Playing cards that taught 17th-century cooks to carve meat (2019)

53 points
1/20/1970
10 months ago
by pepys

Comments


DoreenMichele

My understanding is lower classes historically didn't eat much meat. They couldn't afford it.

In a college English class that covered poetry, decades later the only thing I remember clearly is the professor commenting on how "greasy Jane stirs the pot" meant there was meat, thus this was an upper-class meal, otherwise it wouldn't have been greasy and she was likely a servant. He went on about how elegant it was to convey so much info with a single word but it only does that if you know enough context, which means enough history.

So the existence of this pack of cards likely suggests rising wealth generally. It suggests a world in which people who didn't normally eat meat might begin to eat meat enough to need or want written instruction because their associates likely also didn't know how to carve meat or someone would just show them or tell them.

10 months ago

OfSanguineFire

> My understanding is lower classes historically didn't eat much meat. They couldn't afford it.

Depends where and when, but while that may have been likely for the rural poor throughout history, cities were different. For example, as one can learn from commentaries on Chaucer’s society at the time of the Canterbury Tales, the 14th-century London masses were indeed eating lots of meat. Of course, this was largely poultry (and not always the choicest cuts thereof) instead of luxurious meats like beef, but nevertheless it was meat. A couple of centuries later, sausages were a common snack of the proles attending Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theater.

10 months ago

throwaway35590

>Of course, this was largely poultry (and not always the choicest cuts thereof) instead of luxurious meats like beef

This comment comes as a surprise to me. My understanding is that historically, before the second world war, chicken was prohibitively expensive and considered a delicacy.

10 months ago

Retric

“Chicken was one of the most common meats available in the Middle Ages.[6][7]” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_as_food

US cattle prices pre WWII were low because the US had huge tracts of cheap land and rail networks to move that meat into cities. Medieval Europe had a very different logistical situation.

10 months ago

ffgjgf1

IIRC eggs were somewhat rare/expensive

10 months ago

OfSanguineFire

No, eggs, too were commonly consumed in the Middle Ages. In fact, even if the rural poor ate little meat in the sense of cuts off dead animals, they had access to eggs. Have you seen how many eggs are produced by even a modest henhouse next to a village home?

10 months ago

ffgjgf1

> Have you seen how many eggs are produced by even a modest henhouse next to a village home?

Yes, I do.

Which is why I found the prices listed here quite surprising:

http://medieval.ucdavis.edu/120D/Money.html

Two dozen eggs cost the same as two chickens.

I would guess they were much more available in the countryside and the cost might have been high in cities because of no refrigeration (while animals were only butchered on the spot more or less)

10 months ago

OfSanguineFire

That price list puts the cost of two dozen eggs, or two chickens, at the same price as a gallon of ale. And we know that ale was widely consumed. If anything, this only underscores the accessibility of both eggs and chickens to the masses.

10 months ago

ffgjgf1

If you ignore the average wages at the time then perhaps.

This is a pretty interesting answer (the thing I forgot is that chicken laid significantly less eggs back then than modern ones do):

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/afq8jy/how_o...

(It claims that even rural peasants could hardly afford to eat more than an egg or two per week)

Regarding ale most poor people probably drank the .75d one and no the one which cost 1.5d. (Also poor people still mainly drank water)

e.g. the daily wage for a semi skilled worker was 2-3d. If you have to fed a family that’s not a lot and eating eggs would certainly not be that common.

10 months ago

j7ake

That’s essentially the British social class system in a nutshell: very subtle accents, dress, and manners convey how high you are on the social hierarchy.

Everything is understated, dressing flashy or bragging is vulgar.

10 months ago

walthamstow

Agree on everything except accents.

If a person is from anywhere in the south of England, I find it really easy to read all kinds of details from their accent. I can hear what kind of area they grew up in, what kind of school they went to, the education level or profession of their father/parents, basically their entire social class.

I find it a lot harder with northern accents, though, due to lack of data.

10 months ago

rhaps0dy

Are you Professor Higgins?

10 months ago

naniwaduni

They're just Br*tish, I think.

10 months ago

nemo44x

> So the existence of this pack of cards likely suggests rising wealth generally.

Yeah, the article alludes to that and suggests the cards were used by a family that became wealthy enough to serve meat to guests but not so wealthy as to be able to hire a carver/servant.

10 months ago

thedailymail

One of my favorite things about earlier ages of English is the degree of linguistic specificity they developed for distinctions that we would now find meaningless or unnecessary. For example, red deer of different ages and sexes might be called brockets, spires, hearsts, staggards, harts or hinds.

