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Calf's foot jelly and other foods you've read about but never had - some of which you'd like to

I remember reading in Victorian novels as a kid about calf's foot jelly being taken to invalids and wondering what the heck it was. Asked my mom, who told me it was like Jello made from meat (with the ensuing revelation that Jello was made from animal bones, etc.). It rather lost its allure after that.
Something else I've seen mention of repeatedly in mid-20th C and earlier culinary writing and really want to try is oysters on the half shell with hot chipolata sausages, which, if the sources are to be believed, was a common way of serving them. Not so in any of the many restaurants I've been in. I could of course whip it up for myself, but my wish is to see it on a menu and be able to indulge finally and luxuiriously in it.
Any other literary or other references to intriguing and unattainable dishes in your experience?

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  1. Pheasant Under Glass always intrigued me when I was a kid. It seemed the ultimate in elite dining. Your post prompted me to google this dish and I found this interesting link:

    Has anyone on CH ever actually had Pheasant Under Glass?

    1 Reply
    1. re: ttoommyy

      I haven't, and I know what you mean. It was a staple of humor and the comic strip as an emblem of conspicuous consumption. I don't recall seeing it on any actual menus.

    2. Pickled, jellied calves' feet were very attainable when I was a kid. It was part of my Great-Aunt Pearl's old world cooking repertoire. In Jewish cooking it's known as p'cha. My father was the only one who would eat it, and he loved it.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Bob W

        My aunt used to make p'tcha every holiday for one of her sons-in-law. No one else would touch it. But it sure had to be on that table.

        1. re: rockycat

          I'm a sucker for schav (borscht made from sour greens) and gefilte fish jelly, but I definitely drew the line at this stuff!

          Aunt Pearl made borscht out of green beans too. Good stuff!

          1. re: Bob W

            Good T-shirt slogan - "I'm a sucker for schav"? It's even fun to say.

            1. re: Bob W

              I love the gefilte fish jelly, and schmear it all over the bed of lettuce that I serve my gefilte fish (sadly, sometimes from a jar) on. schav is good but I've yet to find anything like what I had at a little restaurant in NYC's diamond district many years ago... the place's not there any more.

              1. re: shaogo

                At least according to my father, the yiddish word for gefilte fish jelly is "yoik" or something like that. Not surprisingly, most of the family modified that to "yuck."

          2. re: Bob W

            This appeared in my fridge once when I was a child. One of my father's relatives made it for him as a treat. Picture this - grey-ish jello with solid bits and sliced hard-boiled eggs floating in it, delivered to us in a 9 inch round aluminum cake pan. I had nightmares about it for years afterward.

          3. I was wondering about calf's foot jelly myself after watching "Julie and Julia" the other night.
            Julie was making aspic from a calf's foot... Probably it was just a way of making nourishing and easily digestible food for folks who were sick when refrigeration wasn't an option and jello hadn't been invented.

            5 Replies
            1. re: pasuga

              I think it was just the jelly that the broth made, not the foot itself. Solidified "beef tea" - beef broth made with minced beef added to strengthen it. People thought that the "strength" i.e. nutritive value of the meat was concentrated in the broth even up to my mom's time.

              1. re: buttertart

                Well, I, for one, still believe in the nutritive value of the broth, and even more so especially with recent experience. And it was my general practitioner who recommended that in the first place. It is not so much nutrition from the meat, but from the bones and ligaments etc. that have the restorative properties.

                As a matter of fact, I just finished the last of a huge pot of broth made with one calf's foot, and the reason why it was used was because that was the only thing at the butcher's that had the most amount of gelatin and bones. The way it congeals, even at room temperature, was unbelievable, and for how unsightly it was, I would really only take it for health reasons ;-)

                1. re: tarteaucitron

                  Don't let the broth cool too much in your cup, else it will start to glue you lips together. :)

                  My favorite way of eating foot broth (along with the softened tendons etc) is in an Ecuadorian style soup (mondongo). It starts with the typical onion and pepper soffrito (Spanish mirpoix), and is finished with a bit of milk and peanut butter.

                  1. re: paulj

                    "Don't let the broth cool too much in your cup, else it will start to glue you lips together."

                    Yes, that was what I found out eventually. It is surprising how much gelatin comes out of that one foot. So much that, despite the huge pot I was using, I felt obliged to reuse what was left of it to make another pot of soup, to make good use of it.

