10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing

Alexander Meddings - March 23, 2018

6) Rôti Sans Pareil

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
Rôti Sans Pareil. Joe Burger

If you thought this list had moved away from animals being stuffed inside one another, think again. Literally meaning “roast without equal”, the Rôti Sans Pareil makes the American turducken look like deeply disturbed child’s play. As the name might suggest, the Rôti Sans Pareil was a French creation. And as an engastration, it was frankly insane: consisting of no less than 17 birds stuffed inside one another.

Its bourgeois inventor, Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de la Reynière (1758 – 1837), was a man whose depth of character was matched only by the length of his name. Alexandre’s father once returned home to find his son hosting a magnificent banquet at which a costumed pig sat at the head of the table. Later in life Alexandre even faked his own funeral to see who would turn up. But it was as the founding father of modern food criticism and the publisher of several works about good taste that Alexandre is best remembered.

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
Alexandre-(Balthazard)-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière. New York Times

He published the ridiculous recipe for the Rôti Sans Pareil in his 1807 publication L’almanach des Gourmands. In order from smallest to largest the birds the recipe proscribed be stuffed inside one another were: a warbler (stuffed with an olive stuffed with an anchovy stuffed with a lone caper) > a bunting > a lark > a thrush > a quail > a lapwing > a plover > a partridge > a woodcock > a teal > a guinea fowl > a duck > a chicken > a pheasant > a goose > a turkey > and finally a giant bustard.

And that’s not all. In addition to 17 avians, the recipe also called for a pig to provide salted pork fat, forcemeat, and chopped ham. Only when the engastration had been layered with this forcemeat, as well as with Lucca chestnuts and breadcrumbs, could it be left to slow cook over a fire in a pot of onions, cloves, carrots, celery, and pretty much as many fresh herbs and spices as were available.

If you think creating this dish would have been hard, imagine trying to source its ingredients. Of all the weirdest food delicacies in history, this one would be the most difficult to recreate. Some of the 20 or so animals that would have to meet their maker, the bustard for example, are simply are on the brink of extinction. And the fact that it’s illegal to hunt them would dissuade any professional chef from cooking up a storm.

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
Poisonous Purple Pears. Buzzfeed

5) Poisonous Purple Pears

The Georgian era (1714 – 1830) was an interesting time for food. In many ways it was ahead of its time. Cooks of the age, for example, recommended cooking vegetables for a short time and with little liquid, much as we do now. Open-air markets sold fruits sourced from across the empire. And “ices” (much like ice cream) arrived from France and Italy as an after-dinner delicacy. In other ways, however, the era was rather backwards. Not least because it was during the Georgian period that a poisonous recipe came to be published in a household cookbook.

The toxic speciality in question is the dish known as stewed warden pears. According to the recipe, you take six large winter pears, peel them, quarter them, drizzle them in cloves, lemon peel, sugar, and red wine, and then leave them to stew in a large dish covered by a pewter lid. Charmingly, being left to stew beneath a pewter lid will cause the pears to turn purple. Less charmingly, the reason the pears turn purple is that they become infused with the pewter’s tin, copper, and lead.

This leads us to the main downside of this dish: that it will inevitably and unavoidably kill anyone who eats it. As the lead from the pewter mixes with the acid in the pears, the seemingly harmless stewed fruit becomes fertile ground for lead poisoning. I’ve yet to come across anything linking any particular deaths with the dish. But considering its toxicity was only discovered retrospectively, we shouldn’t rule anything out.

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
“The Art of Cookery Made Simple” signed by Glasse herself (1747). Wikimedia Commons

The inventor of this toxic speciality was Hannah Glasse (1708 – 1770), the author of the cookery book of the age The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple. Glasse had a hard life. Despite clearly being a born entrepreneur, luck was seldom on her side. And at the age of 49 a series of failed business ventures resulted in her first having to sell her copyright for the Art of Cookery before having to spend a brief stint in two of London’s debtors’ prisons.

Nevertheless, Glasse has gone down a treat in history; or at least more than her poisonous pears. One critic has cited her as the original domestic goddess; another as the mother of the modern dinner party. One thing’s for sure: of all the weird and wonderful recipes she invented there’s one you’d do well to steer clear of.

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
Beaver Tail. Getty Images

4) Beavers’ Tails

First off, this is not to be confused with the beloved Canadian snack of the same name. That beaver tail is a delicious, hand-stretched, deep-fried wheat dough. And other than the fact that it’s shaped like a beaver’s tail, there’s very that’s little weird about it. The same can’t be said for the beaver tail here in question although the two are linked: in the eighteenth century Canada’s early European settlers noticed that the aboriginals would cook beaver tails over an open fire until they cracked (the tails that is, not the onlookers), so they could access the meat inside, leading them to apply the same technique to their bread.

But not all settlers shied away from this aboriginal delicacy, as testified by literature of the time. In A Journey to the Rocky Mountains (1839), Wislnzus wrote, “In summer the beavers are lean… but in winter they get fat and have thicker hair. Their meat is very palatable. The tails, which are fat all through, are especially regarded as delicacies”. The British explorer and travel writer George Ruxton (1821 – 1848) once wrote about eating the tail of “an old “man” beaver whose head was perfectly grey with age, and his beard of the same venerable hue.”

What’s less well-known is that this delicacy wasn’t only exclusive to North America but was eaten in considerable quantities in pre-Reformation Europe too. It goes without saying that in the fifteenth century the Church had enormous power in dictating the lives and values of Europe’s god-fearing population (which, in effect, was the entire population). On fast days, which included not just lent but also Advent, Fridays, and Wednesdays to name a few, eating animals was forbidden. But fish weren’t, and because beavers were native to water rather than land, people were able to get around this stricture by munching on their tails.

