From Tudors to Turducken: An Engastration Tale


Greetings, food history lovers.

I’d like to start this post by thanking Sally Evans for choosing this topic and for her donation to the Delicious History Podcast Project! Part of her prize was getting to choose something for me to write about, and she definitely chose wisely. Now let’s explore the world of monster-roasts!

Engastration is the proper term that is used to describe the act of stuffing an animal into the insides of another animal, and then cooking it. A charming description, I know.

Arguably the most famous engastration creation is the Turducken – A de-boned chicken stuffed inside a de-boned duck, stuffed inside a de-boned turkey. The exact origin of the Turducken is debated, however, Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme claims to have invented it and managed to secure a patent on the recipe in 1987.  It was then further popularised by American football commentator John Madden during the NFL. He also promoted it on Fox Sports by feeding it to the Thanksgiving Bowl winners.

Despite the three-bird feast being in the public eye for a relatively short period of time, the tradition of multi-bird and multi-animal roasts have a long history. This is unsurprising if one considers humanities love for playing God. Some historians claim that these roasts emerged during the middle ages, while others believe they can be traced back to ancient times.

Although there are literally hundreds of variations, today we’re going to be looking at some of the more notable edible monstrosities from history.

Tudor Christmas Pie – It actually looks quite palatable…from the outside

Tudor Christmas Pie

The Tudors are known for their overly gluttonous feasts, and their Christmas Pie certainly fits the mold. It consisted of a coffin shape pie crust that enveloped a turkey stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon. The tradition of this extravagant pie lived on, and a similar recipe can be found in The Art of Cookery, which was published in 1747. It also became fashionable to serve these pies cold during the 19th century, which is something I think I would find rather hard to stomach.

Cooking these multi bird roasts inside a pie was a common practice at the time due to the use of fire for cooking, as opposed to ovens. If cooked on their own, the outer layers of meat would become tough and dry.

Cockentrice

Not satisfied with merely stuffing creatures into one another, the Tudors can also be attributed with combining animals for their feasts. The most famous is the cockentrice – a pig and a capon that are sewed together to create a new mythical beast. It was born out of Henry VIII’s uncontrollable desire to impress the King of France by throwing a £5 million on a literal meat feast. In addition to the cockentrice, the celebration also consisted of 2000 sheep, 1000 chickens and a dolphin. Because, y’now, that’s necessary.

A similar creation to this is the Helmeted Cock, which first appeared in medieval French cookbook Le Viandier de Tailleven. As opposed to sewing the two animals together, the capon rides the pig and is outfitted in the coat of arms of the honoured Lords who are present.

Rôti Sans Pareil

Translated to ‘Roast Without Equal’, this was created by 19th century French gastronomist Grimod de la Reynière. This testament to human will consisted of seventeen birds that were stuffed in the following order:

  • The Helmeted Cock
  • Giant Bustard
  • Turkey
  • Goose
  • Pheasant
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Guinea Fowl
  • Teal
  • Woodcock
  • Partridge
  • Plover
  • Lapwing
  • Quail
  • Thrush (not the disease)
  • Lark
  • Bunting
  • Warbler

Reynière even published the recipe for his creation in a volume of L’Almanach des Gourmands. Because obviously this is something that people would want to make on a regular basis, and clearly gives Jamie’s 15-Minutes Meals a run for its money.

 

Kiviak

This one isn’t for the faint hearted, nor the weak stomached.

Kiviak is a traditional winter food of Greenlandic Inuits that involves obtaining roughly 400 auks (a type of sea bird) and stuffing them into a seal carcass. In case you were wondering, this includes their feathers, beaks and feet too. Seal grease is applied in order to prevent spoilage and then the entire thing is covered by a large rock pie and fermented for 3 – 18 months. Once the carcass is unburied everything is consumed…raw.

Thanks for joining me on this exploration into the realm of culinary monstrosities! To finish, I’d like yo know if any of you out there have tried a Turducken or any other multi-animal roast. If not, would you be game?

A Very Tudor Christmas


Merry Post-Christmas, everyone!

Now, I know I’m at least two posts overdue and am therefore a very naughty blogger. I can assure you that I have a very good excuse in regards to the END OF THE WORLD post. I was melting down sugar to make salted caramel and it splashed up and burnt every finger on my left hand. It wasn’t pretty. I’m convinced that I’m going to have a rather obvious scar on my thumb.

As for the lateness of my Christmas post, I have no good excuse. I spent the day I had allocated to writing at a water park. I’d apologise if I didn’t have so much fun.

Anyway! Onwards, upwards and every-other-way-wards! Seeing as we’re still within the confines of the Festive Season, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the delicacies involved in Tudor period celebrations.  So, as you recover from your food and family comas, enjoy reading about just how damn long the Yule Tide season was celebrated in 16th century England. If you weren’t exhausted already, I can guarantee that you will be by the end of this.

Unlike in Modern society, Tudor Christmas celebrations didn’t begin until Christmas Day itself, which kicked off the 12 days of Christmas. That’s right, they partied and feasted for almost two straight weeks. No thank you.

The period leading up to the Christmas celebrations was (and still is) known as Advent, and it began on the fourth Sunday preceding December 25th.  Ironically enough, this was a time of fasting and prayer, as opposed to a time of scoffing tiny chocolates out of an Advent Calendar.

A traditional Christmas boar head being presented by a creepy 16th Century Colonel Sanders

Christmas during the Tudor times involved traditional foods, as it does today. For example, on most modern tables ones would find a leg of ham. A Tudor Christmas table was much the same. Just replace the pig with a boar and the leg with a head. Tasty. The boar head was the centerpiece of the table and an all round Christmas pièce de résistance.

Christmas Day wasn’t the most important day in the Tudor Yuletide calendar. That honour went to Twelfth Night, aka the twelfth day of Christmas. One of the most important items associated with the day was the Twelfth cake, and not only because it was the dessert.

Traditionally, a gold coin or ring was baked into the cake. The idea was that whoever found the prize within their piece would preside over the evenings festivities. If it was a man, he would be the King of the Bean, if it was a woman, the Queen of the Pea. These names originated from poorer households that couldn’t afford to bake gold into the cake, and thus used a pea or a bean instead. This tradition is still maintained in France, where a coin or a small gold figurine of the Christ child is baked into an almond tart.

Despite its importance to Twelfth Night, the exact nature of the Twelfth Cake remains a mystery. However, one source suggests that the main ingredients were flour, honey, ginger and pepper.

Due to the importance of Twelfth Night, it was often a political affair within the Royal Household. Those who were in favour with the Monarch often had the coin planted within their piece of cake. Often this included ladies in waiting or maids. The theory behind this was to prove that the King or Queen were happy to be upstaged by servants, thus demonstrating their kindness and benevolence.

Another Christmas tradition was that of wassailing. This was a fertility rite that was leftover from the Pagan days of Britain where one would toast fruit trees in order to encourage them to produce a good crop the following year. Every region had its own traditional Wassail beverage. Some of these included cider, ale or spiced drinks such as lambswool, a kind of beer that was served warm.

That’s it for our Tudor Traditions today, however, there will be a great deal more where that came from in the future. I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas and that you’re still enjoying all of those lovely leftovers. As for me, I need to get my Yuletide loving butt to the gym before gravy and sugar start escaping through my pores.