What’s Cooking Wednesday: Halloween BBQ

If you really want to be scared by food, don’t miss “Food Frights” on Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the National Archives Building! David Gregory of NPR will moderate this discussion about how America’s government became involved in food safety and how food safety will look in the future. One of our panelists is Chef José Andrés (our Chief Cuinary Adviser for the exhibit). Here he is talking to the USDA representatives about food safety at our Food Day Open House. Don’t miss it on Thursday night—it’s free!

Today’s post will consider the two of most terrifying documents in the “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” exhibit: the recipes from the Manual for Army Cooks, the 1879 edition.

These recipes are so frightening that you may want to consider making them for a Halloween party. Or, just frighten your guests by telling them the instructions for the second recipe below.

Vegetarians, look away now.

The manual includes instruction on preparing a “Baked Rabbit” that include this little preamble: “The cleft in the lip of a young and fresh rabbit is narrow, the ears so tender they can be easily torn; the claws are smooth and sharp. Old rabbits are the reverse of this.”

Certainly, the process of skinning a rabbit may make an urban dweller like me uncomfortable, but what it is particularly disturbing is the idea that the Army cook was familiar with skinning old rabbits. I imagine post–Civil War soldiers had sampled some stringy coney stew in their time in the service.

But the most disturbing recipe reads like a plot treatment for a Hollywood horror film or perhaps a menu item for Andrew Zimmern’s next “Bizarre Foods” episode.

No word on whether these children enjoyed a baked beef head lunch. The original caption reads "On Dairy Day in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, some of the children saw a cow for the first time in their lives" (ARC 551732)"

Baked Beef Head

Without cooking utensils.

Dig a hole in the ground of sufficient size, and build a fire in it. After the fuel has burned to coals put in the head, neck downward. Cover it with green grass, earth, and coals. Build a good fire over the buried head and keep it burning for about 6 hours.

Unearth the head and remove the kin. A head treated this way at night will be found cooked in the morning. The head of any animal may be cooked in the same manner.

After reading the recipe, our intern asked if the soldiers actually ate the baked head. To which I had to reply, yes. My question was, what happens if you cook the head neck-side up? Less juicy?

Both these recipes can be found in Eating with Uncle Sam, the historical recipe book produced by the Foundation for the National Archives. And if you need some terrifying side dishes, consider “Asparagus Custard” (page 100) and “Mamie Eisenhower’s Fluffy Turnips (page 103).

Happy Halloween cooking!

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