This piece follows yesterday’s post which briefly mentioned brawn and will expound on what brawn was and how it was made.
Brawn is an antiquated term by today’s standards, but one easily defined using early dictionaries and cookery books. Samuel Pegge wrote in a compilation dating from about 1390, The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery, that brawn referred to boar, but by the time his book was published, brawn also meant rolls of Brawn or Boar. In earlier times he documented Brawn of Swyne as well as that of the Boar with notes on Brawn of Capons and hens.
I found sources for making sham, or mock, brawn which was made by removing the jowls from a cooked head and rolling them up as previously noted, but in a brief search I did not find receipts or instructions for pre-18th century brawn that instructed the cook to use the bits of meat as would be typical in making souse or headcheese, which was a different dish altogether.
In 1675, Bailey defined sousee as, “a jelly made of hogs ears and feet, sliced and stewed in vinegar and sugar”. Souse was the offal of a Swine, offal being “fragments of meat”.
In 1675, Nathan Bailey’s definition was, “the hardest or firmest part of a boar, hard flesh, sous’d meat or boar’s flesh”. Later, Samuel Johnson made no mention of pickled flesh and defined brawn as, “the flesh of a boar”. In 1795, William Butler wrote that brawn, “In the culinary art, signifies the fleshy or musculous parts of a hog, boned, rolled up, or collared, boiled, and lastly, pickled for winter use”. Canterbury and Shrewsbury were known for the superior quality of the brawn they produced. – Arithmetical Questions on a New Plan. 1795. London. Johnson, Samuel. A Dictonary of the English Language. 1768. Dublin.
Hannah Glasse said one could choose brawn and know if it were old or young by the thickness of the rind, if thick it was old. “If the rind and fat be very tender, it is not boar-brawn, but barrow or sow”. A barrow was, “hog, a male Swine gelt [castrated]”. – The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. 1784. London.
Instructions for making it were detailed enough by 1736 that anyone with a desire can duplicate it:
The Boars that were put up for Brawn, are now [December] fit to kill. It is to be observ’d that what is used for Brawn, is the Flitches [sides of a hog, salted and cured] only, without the Legs, and they must have the Bones taken out, and then sprinkled with Salt, and lay’d in a Tray, or some other thing, to drain off the Blood; when this is done, salt it a little, and roll it up as hard as possible, so that the length of the Collar of Brawn be as much as one side of the Boar will bear, and to be, when it is rolled up, about nine or ten inches diameter. When you have rolled up your Collar as close as you can, tye it with Linnen Tape, as tight as possible, and then prepare a Cauldron with a large Quantity of water to boil it: In this boil your Brawn till it is tender enough for a Straw to pass into it, and then let it cool; and when it is quite cold, put it in the following Pickle. Put to every Gallon of Water a handful or two of Salt, and as much Wheat-Bran; boil them well together, and then strain the Liquor as clear as you can from the Brawn, and let it stand till it is quite cold, at which time put your Brawn in it; but this Pickle must be renewed every three Weeks. Some put half small Beer and half Water; but then the small Beer should be brewed with pale Malt: but I think the first Pickle is the best. Note, The same Boar’s Head being well cleaned, may be boiled and pickled like the Brawn, and is much esteem’d. – Bradley, Richard. The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director. 1736.
Instructions were even more detailed by 1763 advising that for brawn the boar should be old; because the older he was the more “horny” will the brawn be. [Horny in this sense means a hard, tough, or callous area.] It was advised that the collar be boiled in a copper, or large kettle, till it was so tender, you could run a straw through it before putting it into the pickle. – A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Vol. I. 1763.
In short, the cook was to tightly roll pork, boil it until it was tender, and then put it into a solution that would help keep it from going bad. Wine was used in the receipt from the Good Huswife’s Jewell, but vinegar would do well and probably be better as a preservative.
1 piece of boned pork such as shoulder or roast, or loin will work; Chicken stock; Dry white wine (The wine should be about half the total amount of the liquid); 3 bay leaves; ½ a nutmeg, chopped in coarse pieces; 1 teaspoon of thyme, 1 of rosemary, and one of marjoram, coarsely chopped, or substitute dried herbs; 1 ½ teaspoons salt; Pepper as you wish
Roll the pork and tie it with cooking twine. Put the seasonings into a pot with the stock and half the wine. Once the mixture is boiling, add the pork roll, simmer until the meat is tender. Remove the meat to a plate, strain the stock. Return the stock to the pot with the remaining wine. Pour just enough of the liquid over the meat to cover it. Allow it to cool and once cold, cover and refrigerate for several days or a week, turning daily. To serve, dry it from the pickling liquid and slice it. Serve it with coarse mustard, or make your own.