But the lexicon got really involved when it came to carving. This is from a 17th c. book, The Gentlewoman's Companion:

In cutting up all manner of small Birds, it is proper to say, Thigh them; as thigh that Woodcock, thigh that Pidgeon; but as to others say, Mince that Plover, Wing that Quail, and wing that Partridge, Allay that Pheasant, Untach that Curlew, Unjoint that Bittern, Disfigure that Peacock, Display that Crane, Dismember that Hern, Unbrace that Mallard, Frust that Chicken, Spoil that Hen, Sauce that Capon, Lift that Swan, Rear that Goose, Tire that Egg. As to the flesh of Beasts, Unlace that Coney, Break that Deer, and Leach that Brawn. For Fish; Chine that Salmon, String that Lamprey, Splat that Pike, Sauce that Plaice, and Sauce that Tench, Splay that Bream, Side that Haddock, Tusk that Barbel, Culpon that Trout; Transon that Eel, Tranch that Sturgeon, Tame that Crab, Barb that Lobster.

10 months ago

klyrs

The salmon-cutting diagram makes me unreasonably angry. I guess we've learned a lot since then...

10 months ago

Waterluvian

I have a hard time believing the “gosh we were so dumb back in the past” take on things. Especially when it comes to effective use of food, which was considerably more valuable back then.

I imagine there was a lot about the times that we aren’t privy to when we make our judgements. We’re not playing with a full deck of cards, if you will… ;)

10 months ago

cm2012

Dissemination of information really is that much better now.

It's like, did you ever play a competitive video game with your friends as a kid? Smash bros or starcraft or whatever? And then when you grow up you find out that even the best of you is completely horrible compared to even a low ranked real competitor. It's almost like a totally different game.

Back then so many more things were like that.

10 months ago

klyrs

So do I... usually. But seriously, look at that wavy line: what are we doing there? And those belly cuts? Did you gut this fish already (if not, ew), or are you serving salmon-steak-ends?

10 months ago

Waterluvian

Oh yeah no, I’m with you. It’s perplexing. But I’ve got to trust there’s an explanation.

10 months ago

icegreentea2

Btw, the text that went with the cards is here: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo2/A42620.0001.001/1:5.2?rgn...

Why they went for a scallop cut, I have no idea, but from my text it seems like they were aiming to break the salmon cuts down into grades.

And actually, I guess we should remember that these are 'table carvings'. The fish has already been cooked more or less whole, and the cards are telling you how to carve and serve at the table. So at that point I guess, the scallop cuts are just.. pure show.

10 months ago

pimlottc

Care to explain more, for those of us who don't carve fish?

10 months ago

klyrs

To be fair, I am being somewhat (perhaps overly) dramatic. Salmon is just one of those foods I have opinions about. Of the three cuts presented in the more modern diagram [1], I think that pan dressed is superior to filet, and steaks are an atrocity.

[1] https://vectorstock.com/6186158 (Edit: link fixed)

10 months ago

alehlopeh

I have opinions about the over-use of italics.

10 months ago

klyrs

The site doesn't do underline, and I'm too lazy to make that happen in unicode.

10 months ago

alehlopeh

Even worse. If you think people need little helpers like underlines or italics to understand what you’re trying to say, maybe say it differently.

10 months ago

riffic

diagram not found

10 months ago

snug

10 months ago

Arrath

It appears to be a diagram to slice the fish up into a number of weird little steaks/cutlets vs the more traditional 'two half-fish filets'

I imagine that deboning that thing after is a right pain.

10 months ago

naniwaduni

What do you mean "deboning", do you not pick the bones out as you eat the whoooole fish?

10 months ago

klyrs

I like to roast, then filet. If you do it right, even the pinbones come out and you're left with a whole skeleton. The immense satisfaction of getting it out in one piece is why I'm so (self-mockingly) aggrieved.

10 months ago

mprime1

My completely unsubstantiated guess: knives were less sharp and unable to do the cuts we use today. They wavy bits especially is how I would go about it if I had a dull blade

10 months ago

INTPenis

Funny headline but I doubt an apprentice was sitting and studying playing cards. You don't have to go far back in time to see how people in rural areas were raised. They saw their parents carve up meat before they hit puberty. It was mostly learning by doing, and learning by being chewed out when you messed up. Not magical cards.

10 months ago

[deleted]
10 months ago

2-718-281-828

standard deck card games are great and themed decks can add a nice touch and inspiration for conversation while playing.

10 months ago