Senses and Sensibilities, Pride and Prejudices of a Culinary Persuasion.
Jacqui has taken our sensibilities into account and split her paper so that readers can choose to view the accompanying slides or not. Read the abstract to determine what's likely there and make your choice.
Join us in the comments for chat, we offer this question to consider with the Session 2 papers:
How do we make aesthetic judgements about food that disgusts?
Can there be pleasure and enjoyment in knowing our food sources intimately?
Dinner with Jane Austen or any one of her romantic heroes could well have brought you face to face with a calf’s head, eye to eye with a pig’s face, and slipping a few slices of ox tongue down your throat. 18th and 19th century cookbooks remind us that these were once prestigious dishes which delighted gustatory senses, appealed to culinary sensibilities and were displayed with pride in all their glory on the table, adding to the dining aesthetic.
These foods would scarcely be tolerated on most Australian tables today – particularly those of Anglo-Celtic persuasion – and are likely to elicit responses of horror and disgust from diners. And as cooks, can we imagine ourselves preparing them, or other dishes derived from these cuts of meat in our domestic kitchens – dismembering a pig’s head for brawn or a calf’s head for mock turtle soup, peeling tongues, rendering down calves’ feet to make jelly. These processes were a sensorial reality for generations of domestic cooks and created an intimacy between cooks and beasts that extended well beyond the palate.
What does the absence of these products as food in our current culinary repertoire tell us about modern senses and sensibilities? What part does sensory intimacy play in defining a sense of good taste, on the palate, aesthetically, and in a socio-moral sense? Is there pleasure and enjoyment in knowing our food sources so intimately?
This paper presentation is intended to provoke thought and open discussion about sensory reality and knowledge denial – physiological and emotional – and how they intersect with and influence moral and ethical sensibilities, prejudices and taste.
Jacqui Newling has a Le Cordon Bleu masters' degree in gastronomy and specialises in early Australian foodways. As Sydney Living Museums' resident gastronomer, Jacqui investigates the range of foods that have been served throughout Australian history. She co-curated the Eat Your History: A Shared Table exhibition at the Museum of Sydney and co-writes The Cook and the Curator blog for Sydney Living Museums.
PS from the Committee :
Jacqui's pre covid postscript note to her abstract:
" (*It could have a hands-on sensorial component if I can work out interstate logistics)"
Post Covid: If only interstate logistics were the only issue.
Such a great presentation Jacqui! Interestingly - I am way less disgusted by calf's heads and lambs brains than by insects! I don't know why, because I didn't grow up with these foods or on a property where they were part of daily reality like some here. Maybe it's nostalgia - this food are part of the history of the food I grew up with even if I didn't grow up with calf's head on the table...
Thanks for a great paper Jacqui! I never really grew up with offal being on the dinner table, I have had to work to develop a taste for it as an adult. A more sustainable diet has been one of the drivers behind it, and I am successfully at eating it when I dine out although I still struggle to cook it at home. Something to work on!
Hi Jacqui, I love how you connected the problematic shift in food sense to the re-connection we need for more sustainable diets and how you pointed out this a conflicting. I am advocating for sustainable diets too through promotion of traditional diets but this never crossed my mind. Probably because all I have in mind at the moment are fermented stuff (I'm doing a doctoral dissertation on that) which have their ugly side too: intense smell, unidentifiable floating objects, etc). With these ferments, I'm already struggling to think how to curb these aversions, the foods you mentioned are not any easier to promote. Realizing the material-sensory connection (thanks to Howes, Edwards and Seremetakis), a lot of foodscape changing is necessary too. If you have more ideas, please let me know.
BTW, you might find it interesting, I also deal with modern senses and sensibilities in my paper. Though my focus is on a possible modern aesthetic of softness.
Such a fascinating subject!
I try to live by "if I can't face (kill) it, I shouldn't eat it"
I must add, I believe there must be a change in perspective, we shouldn't start eating offal because it goes to waste, we should want to eat it because, when cooked right, it is d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!! I was born in Argentina where intestines, tongue, brains, liver, kidney are a commodity that people eat all the time. I will definitely be trying some of those recipes, and keep enjoying the fact that offal is still very cheap in Australia haha
Thanks for such an excellent paper, and the accompanying slides - which I viewed without a shudder. My mother, siblings and myself lived with my grandmother for much of my childhood. We were poor, and mum worked, so my grandmother did the cooking - mostly badly. We ate many of these foods and to this day I still don't enjoy them. Maybe because of my memories of poverty, maybe simply because they were poorly prepared. Just the thought of tripe in white sauce, brains in a parsley sauce, pigs trotters and liver cooked until it resembled shoe leather make me shudder to this day - but don't make me squeamish. Perhaps that's because I'm now a primary producer myself and have seen livestock slaughtered, so am closer to meat production than most. And as for the slides - my only thoughts on viewing the calve's head were that it reminded me of the steer that has been jumping the fence to get to my garden, and that I have been chasing (literally) and herding back over the fence for the last two days. I don't love him much at all.
