During my years in southern Africa, I encountered one or two bona fide delicacies in the traditional foods enjoyed by local people, but there's no getting around the fact that boiled goat offal tastes like the inside of a goat. I did my best to be polite but just couldn't tuck in to the enormous, eviscerated frog that appeared on my plate one evening, nor crunch the tiny birds knocked from the mopani trees by barefoot boys with slingshots for my dining pleasure.
Eating locally means eating whatever is available, and for every neolithic hunter/forager who made the fortuitous discovery that something as bizarre as a lobster was not only edible but delicious, there must have been hundreds of discoveries of other things whose main virtues were that they were near to hand and did not result in excruciating pain or death when consumed. After generations of subsistence on such stuff, people not only grew accustomed to what outsiders might deem noisome fare but even preferred it over unfamiliar tastes and cuisines. For a modern example of this phenomenon, see the many decades of American preference for a single, insipid style of beer prior to the craft brewing revolution of the mid-1980s.
So I am not surprised to learn that the just announced 10 oldest British recipes include such concoctions as Nettle Pudding, Roast Hedgehog and a proto-haggis featuring sheep stomach, heart and lungs. Ancient cooks probably didn't have access to mace, nutmeg, and black pepper as called for in the haggis recipe, but I rather doubt whatever herbage was available could counter the overwhelming smell. Sheep offal is not that different from goat, after all.
Xanthe Clay, intrepid food writer for the Daily Telegraph, attempted some of these 8,000 year old recipes, with decidedly indifferent results:
"'I am not eating this,' muttered my husband as he donned gloves to gather a bouquet of nettles, while I picked the dandelions growing round a tree stump, hoping I'd got there before the dogs.
Back home, the reek from the sheep's stomach was overwhelming, not so much farmyard as farmyard floor. I put it outside, and concentrated on the nettle pudding and "smokey stew", a sort of fish chowder.
The nettles needed a good wash, although in a salad spinner rather than a running stream.
Chopped into a green mound, they looked quite appetising, and the barley flour coated them lightly.
Tying the pudding mix in a cloth took seconds and it looked very homely bobbing next to the pork and pot herbs in the pan.
The fish, meanwhile, simmered in milk with leeks and bacon, then doused liberally with cream and chives, was rich and filling, and a huge hit with the family.
It would have been nice with crusty bread, but there was little high-gluten wheat in BC-Britain so the oat and barley bread (more of a scone) in Jacqui Wood's Prehistoric Cooking (Tempus, £15.99) did the job.
The nettle pudding was a neat, moist dumpling, but rather bitter to eat, probably because of those over-mature dandelions.
I'm sure a Bronze Age Mrs Beeton wouldn't have made that mistake.
As for the sheep's stomach, frankly if that's what those cavemen were stuck with, I'm not surprised that they didn't make it over 30."
6 bunches of elderberries
1 tsp anchovy essence
4 fl oz (125ml) wine
4 fl oz (125ml) passum
4 fl oz (125ml) olive oil
Remove the fruits from the elderberry bunches. Wash, place in a saucepan with a little water, and simmer gently until just softened. Drain and arrange in a greased shallow pan. Add the pepper, moisten with anchovy essence, then add the wine and passum and mix well. Finally add the olive oil and bring to the boil. When the mixture is boiling, break the eggs into it and stir well to bind. When set, sprinkle pepper over it and serve hot or cold. If you are unsure of any of the plants in these recipes please check before picking in the wild and eating.
Given in Roman Cookery by Jane Renfrew (English Heritage, 1985)