Pork Sweetbreads Recipe from the 1800s

pork sausages

pork sausages (creative commons image)

While researching what miners ate during the Fraser River gold rush and the Cariboo gold rush, I came across an advertisement in the British Times Colonist for groceries.  The ad listed ‘pork, extra clear’  and ‘pork, mess’ – what is that?

According to a grocer handbook published in 1882 by Artemas Ward:

Clear Pork shall be packed from sides of extra heavy, well-fatted hogs, cut, selected and packed in the same manner as Mess Pork, the backbone and half the rib next it to be taken out.

Extra Clear Pork: Same as clear, except that all the ribs and backbone shall be taken out.

Mess Pork shall be packed from sides of well-fatted hogs, cut in strips not exceeding six and one half inches wide and flanked according to diagram as nearly as possible, and not back-stripped, 196 pounds of green meat, numbering not over sixteen pieces, including only the regular portion of flank and shoulder cuts; four layers to be packed in each barrel, with not less than forty pounds of Turk’s Island [salt], St. Ives, or Trepanne, or 45 pounds of other good qualities of foreign or domestic coarse salt and clear brine as strong as the salt will make it.”

It’s interesting to note that in the mid 1850’s it was common practice that the internal organs were removed and cleaned for cooking. Pork liver and kidney were considered delicacies. Even glands like the pancreas and thyroid, known as “sweetbreads” were often fried for dinner.

Here is a pork sweetbreads recipe from Eliza Acton’s book, Modern Cookery for Private Families (1868):

Curried Sweetbreads

Wash and soak them as usual, then throw them into boiling water with a little salt in it, and a whole onion, and let them simmer for ten minutes; or, if at hand, substitute weak veal broth for the water. Lift them out, place them on a drainer, and leave them until they are perfectly cold; then cut them into half-inch slices, and either flour and fry them lightly in butter, or put them, without this, into as much curried gravy as will just cover them; stew them in it very gently, from twenty to thirty minutes; add as much lemon-juice or chili vinegar as will acidulate the sauce agreeably, and serve the currie very hot.

Here is her recipe for curried gravy:

“Slice, and fry gently in a little good butter, from two to six large onions (with a bit of garlic, and four or five eschalots, or none of either), when they are coloured equally of a fine yellow-brown, lift them on to a sieve reversed to drain; put them into a clean saucepan, add a pint and a half of good gravy, with a couple of ounces of rasped cocoanut, or of any of the other condiments…which may require as much stewing as the onions (an apple or two, for instance), and simmer them softly from half to three quarters of an hour, or until the onion is sufficiently tender to be pressed through a strainer…After the gravy has been worked through the strainer, and again boils, add to it from three to four dessertspoonsful of currie powder, and one of flour, with as much salt as the gravy may require, the whole mixed to a smooth batter with a small cupful of good cream. Simmer it from fifteen to twenty minutes, and it will be ready for use.”