Boiling mice in the name of history October 3, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback
It is widely known, Beachcombing believes, that the Romans ate dormice. Despite sumptuary laws forbidding the practice – dormice were an indulgence – they were fattened in gardens and kept in winter in a glirarium (a large ceramic jar) to prevent them hibernating (and becoming thin…). They were then cooked, stuffed with pine kernels, garum, and ground-up dormouse meat and pepper and were by all accounts delicious. Though Beachcombing, who is a whimpish vegetarian, would have preferred the cheese-and-chives on toast diet of the poor described in Virgil’s Moretum.
But what interests Beachcombing today is not the fact that the Romans ate dormice. After all, every culture scoffs things that seen from afar are ‘strange’: whale penis, seaweed soup, sheep stomach, marmite… Rather it is the attempt by one Roman scholar to recreate the Roman tradition by boiling a mouse on live television.
The scholar in question was Patrick Faas whose Around the Roman Table is the first purchase that anyone interested in Roman food and drink should make. AtRT is an attractive mix of Roman customs and Roman recipes with winning pencil-line illustrations. And it was while cooking a Roman meal described in said book that Faas boiled his mouse for one of the Dutch TV stations.
Here Beachcombing must confess to having a very British attitudes to animal cruelty. Just to give the reader an idea, he had a blazing row with two-year-old little Miss B this morning because she was maiming ants in the garden.
But as he has long collected bizarre historical recreations – follow this link for twenty-first-century Mayan human sacrifices – he felt he had to get to the bottom of this episode.
So first thing first: what is Beachcombing’s source for the mouse boiling? Well, it certainly isn’t late night viewings of Dutch television. Nor is it some scurrilous page on the internet. Nor is it even a snippet from a British or even a Continental newspaper. Incredibly it is Faas’ dust jacket.
‘An often controversial figure (while replicating one of the recipes from this book on Dutch television [Faas] boiled a mouse and was charged with animal cruelty), he lives in Holland.’
Beachcombing particularly likes the ‘he lives in Holland’ as if that explains everything…
Now Beachcombing is a retiring introvert but even he insists on approving his author blurb when his books come out. This can only mean that Patrick Faas gave the nod to or even wrote this sentence.
It is one thing to boil a live mouse under scientific conditions in your kitchen in the name of history. Still another to boil a live mouse on live television to educate the nation. But not many authors would boast about the achievement on their dust-jackets!
A controversial figure indeed.
Beachcombing doesn’t know whether to take off his hat to Patrick or put a score of dead mammals in his bowler and throw it at our mouse-boiler.
Beachcombing would like to write more on this. He can just about limp by in Dutch if any Flemish or Dutch reader would care to do a few internet searches on his behalf. And he would love to hear from Patrick Faas himself to record this event, properly sourced, for posterity in English. Beachcombing can but hope: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Beachcombing should also say that he is going food mad this fall. If readers then have any other food stories from history do please get in touch: you know you want to…
3rd Oct 2010: Beachcombing normally waits till his monthly round up before putting emails up. But as Youssou wrote so promptly this morning and mouse-boiling is today’s post here goes: ‘I tried searching for more information regarding Patrick Faas’ mouse boiling [in Dutch], and all I could find was an article in the Trouw newspaper. It has some interesting bits. The judge wanted to know if Faas did it so the mouse would taste better, on which Faas answered boiling the mouse in wine was not to marinate the mouse. At the store where he bought the mouse he asked what the best way to kill the mouse would be. The clerk answered that hitting the mouse against the kitchen sink would be the quickest, a deed which Faas thought to be rather unpleasant, so he decided to do it the Roman way. He was found guilty, but did not receive any punishment. Unfortunately, the episode in which this occurred is from 1993, which is well before they started archiving public television online.’ Surely Youssou meant ‘fortunately’ in the last sentence? In any case, Beachcombing thanks Youssou!