                    Will mentally file away this Ecuadorian recipe for when I run out of ideas for making veal feet into a soup.

                    1. re: tarteaucitron

                      I thouroughly enjoyed "cow foot soup" served up by street vendors in Belize' Cayo district. Its amost a national dish there.
                      Speaking of jelly...my italian friend showed me how to make "gelatina". Kinda like head cheese, but made with boiled pigs feet and whatever meat you want (I like tongue), seasonings, and a splash of vinegar. Pick the feet, chop the meat, put in container, top with cooking liquid and into the fridge. Slice-able, meaty, jelly goodness.

            2. my grandpa used to eat it for lunch on Saturdays (Shabbes). It looked and sounds disgusting lol.

              1. Never having heard of calf's foot jelly, I would def try it. I'm a big fan of hog's head cheese so I would think that it would have to be similar at least.

                1. In a favorite movie from my childhood, Pollyanna (Haley Mills) brought some calf's foot jelly to sick-in-bed Mrs. Snow, played by Agnes Morehead. Never wanted to try it, though!

                  1. I am reminded of this exchange from the Kaufman / Hart play, "The Man Who Came To Dinner."

                    Sheridan Whiteside (staring at two local ladies trying to meet the Great Man): Who are those two harpies staring at my like the kiss of death?

                    Lady (shocked, dropping jar): My calf's foot jelly!

                    Whitesides: Made from your own foot, I have no doubt.

                    1. Ahhh, it's one of those things that you either love or hate! I grew up wondering how my parents could choke down feesel (little feet in Yiddish) since I could only eat it before the soup cooled down. As a hot beef soup with plenty of garlic it was great. As jiggly yuck on a plate - not so! Until I finally came to like it. Then like a chowhound I found that the Polish butcher shop near me in Yonkers sold goyish feesel made from pork. Pretty damn good! It's worth giving it a try.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Nepperhanman

                        I'm one of those goyish feesel fans.

                        The first time I really had pig's feet, they were smoked and cooked by my Chinese chef and I loved them. They get very gelatinous and are a great snack.

                      2. On a PBS period piece, Larks Rise to Candelford, there was mention of wine jelly, talked about as it was quite specially. Apparently the main ingredients are wine and calf's foot.

                        Cows feet are easiest to find in stores that cater to Mexicans and Chinese. They are important ingredient in menudo, the Mexican tripe soup. Mainly give body to the broth, i.e. the gelatin. Pigs feet can substitute.

                        Commercial gelatin (Knox) is most likely made from feet and other gelatin rich parts, and has just be purified to the point that it has not taste of its own. Fish bones (and skin?) are used to make kosher gelatin. Before the advent of the factor processed gelatin, home made and purified stocks were the basis for aspics. Sweet jellos probably weren't common since it would hard to purify stock enough to work with mild fruit flavors.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: paulj

                          I remember that episode - its the one where the loser father of the Pratt sisters comes back to Candleford isn't it - I absolutely LOVE Larkrise to Candleford and was so bereft when it ended - I now watch it on Youtube on my big TV - its quite good quality - I was surprised -

                          Regarding the wine jelly they made, was it a sweet one? since it was calves feet I wonder if they had to ad a lot of sugar to get rid of the savory taste ...

                          1. re: Larazelle

                            From a book of Humorous Verse I have:

                            Lips that touch wine jelly
                            Shall never touch mine, Nelly!

                        2. Any thoughts along the lines of other foods (not just calf's foot jelly and related delicacies) found in literature that you'd like to try?

                          1. In Anne of Green Gables, Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk on raspberry wine -- thinking it's cordial. I want to try both.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Whippet

                              This brings back memories! Anne of Green Gables books were my favourites as a child. It was raspberry cordial.

                              1. re: Whippet

                                "I want to try both" - who? both Anne *and* Diana?

                              2. Fish heads, including the eyes. Also, I was just reading a book that discussed the preparation of hog maws, and I think I would someday like to try it.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: onceadaylily

                                  I love the cheek meat and the meat on the "forehead" of a fish - always get my fish whole when I can - but haven't tried the eyes.

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    I've read that there is something like a stone in the middle of the eye, so take care if you try it.

                                    Whole red tilapia is on sale at a local market. I'm tempted to try it, just to see the looks at the table when I casually ask, "Does anyone else want an eye?"

