[Sca-cooks] Crocodile was Magpies

Dragon dragon at crimson-dragon.com
Tue Mar 4 15:22:46 PST 2008

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius wrote:

>On Mar 4, 2008, at 4:26 PM, Dragon wrote:
> >> You are misinterpreting what I said. I did not say I had
> > documentation for any of this.
>I made a pretty off-the-cuff statement myself, so I'm no one to point
>fingers, but I'm not sure the lack of documentation for a statement is
>the problem in this discussion. It _is_ sort of an academic
>discussion, and some of the people here are playing by more-or-less
>predictable academic rules, an important one of which is that you
>don't  look for a piece of paper to back up a statement you've made.
>Rather, you base your statement on observation and analysis of the
>things you've seen -- including, if you're a student, a good number of
>pieces of paper, probably.

Yes, it was a speculative statement, not anything I could document. I 
don't have a library at hand right now nor do I have the time to 
devote to delving into this. It was a statement that I personally 
would NOT be surprised at the human consumption of any given animal 
in any given culture.

There are a multitude of examples of other culture in the world 
eating things that in our own cultures we would not consider to be 
proper food stuffs.

> > What I did say is that they ate a ton of odd things
>Well, okay. Let's try this: how do we know what odd things they ate?
>Mostly from written accounts, like, say, Apicius, Vinidarius, Pliny.
>Right? Otherwise this starts to look like we're repeating urban
>legends. The trouble is, these sources don't seem to mention these
>types of animals.

No argument there.

>Mostly the exotic animals they do mention are birds
>and fish, it seems to me. Is it conceivable we've grown comfortable
>believing certain things without evidence, and that what we think we
>know is, in fact, myth, in some cases?

I NEVER said I believed they did, saying that I think something was 
plausible is not me saying I think it did, in fact, occur. Saying 
that something is conceivable based on circumstantial evidence from 
historical accounts in documents other than cook books is not a 
statement of doctrine by any stretch. Plausibility is not certainty.

>Lots of people know, for
>example, that the Romans ate sauce made of rotten fish, which isn't
>quite the case.

One person's fermented fish sauce is another person's rotten fish. 
There are people in parts of the world who see milk products, 
especially cheese as thoroughly repugnant. Muslims and Jews have 
prohibitions on pork, to them it is unclean and unfit for human 
consumption. Cows are sacred to Hindus and not to be eaten, those are 
just a few examples of varying food attitudes the list is extensive 
and goes on and on.

>They know all about Roman vomitoriums, which are far
>more typical in other times and places than in decadent Imperial Rome.

I believe I have heard something in the last couple of years that 
called this alleged practice into serious doubt.

>We all know medieval cookery uses dozens of spices mixed
>indiscriminately, and that more spices were used to cover the flavors
>of rotting meat (both also false).

A bit of logical reflection will dispel that notion in no time. 
Spices were expensive, the only people who could really afford them 
were the same people who could afford fresh meat. It was an erroneous 
statement made after the fact by somebody who was then inexplicably 
taken as an authority on the subject. As a matter of fact... This 
deals with that quite nicely:

Now there is a common practice of hanging game for some days before 
preparation to allow it to tenderize and improve in flavor a bit. To 
some modern people, I guess this is tantamount to eating rotten 
flesh. As many of us with a more culinary bent know, this is done 
even with domesticated meats to a fair extent even today, it's just 
done in refrigerated warehouses now and actually takes longer than 
the typical two or three days used with fresh game.

> > so it would not
> > surprise me if they did eat these things also.  There are historical
> > accounts of all sorts of exotic species being brought to Rome for
> > gladiatorial games (no, I don't have any references handy, this is
> > from memory).
>Suetonius comes to mind; probably Pliny.

Indeed. But I didn't want to reference them without looking it up.

> > It is not a far stretch to think that once these
> > animals had been dispatched in the games that they would have been
> > eaten.
>I strongly suspect it would make a lot more sense to feed them, while
>still relatively fresh, to the surviving animals, especially since
>they almost certainly died under duress and full of adrenalin.

That is probably a reasonable assumption as well. But I would not be 
surprised at people of lower classes salvaging some of these animals 
for their own consumption. Again, that is a speculative statement and 
I have nothing other than a belief (based on observation of many 
cultures) that people tend to exploit any available food resource 
they can lay there hands on. This is especially so in the case of the 
poor. One of the large problems we face in attempting to document 
anything in period is that the poor were, with few rare exceptions, 
illiterate and thus did not write down what they cooked and ate.

Those who were writing cookbooks were almost always the servants of 
the rich and they were documenting what was being prepared in the 
kitchens of the rich. A lot of knowledge has been lost about what 
people were really eating in any given area in any given time before 
literacy became a common thing.

> > I not specifically aware of any texts in Chinese medicine that regard
> > use of the crocodile as I have not done any such research. However,
> > through a casual knowledge of modern Chinese medicinal practices, I
> > know they use a lot of reptiles including all sorts of lizards,
> > cobras and other snakes. So again, I would not be surprised if they
> > did use crocodiles in some medicinal soup. Virtually every edible
> > item in traditional Chinese culture is associated with some sort of
> > supposed medical benefit.
>Okay, I'm with you there. We tend to have frog's legs in the freezer,
>just in case, for soups of this very kind, and there are pharmacopeias
>available in English for dealing with Chinese herbal medicine; I'm
>sure info on this subject would be in one or more of them. I'll see if
>I can check one of them this evening. But whether this constitutes
>evidence of crocodiles being eaten in Europe in period, I doubt.
>There's just too much circumstantial evidence to suggest that such
>creatures were loathed, and not, AFAIK, enough evidence to suggest
>they actually were eaten on any regular basis, except for frogs (which
>are mentioned in Le Menagier).

Again, my knowledge here is observational, not documentary. I've been 
in Chinese herbal shops and seen all sorts of dried reptiles, snakes 
in jars, snake oil, etc.


  Venimus, Saltavimus, Bibimus (et naribus canium capti sumus)

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