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
Beaver tail on a cracker. Cannundrum Blogspot

So how do you go about making this bizarre delicacy? Well you can cook it directly on burning coals, stick it on a grill above open flames, or just not even go there in the first place! If you choose to cook it on coals, you’ll know it’s done when it turns black. Peel away the blistered skin and you’ll be left with muscles, tendons, and a single bone running down the middle, hidden behind a layer of oozing fat. Hungry?

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
Viper Soup. Wikimedia Commons

3) Viper Soup

Here we have another Georgian creation, this time taken from Charlotte Mason’s The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table (1787). Reading Ms Mason’s recipe, it’s hard to say whether she’s describing part of the cookery process or one of the twelve labours of Hercules. First, she writes, “take vipers, alive,” (from where she doesn’t specify) “and skin them, and cut off their heads; then cut them in pieces, about two Inches in length, and boil them, with their Hearts, in about one Gallon of Water to eight vipers, if they are pretty large.”

The jury’s out over what’s worse: the recipe’s violence or Ms Mason’s blatant disregard for correct comma and capital letter usage. What’s beyond dispute however is the mind-boggling popularity of this dish. It’s known to us from several eighteenth century sources, all of which unsurprisingly suggest adding either white wine or liquor to the broth. But before you gag, Ms Mason does suggest garnishing the soup with various herbs and spices, not to mention slices of lemon. So it’s all good.

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
The more violent the death, the more potent the recipe (or so it was believed). Foods of England

So how did this exotic delicacy find its way to English shores during the eighteenth century? The answer, unsurprisingly, lies with Britain’s Empire. Viper soups seem to have come from China, where snake skin was revered for its remedial benefits. A snake’s natural flexibility was thought to offset our stiff, arthritic joints; its regular shedding of skin was thought to serve dermatological purposes; and its strong venom was believed to inject a spot of that manly vigour so important to Georgian culture.

This explains why various viper soups or broths were recommended to cure (or at least alleviate the symptoms of) a number of ailments. And the predominant belief of the age that an animal’s sudden and violent added to the potency of its healing powers goes some way in explaining the palpable violence of Ms Mason’s recipe and why the vipers had to be alive in the first place.

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
Frog legs. Huffington Post

2) Frog legs

“Sacre bleu!” I hear you say; frog legs isn’t a weird delicacy from history, it’s a weird delicacy from now. And from France! Well yes, and no. While frog legs are indeed enjoyed nationwide across one of the foremost culinary countries in the world, they’ve only been a popular part of their national cuisine for the last 200 years or so. As a group of archaeologists recently discovered when they found cooked frog leg bones while excavating an ancient English site in Wiltshire near Stonehenge, the Brits had been tucking into this delicacy as far back as 7596 – 6250 BC.

This predates the first written attestation of the French eating frogs (12th century) by a fair few millennia. And it also makes it slightly awkward. Since the eighteenth century, “frog” or “frog eater” have been insults the Brits have thrown at their French counterparts across the narrow channel; insults to which the French habitually responded by calling us “the roast-beef” or les rosbifs. Indeed, frogs and frog legs used to be synonymous with the hated French and were therefore hated themselves; so much so that in the 19th century when the French chef Auguste Escoffier tried to sell frog legs to a London clientele, he resorted to trying to call them “nymphs”.

There is one important thing to bear in mind regarding these prehistoric Britons’ consumption of frog legs. Until around 5,500 BC, Britain was still physically connected to mainland Europe, somewhat blurring the lines between our prehistoric ancestors’ national consumption. Frog legs are still considered a delicacy, exported widely in the East especially from countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand. But when it comes to creating national stereotypes, they are at their most powerful in France.

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
“Calf’s Head” by Francisco de Goya. Wikimedia Commons

1) Boiled Calf’s Head

Just as tea is Britain’s national drink, so too is roast beef the country’s national dish. From the still-savoured cuts of rump and sirloin to the slightly less desirable bullock’s heart (a common substitute for the Christmas turkey for the poor of Northern England), since the English Reformation in the 1600s we’ve been consuming beef in the brisket load. And if you need any more proof as to how strongly the stuff flows through the veins of our national identity, “les rosbifs” is a term the French have been using to insult us since the 1850s.

Of the hundreds of varieties of how we cook our beef, one particular recipe stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Or rather just heads. The recipe in question is for the Calf’s head, and it first dates from the year 1660, when the English king Charles II was restored to the throne. Before we look at how to prepare this delicacy, it’s worth emphasising that the recipe was as symbolic as it was gastronomic. For in terms of cattle rearing and animal husbandry, the English in this period were at the cutting-edge (or at least as cutting-edge as it was possible to be in the pre-industrial age).

10 Weird Food Delicacies from History that are Not Appetizing
Calf’s head and feet. Foods of England

Several versions of the recipe have been passed down. And we have the Poisonous Purple Pears’ creator Hannah Glasse to thank for one of them, who not only illuminates her reader as to how they can boil, bake, or hash the head but also suggests a recipe for how they can turn it into a rather charming pie. The process is much the same; at least for the first part. You have to wash the head well, removing as much brain and blood as humanly possible, and then boil it in water and liquor until it’s tender. Only then can you remove the skin, slice the tongue, and, in case you were wondering, gouge out the eyes.

As well as the sage, meat, and breadcrumb stuffing packed into the head, condiments to compliment the dish include a lovely white wine, nutmeg, and orange sauce (sprinkled with a dash of salt of course). But just in case this is starting to sound tempting and you’re thinking of making this for your next Sunday lunch, just be aware that it’s pretty hard to get hold of and it might not be quite to everyone’s taste.