                                    1. re: onceadaylily

                                      The forehead on a tilapia is pretty tasty.

                                      1. re: onceadaylily

                                        The "stone" is the lens of the eye. It is crispy and crunchy when the fish is fried, but it can be near inedible when the fish is cooked in liquid.

                                  2. OK, I did a blogpost about this *exact subject* in which I interviewed writer friends (a poet, a restaurant critic, a music journalist, etc.). I know I can't link to individual posts without getting bleeped so I'll just tell you it's at the below URL in the December 2008 archives.

                                    I kicked off the post with one of my own memories: a fascination with the breadfruit I read about in Pippi Longstocking. I couldn't wrap my mind around bread + fruit.

                                    Not literary, but a continuing obsession: I *would*, given the opportunity, try casu marzu.


                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: tatamagouche

                                      Wow. Just . . . wow. I would hope I could be that curious, given the opportunity, but I lack your conviction.

                                      My boyfriend once paid a decent amount of money to buy me a Russian Pippi Longstocking lunchbox. I immediately started to google what was likely for a Russian lunchbox to have held.

                                      I remember the breadfruit, as well as her ability to purchase bags of candy whenever she wanted. She was my hero.

                                      1. re: onceadaylily

                                        So what was the answer (the Russian lunchbox)?

                                        1. re: tatamagouche

                                          Google wouldn't give it up, not to me and my search, anyway.

                                          I do remember that my boyfriend said, "Borscht. I think they had borscht." He thought that might sway me to end my ban on cooking beets for him. It did not.

                                          1. re: onceadaylily

                                            Why is it that beet lovers always get involved with/marry beet haters? It's the same at my house, only I'm the beet fancier.

                                            1. re: buttertart

                                              I am so lucky that Mrs. O is as nuts for beets as I am. I'm even happy that she can't stand the greens, since that means I don't have to share.

                                              Back to the topic: calves-foot jelly was my first literary "what's THAT??" as well, when I encountered it in "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates". Pease porridge, of course, and the various oaten cakes and soppy bread things medieval British folk seemed to like. (Yuck to the soppy bread.) I'm not as interested in pheasant under glass as I was, but have had a fair amount of caviar (not NEARLY enough) and Beef Wellington (enough). I'm still waiting for haggis; I could buy a can of it, or I could (for much cheaper by volume) assemble the ingredients, though I'd steam it in either cloth or a pudding mold rather than a sheep's stomach. About the only other gustatory delight I've read about but not eaten is a whole pit-roasted bullock. Somehow I think I'd need to travel for that, since I can't imagine any of our local barbecuers fitting one of those into the caja de china …

                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                Cooking Channel has been playing 'Supersizers go ...', a British show, in which a couple (food critic and comedian) take on roles from a certain historic period and spend a week eating in that style. Where possible they try to use menus from period literature. The last one I saw was the Restoration. It's surprising how meat centric the British diet was, at least for those who could afford it, up until the 20th c. That, and ale and bread. Vegetables and fruits, especially raw ones, were not regarded as healthy or easy to digest.

                                                1. re: Will Owen

                                                  Kate Sedley is the author of some 20 Roger the Chapman mysteries. The protagonist is a 15 century chapman (peddler), based in Bristol, but who ends up doing spy work for Duke Richard (later King Richard II). The style is 1st person with a fair amount of daily detail. Though items of most meals are listed matter of fact with elaboration - e.g. a cottage breakfast of ale, oat cakes and bacon callops, a London fish pie (with bones), and an occasional royal feast as seen from a low table or snitched from the kitchen.

                                        2. re: tatamagouche

                                          I adore Pippi Longstocking and had forgotten the breadfruit thing. I remember being baffled by it too.
                                          (Pippi is universal - one of the ways I learned to read [a bit of] Chinese was by reading the simple Mandarin translation that was serialized in the Guo Yu Ri Bao, a language-learning newspaper published in Taipei when we lived there. Have the books too.)

                                          1. re: tatamagouche

                                            Just make sure you shield your face from leaping maggots. NOT something I would ever try, no matter how often I was given the opportunity. I guess I draw the line at live maggots. Silly me '-)

                                            1. re: linguafood

                                              My grandpa used to talk about very very old Cheddar with "skippers" fondly. And my father confirmed having seen him eat it. Casu marzu a la Canadienne! (Count me out, thanks.)

