The last time I tried to give blood I couldn’t because my iron level was too low so prior to trying it again tomorrow I’m eating liver and other iron-rich foods. Last night’s dinner was fried chicken livers, sweet potatoes, and roasted Brussel sprouts, tonight it’ll be calves liver and bacon. Being the historicfoodie, I naturally wondered about liver and how it was eaten in times past.
Calves liver was so often fried in bacon fat and served with the fried bacon that Good Housekeeping called it a classic in 2004. It is found in a very high number of 18th and 19th century cookbooks, although it is so simply prepared that its more an instruction than a receipt. It’s one of those classic foods that is simple and basic, but when properly prepared is a treat.
Francatelli’s presentation was to place on a plate, spiral-fashion, alternating pieces of liver and bacon. Mrs. Radcliffe placed the liver on a dish and topped it with the bacon.
Notice the contrast between Sarah Harrison’s simple instructions and Richard Bradley’s more complicated dish. “Calf’s Liver and Bacon fry’d. To be served with some Gravy and Butter, and a little orange or lemon juice, and garnished with sliced lemon.” – Harrison, Sarah. The Housekeeper’s Pocket Book. 1760. London.
“Take some good middling Bacon, and fry it; then put in some Calf’s Liver, and cut it in thick pieces, pepper it, and salt it; and when it is enough, for it must not be fry’d hard, have ready prepared some cabbage lettuce, some white Beet-Cards, or Beet-Leaves, and some Spinach-Leaves, and chop them together, with some Parsley, but not too small; then chop some onion, and mix with the rest; then throw them into your Frying pan, with a piece of Butter, when the Bacon and Liver is out, and fry them till they are tender, and as brown as may be; putting in a spoonful of Verjuice, or the Juice of a Lemon, a little before they are enough. And having kept the Liver and Bacon hot all the while, pour these Herbs over them, which ought to be in good quantity”. – Bradley, Richard. The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director. 1732 and 1736. London.
Liver and bacon wasn’t peasant food. It was a favorite dish of the English Chancellor, Sir John Scott, 1st Lord of Eldon (1751-1838). He was Lord Chancellor of Great Britain between 1801 and 1806 and again between 1807 and 1827. He once visited Sir John Leach who spared no effort to impress him by allowing him to choose anything that pleased him to be served at the meal, and, when Eldon chose a simple dish of liver and bacon, Sir John was much put out until Eldon assured him he meant no slight to his hospitality and that it really was his favorite fare.
Cookery books contain instructions for making it, and hotels and restaurants routinely served it well into the 20th century. While I don’t recall seeing it on a restaurant menu with bacon, liver, usually liver and onions, is still found in restaurants and we often order it when it is.
When I make liver at home I soak it in a little buttermilk then drop the pieces into a plastic bag with seasoned flour. The batter gives it a nice flavor which is enhanced further when served with crispy bacon. Blissful Meals, yall, I’ll add a photo later.
Sources: Williams, T. The Accomplished Housekeeper. 1717. London. Nott, John. The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary. 1722. London. Francatelli, Charles Elme. The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant. 1857. London. Radcliffe,M. A Modern System of Domestic