pork


One thing that’s often sadly neglected in modern studies of Colonialism is that it’s a two-way street. The influence of the colonizer is, of course, more visible: roads, architecture, clothing, and often even bureaucratic and governmental practices. Nevertheless, the colonized have their own effect on their foreign rulers and nowhere is this more evident than in food. Our own country is a textbook example of this (cornbread stuffing, clambake, or jambalaya, anyone?), as is the long British “relationship” with India.

Imagine a vegetarian shut-in and a carnivore with a gun sharing an apartment that the vegetarian owns, and you’ve got something of an idea of how the British and Indian food cultures intermingled during the Raj. Indian foodways adapted to embrace more meat and foreign ingredients (the chili and tea being the most important), and British foodways developed a certain respect for local spices. Consider the following, from Jennifer Brennan’s  excellent Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and  Cookbook of the British Raj:

Bacon and Coriander Pancakes (From Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and Cookbook of the British Raj)

  • 12 slices bacon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 8 fl oz milk
  • 2 tbs finely chopped coriander
  • 4oz mango chutney

Dice bacon finely and set aside. Sift flour into a bowl and make a well in the center. Stir in eggs and half the milk and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in remaining milk, and stir in chopped coriander.

Fry a heaped tablespoon of bacon in a small pan until crisp. Pour enough batter for one pancake over bacon and fry until underside is light brown. Turn and fry other side, then turn out onto a clean tea towel and fold towel over to keep warm. Repeat until all pancakes are cooked.

Spoon chutney into a small saucepan. Thin with 1 tbs water and heat. Use as sauce for the pancakes. Serve warm.

I wish I could include the vignette that goes with this recipe: it’s priceless. Suffice it to say that if you can find a copy of this book it’s worth picking up even if you never intend to cook anything from it.

To go with the pancakes, I made some straight-up English Oxford Sausages. The skinless, hand-rolled Oxford Sausage dates back to the 18th Century, and it’s unclear wether the name actually refers to Oxfordshire itself or the Tavern at Oxford Gates where the dish may have originated. Either way, it’s traveled around the world wherever British people have gone, including to our own shores: it’s Recipe #25 in Martha Washington’s cookbook (I own the Karen Hess version), and was almost certainly eaten by our first President at his own breakfast:

To Make Oxford Kates Sausages: Take ye leane of porke, or veale, and 4 pound of beef suet, or butter, and shred ym together very fine. Yn season ym with 3 quarter of an ounce of pepper & halfe as much cloves and mace, a good handfull of sage shred small, and what salt fits yr pallate. Mingle these together, yn take 10 eggs, all but 3 whites,  & temper all together with yr  hands.  And  when you use ym,  roule  ym out about ye length and bigness of yr finger. You may roule ym up in flour if you like, but it is better without. When you fry ym, ye butter must boyle in ye pan before you put ym in. When they are pritty brown, take ym up. Their sauce is mustard.

I’ve got several modern recipes for these, all of them good. For the casual enquirer, I’d suggest this one, from a Konemann Step-By-Step cookbook I picked up at Milwaukee’s beloved Half-Price Books in my college days. It has the advantage of not requiring suet, which isn’t always easy to come by in the urban US.

Oxford Sausages (from Step-By-Step English Cooking)

  • 8 slices white bread, in small crumbs
  • 3/4 lb ground pork
  • 3/4 lb ground veal (turkey works, if you have ethical or budgetary issues with veal)
  • 2 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, kneading with your hands until throughly combined. Divide into 8 portions and roll into sausage shapes. Place sausages on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until browned.

If you’re unconcerned about cholesterol, you can also brown them in butter or some other fat, as per the 18th Century.

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English food culture has been beef-based for a long time; at least as long as horses were able to replace oxen as draft animals. When English people came to America as colonists, they brought with them several culinary expectations, one of which was that beef would continue to be the center of their dietary experience.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way. The cattle the settlers brought over with them had a lot of trouble adapting to the new climate and new sources of food (cows can be pickier than people when it comes to that kind of thing), and maintaining a stable cow population was rough going for a while. Instead, the settlers turned to a heretofore undervalued resource: the pig. Unlike cows, pigs really don’t care what they eat, breed quickly, and are smart and clean enough not to require a whole lot of attention. Pigs took to the New World so well, in fact, that they became something of a local nuisance with half-feral  hogs breaking down fences, digging up crops, and attacking people in the street (needless to say, early Colonial promotional literature stays diplomatically silent on the subject of vicious gangs of rogue pigs, though court documents paint a horrifying picture of the porcine criminal class).

Wether because of their reputation as violent walking garbage disposals, or simple Anglo-Norman culinary preference (food snobbery is a universal human trait, but it’s worth noting that hog is one of only eight wholly Celtic words remaining in the modern English language), Pigs were traditionally a “lower class” meat source in Britain. Fortunately, self-preservation is also a universal human trait, and pork became a staple source of meat and fat for all classes in America until beef could reliably be acquired. By the 18th Century, Americans and American foodways were undergoing a very conscious process of Anglicization as colonists tried to demonstrate their cultural solidarity with the Mother Country by buying and eating British (and as Chris Onstad says, there’s nothing more British than a man sick on beef), but pork remained a staple element of the American diet to a degree that set it apart, especially in the Chesapeake and Deep South.

As to what you’d actually be eating if you stopped for a bite back then, Hannah Glasse suggests this method of roasting:

Pork must be well done, or it is apt to surfeit. To every pound allow a quarter of an hour…When you roast a loin, take a sharp pen-knife and cut the skin across, to make the crackling eat the better…. Roast a leg of pork thus: take a knife, as above, and score it; stuff the knuckle part with sage and onion, chopped fine with pepper and salt: or cut a hole under the twist and put the sage &c. there and skewer it up with a skewer. Roast it crisp, because most people like the rind crisp, which they call crackling.

For modern purposes this version of Hannah Glasse’s original, from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, is excellent:

Roast Pork

  • 1 half leg of pork with skin, about 8 lbs
  • 1 tbs fresh sage
  • 1 recipe Sage and Onion Stuffing
  • Flour for dredging

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bone the pork (if necessary) and sew or skewer one end together to make a pocket for the stuffing. Spoon stuffing into the cavity and sew or skewer opening. Using twine or string, tie roast into a an oblong package. Dredge with flour and place in oven. Immediately reduce heat to 350 degrees and roast for about an hour.

Remove roast from oven and carefully score skin in one-inch squares. Tear sage into small pieces and stuff into cuts. Return to oven and roast for two more hours, or until it reaches an inside temperature of 160 degrees. Let rest at least 15 minutes before carving.

Sage and Onion Stuffing

  • 1 large onion, peeled
  • small handful fresh sage
  • 1/4 lb stale French bread, crumbled
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper

Blanch onion in boiling water for five minutes. Add sage and cook 30 seconds more. Strain and chop coarsely. Add bread, mustard, egg, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Makes enough for an 8 lb roast.

The roast...complete!

The mustard adds a definite bite to this one. For authentic tavern fare, serve it with some applesauce or brown onion sauce, and perhaps some Carolina rice. Or cheat and use wild rice.

Pork with wild rice