A look at some of history’s weirdest cuisines
The past is a funny thing. Oftentimes, what seemed so cool “back in the day” has the power to make us cringe when we encounter it in the present. This is true of just about anything, ranging from serious issues like the oppression of an entire people group (slavery) to even just a terrifying hairstyle (the mullet). But whatever it is, odds are if it makes sense to us today, it may very well be gawked at tomorrow. To celebrate the ridiculousness of days gone by, here are some of history’s most embarrassing, taboo, and no longer eaten foods starting with:
Weird foods can be found as far back as the days of ancient Rome with the catching and preparing of what today would be considered pretty appalling: a type of mouse aptly named the edible dormouse. In his article titled, “Eat Like a Roman” on Gourmet, food critic Robert Sietsema wrote that dormice would be “dipped in honey and poppy seeds” and then “eaten as appetizers, or as desserts.”
The dormice were typically a larger type of mouse, but according to “Edible Dormice” from BBC, those that were deemed too thin were kept and fed by the Romans to ensure as much meat could be eaten from those tiny mouse bones as possible.
While never the main course, the Romans took the business of mice-eating very seriously and would often spice up the recipe with an infamous Roman concoction known as garum. Garum was a popular Roman sauce made up of the organs of dead fish and flavored with salt. As stated in an article on garum from the University of Chicago, the sauce sat for about two months, giving it the time it needed to ferment before being used to liven up a large variety of Roman dishes. It smelled about as bad as you would expect it to, but this did not prevent the Romans from smothering their food in literal fish guts.
The Middle Ages were definitely not a time renowned for having an abundance of nutritious food options. However, there was certainly no lack of culinary creativity. For those born into wealth, one exotic dish involved the cooking of hedgehog.
A recipe from Le Menagier de Paris, a medieval guidebook, describes how to properly prepare the then-popular entre?e: “Hedgehog should have its throat cut, be singed and gutted, then trussed like a pullet, then pressed in a towel until very dry; and then roast it and eat with cameline sauce, or in pastry with wild duck sauce.”
Those interested in trying this forgotten meal will be disappointed as hedgehog is now considered a protected species and therefore no longer served anywhere. Other honorable mentions of now taboo foods from the Middle Ages can be found from several culinary manuscripts on MedievalCookery.com, which includes enticing recipes for squirrel and sheep penis, which would have been flavored with cinnamon, ginger and pepper.
Roasted swan was a favorite food of the royal family. According to the article, “Why Don’t We Eat Swans Anymore?” on Modern Farmer, swan dishes would commonly appear at the feasts of Henry VIII and could be prepared in several different ways, ranging from being stuffed with other birds to being served with special seasonings like yellow pepper.
In fact, the royal family valued swans so much that in 1482 the Act Concerning Swans was passed, an official declaration that all swans belonged to the monarchy. While swan is no longer enjoyed as a meal by the royals today, the law remains in effect and a census known as the Swan Upping occurs annually at the Thames. But according to the official website for the British Monarchy, nowadays the ceremonial Swan Upping is used to organize data to assist in the conservation of swan life rather than to gather swans for a tasty meal.
Turtle soup is exactly what it sounds like: soup containing turtle meat. Believe it or not, for a long time this bygone meal was very popular in the United States. President William Howard Taft called it his favorite food, and it was commonly served in the White House during his presidency.
According to “The Rise and Fall of Turtle Soup” from History.com, the soup became popular during the days of the original colonies when green snapping turtles could easily be found. It retained its popularity for years, earning its place as a staple of American food.
Unfortunately, in an article titled “Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio and Turtle Soup?” from Huffington Post, writer Matthew Jacob states that by the mid-1900s the turtle population had diminished and cooks had grown tired of dealing with the aggressive nature of the turtles. Thus, turtle soup disappeared from American dinner plates.
While it is extremely rare to find it on any menus today, some still attempt to imitate the unique taste of turtle by creating “mock” turtle soup for which various recipes can be found online.
Ethan Cannon is a freshman journalism major who isn’t going to be sharing any of his dormice with you. Email him at [email protected]