Excellent paper Jacqui. I am not a squeamish cook and have over the years cooked some of these dishes. However, I did find the slides of the raw and the cooked meats rather confronting to look at...so unappealing!
Interestingly, when I was Gastronomer in Residence at Carrick Hill in Adelaide and tested recipes for the book, 'Carrick Hill: Heydays of the Haywards 1940 - 1970' (published in 2010), I met with a lot of resistance for including the recipe for Pressed Ox Tongue. Even into the 1970s the butcher still delivered two ox tongues once a month and the cook would press the tongues together. The pressed ox tongue was a favourite addition to a 'cold collation' or a celebration cold buffet alongside cold roast joints of meat, legs of ham, corned silverside and pickled pork.
Thank you Jacqui, I am now quite nostalgic for my youth, we regularly ate brawn, brains, liver etc. Tongue was a special treat, but was usually presented after being "pressed"in a round mold which had a lid that could be screwed down tight. All cooked at home and prepared by my Mum while we kids got various jobs though my main chore was skinning the cooked tongue, rolling it up and pressing. Dad had exclusive rights to the pig trotters eaten while having a beer after work. Calf head was never on the menu, not quite sure why. As an adult I am happy to eat today but after leaving home never really cooked anything beyond smaller offal; liver, kidneys,lamb tongue etc, I suppose mainly too time consuming when you work and not having five children to feed.
Me, I just can't wait to go to the Macedonia restaurant in Marickville again for one of their half goat heads - and a good brain curry is a joy. And yes, of course, many many Australians still eat liver but do not associate it with other offal. Go figure.
Jacqui, I found this an utterly charming and thoughtful paper. It is clearly argued with the slides a telling accompaniment. I'm reminded throughout by all the sensory work of Classen, Howes, Sutton et al but particularly of Seremetakis re the politics of the senses - how we construct tastes as sticky, slimy etc or rather construct stickiness, slimyness as unpleasant in culturally specific ways. I'd love to see this paper published (including the slides, and the baleful calf's eye!) as it's original and provocative.
Thanks Jacqui. I agree with Ian Hemphill, a lot of us have turned into pussycats :) I remember my mother making such meals as: brains with parsley sauce, tongue with mustard, liver and bacon, steak & kidney stew, and oxtail stew. We loved them, but as kids, we didn't really like tripe and onions :( But, years later I worked under a French chef who made Tripes a la Mode de Caen, and I immediately changed my attitude.
This was so great Jacqui and absolutely fascinating! I find myself quite squeamish over some things - brains in particular! - but not quite as bad as some friends of mine who have never even cut up a whole chicken.
Interestingly, there's a recipe I found for brawn from the Weekly's teenage cook 'Debbie' from 1958 - nary a pig head to be seen. Unsuitable for the youth!?
Brilliant Jacqui - a virtually sensory experience from disgust to delight. Your work always opens the doors to the hidden pantries of the past, revealing the everyday, that vital but neglected dimension of history. Unfortunately this paper also reveals the inner squeamish self, so I've still to summon the strength to see the slides. A terrific paper, highly recommended!
Well said Ian, and I agree. The year-round cornucopia of unseasonal plenty, and food as pure commodity rather than lived necessity has so many parallels with older, bloodier forms of religious worship vs our current pristine metaphorical ideologies. Of course I opened the slides (tell me something's gross and I just can't help myself), and it's an interesting schism: I am equally appalled, but 100% in agreement with full nose-to-tail usage of animals. Of course, my modern sensibilities would more likely break them down into Biochar for soil-building rather than direct consumption, but that's a luxurious decision. I know my great grandma on remote cattle stations during drought used everything possible and spent long months dreaming of a diet that included fresh vegetables rather than endless salted/brined meat. Hell, even the fact that I have the luxury to choose to be a Vegetarian isn't lost on me.
A brilliant paper by Jacqui Newling. One that highlights just how precious we have become, when we see the new dietary religions that dominate food preferences.