World War II brought incredible challenges to the United States. Rationing food went into effect January 8th in 1940. Here are facts about the unusual solution to that necessity that had long precedent in human history.
Food Rationing limited the availability of “traditional meats”.
Horsemeat! You could eat unrationed horsemeat during WWII, but fifteen hundred years ago you could be ordered to eat just bread and water for the sin of eating horsemeat!
In Ireland in the year 732 A.D Pope Gregory III in his Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, a collection of rules for the Irish, declared it a sin to eat horses because they are “filthy and accursed.” It was rumored Gregory III was planning to go to war and would need horses. The punishment was severe for violators. Three years of penance and just bread and water was necessary to acquire forgiveness and make right one’s relationship with God. However, it still remained a common practice to eat horses during ancient religious rituals in the British Isles.
There were even tips for cooking pot roast of horse and equine fillets. The horsemeat business became a $100 million industry. This reoccurred in 1973 when the price of “traditional” meat skyrocketed due to inflation. A butcher’s shop in Westbrook, Connecticut resorted to selling only horsemeat- up to 6,000 pounds per day! The shop even published a 28-page booklet with recipes for “chili con carne, German meatballs, and beery horsemeat.” The Harvard Faculty Club regularly served horse steak until the late 1970’s. A 1998 article from the Harvard Crimson stated, “[t]he professors still recall the dish fondly.”
In ancient history, we know that cave dwellers in France hunted horses for food. Horsemeat has been standard fare in Europe and Asia ever since. The French viewed horsemeat as practical. In 1853, the French government decreed that each person must consume 3.5 ounces of meat per day. Traditional meats were in short supply due to the Franco-Prussian War, and after having to eat rat, horsemeat became an appealing alternative.
In America our love of “Black Beauty” trumps practicality. Horses are our companions. Even if we don’t train or ride them we like seeing them run in a field. We admire their proud countenance and the iconic independence they represent and don’t relish them on our platters. As one NPR commentator said,
“It’s okay to kill a ton of chickens and cows, but kill a horse? By golly, there’s something wrong with you!”
When I was a child I remember my brother used to raise rabbits. He arrived home from school one evening to find one of them cooked and waiting at the dinner table. “I don’t eat my friends,” he cried and ran outside. He hasn’t eaten rabbit since, or as far as I know horsemeat.
*** Christa Weil is the author of “Fierce Food: The Intrepid Diner’s Guide to the Unusual, Exotic and Downright Bizarre.” and ***Priceonomics, June 16, 2015
Welsh Horsemeat Pie-Take strips of horsemeat, sear in a skillet and arrange in a stew pan, with layers of potatoes, tomatoes, and cheese. When it is simmered to a tenderness put it in a baking dish lined with pie dough, cover with crust, and bake until brown. This is best served with a heavy burgundy.
Fillet of Foal -As in the Italian method of preparing a fillet, insert small cuts of garlic at one or two-inch intervals. Then spread a thin layer of very sharp mustard over both sides of the meat. Then, and only then, cook it just as you would filet mignon. The result is truly delightful.
*** Philadelphia News: What’s wrong with eating horsemeat? February 21, 2013
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