 16, 2008

A conversation I had yesterday with another unnamed individual:

“Have you ever eaten cat?”

“Yes. My grandmother used to cook them.”

“Where did she get the cats from?”

“She raised them?”

“In a cage?”

“No, outside.”

“And to kill them?”

“You use a rifle.”

Cat Cacciatore

May 14, 2008

A conversation I had today:

“What did you do yesterday?”

“I cooked lunch for my family. Polenta and roast beef. I prefer rabbit but my children don’t like it. I also like cat but they don’t like that either.”

“Cat with polenta?”


“What kind of sauce?”

“Cacciatore. With tomato sauce.”

“Where do you get the cats?”


“Is it good?”

“If the cat is good, then yes. You don’t want a domestic cat that has been raised on food from a can. They need to eat mice and snakes.”

. . . . Now, I know that this cat is a specialty of the area I live in (Ticino), but I have not yet been actually offered it.

Notes On a Modern Epicure

September 9, 2007

The following story is a continuation of this piece about escargot. It was originally published on (who never did manage to pay me for it) : 

Notes On a Modern Epicure


They say the golden age will return. Let us hope so.

– Remy de Gourmont

Mr. Antiphilos, Satyr

     Arthur Day diverted the gardener, having him plant and grow those vegetables of old, those, in an age of narrow taste, no longer available at the common grocer. There were purple hyacinth beans, once favoured by Thomas Jefferson, which matured into bleeding red pods containing cyanogenic glucosides, poison, but, if properly prepared, were delicious. Young and prehensile, the pods of devil’s claw resembled okra, but were far tastier. The garden was a veritable orchestra: the long and thin kipfelkrumpl potatoes, skirret, the ornamental yet exquisitely edible Joseph’s coat. Then winnigstädt cabbage, which twisted into a lovely pointed head and, turned into sauerkraut, went well along side a few roast squab. The blue shackamaxon bean made a black polenta, sapid, reminiscent of a creek at night; served with a shank of lamb, anointed with pinoli and claret gravy it was ideal for supping on a mellow spring night.

     These early, almost aboriginal vegetables, he found tasted best along odd sorts of game – rich meats. The classical horsetooth amaranth went well with roast rabbit or civet. Evening primrose added a certain piquancy to a Brunswick stew cooked with grey squirrel. Opossum and malabar spinach. Baked crane with barely cooked crosnes and syrup of violets. Bear and Texas bird pepper. Beaver tail and cymling squash. Woodchuck with welsh onions. The combinations were numerous; but not infinite.

     Perusing antique cookbooks he came upon attractive recipes and put them to practice:

Item: Three green geese in a dish, sorrell sauce

Item: Potage of sand Eeles and Lamprons

Item: Galandine for a crane or a Hearne or any other Foule that is black meat

Item: Lamb’s ears with shallots

Item: Chauldron for a Swan

     He was delighted with a recipe for stewed larks:

     First take them and drawe them cleane, and cut off their feete, and then take a good deale of wine in a platter, and take a good deale of marow, and put it in the Wine and set them on a Chafing dish, and let them stew there a good while, then take a quantitie of smal Raisins, and wash them clean and put them into the broth, and take a little sugar, and Sinamon, and a few crums of manchet bread, and put them into the Larkes, and let them stue altogither, than take and cut half a dosen Tostes, and lay them in a Platter, then put them in a dish with broth, and serve them out.

     The recipe ‘To still a cock for a weake body that is consumed’ he found infinitely amusing:

     Take a red Cock that is not too olde, and beate him to death, and when he is dead, fley him and quarter him in small peeces, and bruse the bones everye one of them. Then take roots of Fenell, persely, and succory, Violet leaves, and a good quantitye of Borage, put the Cock in an earthen pipkin and betweene everye quarter some rootes, hearbes, corance, whole mace, Anis seeds, being fine rubbed, and Licorice being scraped and sliced, and so fill your pipkin with al the quarters of the Cocke, put in a quarter of a pinte of Rosewater, a pinte of white wine, two or three Dates. If you put in a peece of golde, it will be the better, and halfe a pound of prunes, and lay a cover upon it, and stop it with dough, and set the pipkin in a pot of seething water, and so let it seethe twelve houres with a fire under the brasse pot that it standeth in, and the pot kept with licour twelve houres. When it hath sodden so many houres, then take out the pipkin, pul it open, and put the broth faire into a pot, give it unto the weak person morning and evening.