                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                My Italophilia gets me every time. I'd draw the line somewhere before Fascism, but after live maggots.

                                            2. re: tatamagouche

                                              For those not quite ready to experience the delights of chomping into a cheese with live, wriggling larvae, perhaps Milbenkase will be the ticket:


                                              I've eaten several cheeses for which mites are involved in the development of the rind, but not this one, where the mites (actually, their droppings) ferment the cheese's paste.

                                            3. I remember as a child reading "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and accordingly trying to like Turkish Delight for a month. With "Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind," I just had to get in touch with my roots and try sugar cane and paan. But nothing I've read lately has had central characters chowing down memorably. Given the Chuck Palahniuk and David Sedaris books on my shelves, I don't think I should be ingesting anything in those books anyway.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: JungMann

                                                I mentioned above the blogpost in which I covered this exact subject; one of my interviewees also gave it up for Turkish Delight due to Lion, Witch.

                                                What's paan?


                                                1. re: tatamagouche

                                                  Paan is a chewed stimulant (like chaw) made from betel nut and tobacco with sugar and spices all wrapped in betel leaf. It is particularly popular in the subcontinent, so much so that Shabanu repeatedly refers to walls stained red from paan juices in the novel.

                                                    1. re: JungMann

                                                      Once had a paan spitter miss the wall and hit me. Second-hand paan is not fun.

                                                  1. re: JungMann

                                                    Shabanu! I tried chewing paan and it made me feel incredibly sick. But that book also made me want to keep camels.
                                                    I also never got to like Turkish Delight, but I certainly pretended.

                                                  2. I'm not of Norwegian descent, but I've always wanted to try lutefisk, the lye-cured fish with a jelly-like consistency. I've been told it's quite mild--after the lye is rinsed out, of course! There's almost no Scandinavian population where Iive, and it's not something I would attempt to make on my own. Perhaps on a future trip to Minnesota.

                                                    1. Agatha Christie books are so descriptive. I have always been curious to try the fish paste, chocolate creams (unpoisoned for me) and cold tongue.

                                                      1. Blancmange, from "Little Women," vinegar pie from "Farmer Boy" (Laura Ingalls Wilder), snow candy, pretty much anything from L. M. Montgomery's books...I could go on and on. Seems to me that many of my favorite books have a lot of good eating in them!

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: auburnselkie

                                                          I was going to mention blancmange, too! I first met it in "Little Women," and then rediscovered it as an adult through Monty Python references. I ran across it recently in one of my cookbooks, and have been thinking I should make it.

                                                          I'm amazed, speaking of "Little Women," that no one has yet mentioned pickled limes. They have haunted me since I was seven. I have yet to try one.

                                                          1. re: auburnselkie

                                                            I responded earlier but my message seems to have disappeared. My apologies if it appears twice.

                                                            +1 on the blancmange. I first knew it from "Little Women," and then discovered it as a frequent Monty Python reference. Coincidentally, I was thinking recently that I should just make it. I have tons of recipes.

                                                            Speaking of "Little Women," I'm surprised no one has mentioned pickled limes. They have haunted me since I was seven.

                                                          2. This post and thread comments reminds me of some of m favorite reading material about "before our time" household management and cooking, none other than _ Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management_

                                                            A link to the book that provides free access to the complete text of Beeton’s Book of Household Management. is http://www.mrsbeeton.com/

                                                            Be sure to check out invalid cooking/recipes for many of the items discussed here.

                                                            1. Sorrel soup from "Brideshead Revisited".

                                                              1. I've always wondered about Pressed Duck. I've now seen a video of a duck press in action, and by golly, they really do press the duck, bones and all, to squeeze the juices out. If I were ever at a restaurant that offered it, I'd probably order it.

                                                                I used to wonder what amazing thing Planked Steak might be, until I found out it was steak. On a plank. Oh.

                                                                I realized one time that Aplets and Cotlets are essentially the Pacific Northwest version of Turkish Delight, which I remember first hearing about in the book Eight Cousins. I've had the real thing now too (rose and pistachio, yum!).

                                                                Breadfruit sounds so wonderful, like a warm yeasty loaf of bread hanging from a tree. Though by all accounts, it's right up there with poi in tastiness (or lack thereof).

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                                                  Chapter IV in The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe is titled Turkish Delight - the White Green's magic bribe for Edmond.