Food is one of the most fascinating topics to discuss, at least where history is concerned. After all, it's something that every living organism requires to survive and is something that has been influenced by practically every force in the world - from the environment to politics and trends, and everything in between. The earliest forms of culinarily advanced food are perhaps the most interesting to ponder, as these dishes are often unusual and foreign to us now, with ingredients that many wouldn't dream of using.
It's also true that table manners during the Medieval era were much stricter than they are today but that doesn't mean the food was better... And, in this case, it's certainly nothing to be polite over. Some of the most popular dishes sound like a dare from the show Fear Factor rather than an actual meal with the difference being that you probably couldn't pay anyone enough to try these.
Cockentryce, Among Other Hybrid Animal Parts
The more research that's done on food customs during medieval England, the stranger things seem to get among the wealthy classes. Food was not only a form of sustenance as it was among lower classes, it was a way to show off one's status in society. As such, food was often presented in such a way that portrayed it with a certain sense of power and pride, which is where the cockentryce comes into play.
This was not merely one animal that was cooked and served, it was a combination of two: a fattened chicken and a pig. Usually, the front half of the bird would be sewed to the back half of the pig, but this could be interchanged given the situation. The entire thing was then roasted before being covered with batter and was then decorated in a way that made it look more regal. This form of meat mashups was akin to food entertainment and things such as nuts, berries, and herbs would be used to decorate any number of hybrid animals that adorned the dining hall table.
Across the pond in America, during the early 1500s, the settlers had a rough go of things during their first few years. Many colonies faced a lack of adequate food with some, such as Jamestown, turning to horrendous means in order to survive.
In New England, the settlers lived their lives according to what the church dictated which, during days of fasting, mandated no meat aside from fish. With the settlers falling on hard times with little choice of what they could actually eat, beavers - specifically, their tails - eventually fell under the definition of 'fish.'
Turtle, And Mock Turtle, Soup
Nowadays, no one would dream of eating a turtle or hunting one down just to make soup, as many of them are protected by law. However, in 18th-century Britain, turtles were brought in from the West Indies specifically for this purpose. The fanfare that surrounded this custom would seem mocking nowadays, with the soup served in both the upper and lower shells of the turtle.
Eventually, the process of making the soup became too expensive and was far more time-consuming than any cook could deal with, and the answer was to use dry or canned turtle meat instead. This lasted until the 19th century when mock turtle soup became popular although it wasn't that much more appetizing: to make the soup, cooks used calf heads.
The biggest question mark regarding the idea of eating dormice is that it's still unclear if this was a go-to dish or one that was eaten by select people, as the dormice we have today are slightly different than what was eaten during the Roman Era. These small animals can be found throughout the Mediterranean and even in parts of Western Europe and catching them was something Romans were particularly good at. Once caught, the mice would be fed an exponential amount of food in order to fatten them up for a meal, usually with a combination of acorns, walnuts, and chestnuts.
Interestingly enough, this dish was not at all about the fact that one could eat something so small and minuscule, according to History Extra. Rather, the point was that regardless of how seemingly insignificant it was to eat a mouse, the person responsible for serving the meal had the monetary position to afford cooking something so time-consuming and frustrating. These mice would be roasted with honey, stuffed with pine nuts, spices, and pork, but it wasn't really the flavor that mattered... it was the fact that guests were in the presence of someone who had the money to cook them.