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Introduction | Reviews | Dark Omens and Dangerous Prophecies | Boars' Heads and Cats' Tongues

A Skinful of Shadows

Boars’ Heads and Cats’ Tongues

Are you ready to cook a seventeenth century feast?

We’ll just need a few dishes – a boar’s head, roast swan, roast goose, larks and thrushes on spits, roast woodcock, snipe pie, oyster pie, jugged hare, poached chicken with quinces, suckling pigs, some soups, cheesecake, gingerbread, Shrewsbury cakes, potted lampreys, and plenty of spiced wine.

And we’ve got important guests coming, so we’ll need a particularly fancy dessert. Can you manage a knot garden made of marchpane? Or maybe a huge, castle-shaped cake, with tiny cannons that actually go bang? You don’t mind, do you?

I’m afraid your oven is basically a great big fireplace, like this one.

Bolsover - hearth and ovens
Hearth and ovens at Bolsover Castle

It doesn’t have a fan to make sure things are cooked evenly. But you do have this:

Turnspit dog
Illustration from Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales by Henry Wigstead

It’s a turnspit dog. It runs in that wheel, which slowly revolves a roasting spit with the meat on it. The poor thing probably looks a bit hot and bothered, spending so much time near the roaring hearth, but it’s that or you’ll be standing by the fire turning the spit yourself…

I’m afraid you don’t have a fridge either, but you have an ice house, and a stone trough full of salt to keep meat fresh.

Bolsover - stone troughs for salting meat
Stone troughs at Bolsover castle, with little holes to drain out the salt

Don’t worry if you can’t find a real boar’s head. You can always squish lots of pig-brains into a boar’s-head-shaped mould. That’s almost as good, and won’t look gross or terrifying at all…

Here are some weirdly named delights that might turn up in our feast.

  • Wet Suckets: A disturbing, slithery name, but this is just citrus fruit preserved in syrup.
  • Jumbals: Sugar cakes with ‘sack’ or sherry in them.
  • Lambswool Ale: A hot ale mixed with spices and roast apple pulp, often served on Twelfth Night.
  • Hedg-hogg: No, it’s not actually made with hedgehog. It’s a hedgehog-shaped pudding made from sugar, eggs, rosewater and spices, using currants for eyes and almonds for prickles.
  • Cat’s Tongue Biscuits: Once again, no cats were harmed in the making of these biscuits…
  • Flummery: A sweet and starchy pudding.

Oh, and there might be quite a lot of washing up…