     In his search for new peculiarities, ever inclined to the tender, he bent his brow toward the smaller creatures. In Australia he tried fried witchety grubs, enjoying, in a morbid sort of way, the creamy texture of the inside as it contrasted with the crisp and delicate skin. Venezuela offered the roasted tarantula, which he imbibed daily throughout his three week stay – Six to a plate; he cracked them open like crabs and, with naked fingers, advanced the bits of delicate flesh between his parted lips . . . While touring China he sampled scorpion soup, and then, with the stingers removed, the same creatures raw, crudo, a kind of hyper-exotic sushi . . . The mopane worms of Botswana he ate while sitting on an old log, under the flaring sun, the only white man for a hundred miles round . . . In Mexico ant larvae and pupae called escamole (a step above any brutish caviar), as well as fried red agave worms; the very same used in the popular drink mescal . . . Mealworms. Stinkbugs. Creatures that crept under rocks, existed in roiling bundles of multiplexed consciousness, honey-combs of living, crawling matter to be sampled in his nomadic journey through decadence. Read the rest of this entry »

On Escargot

July 31, 2007

This is an extract from a short book I wrote some time ago. I have had various parts of it published in various places, but never the entire thing:

On Escargot

Arthur Day went through a phase of snail addiction – Raising them himself, like a true Roman decadent, on bay, wine, and a spicy chiffonnade. He naturally preferred the Burgundy snail, or Helix pomatia over its slightly more coarse cousin, the Petit-Gris, or Helix aspersa, but at first did not so much as consider the challenge of cultivating it. And, as far as he was concerned, the Gros-Gris, or Helix aspersa maxima, was absolutely out of the question, with its dark mantle and generally uncouth persona. This snail might do for the commercial growing houses and those counterfeit gourmets whose faces appear like peruked balls of suet on the TV screen, but for him it held no more charm than a Van Gough painting reproduced on a coffee mug.

As he applied his little trident to a plate of well-prepared escargots à la bourguignonne, he would dream of his service to the world: A new breed of snail, one with all the nicety of the Burgundy, but as easy to cultivate as the Gros-Gris. He set himself to heliciculture with an admirable vigour. One March, he personally went to France, to the forests around Brive, and captured two hundred prime specimens of the Burgundy. He flew them home in a series of specially prepared, climate-controlled boxes. He was up to the challenge. The snails were put in cages containing a beautiful, black soil he had trucked in from his brother’s ranch. He watched the creatures with great interest as they slithered over the moist dirt, feeling a strange kinship to their hermaphroditic state. By May he had two thousand five hundred delightful little Burgundies, each one as delicate as a dew drop and as precious as a jewel. These he put in a ten square meter greenhouse, within which grew rows of young lettuce, chicory and basil interspersed with finger bowls of a very raw Slovenian wine called Terrain. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Bake a Cockatrice

July 13, 2007

This is an article I wrote a few years ago for a magazine called Renaissance. They ended up reducing it to about half the length and having me cut out a lot of the terminology. Anyhow, here is the original:

How to Bake a Cockatrice, and Other Gastronomic Oddities

A Window on Renaissance Dining

    Have you ever been struck with a sudden urge for a dish of quails farced with figs, or desired nothing so much as a plate of cockscombs on lettuce? Maybe not, but for a decadent of the Italian Renaissance, such dishes were the standard fare. In imitation of the Roman Emperor Heliogabalus, who ate such extravagant things as peas with gold-pieces, lentils with onyx or beans with amber, the Renaissance nobles were true gourmands.

     Classes however were drastically divided. While the rich were living in sumptuous conditions, unheard of today, the common people generally suffered a great deal. Throughout the whole of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries alone there was on average a famine in Europe every eight years.

     The poorer people ate, for the most part, things such as corn mush, coarse bread, stock fish and salt pork. Those of a somewhat higher standing ate beef, white bread, wine, and cheese.

     For the nobles and their circles, meal time was an altogether different matter.

     The Italians led Europe in virtually all things; in the art of cooking no less than that of painting, dress and conversation. While England and France were still using their hands to eat with, the Italians had developed the novelty of the fork. The Englishman Thomas Coryate, upon visiting Italy at the turn of the fifteenth century, commented that he had never in all his travels seen such a wondrous way of eating, and forthwith brought the custom back to England for the enrichment of his own civilisation. Catherine Medici had brought forks with her to France nearly seventy years earlier, but their use apparently never caught on. It is interesting to note that she is also considered responsible for first bringing liqueurs to France, an invention which caught on very well. Read the rest of this entry »