13 The Boar's Head in Hand Bear I...

During the early Middle Ages, people feasted on many strange and wondrous dishes. The gilded peacock was one favored Christmas food, but the boar's head holds the place of honor. It was considered more of a delicacy than suckling pig (and for good reason, since the wild boar was extinct in England by the 16th century). As the centerpiece of the Christmas feast, it was paraded to the assembled diners in great state, decked with rosemary and holding an orange or apple in its mouth.

The Vicomte de Mauduit has much to say about the boar's head, including his own authentic recipe for it:


THE BOAR'S HEAD

"Caput apri de tero
Reddens laudes Domino
The Boar's head in hand bring I
With garlands gay and rosemary.
I pray you will sing merrily
Qui estis in convivio."

So sang the steward in olden times as, supported by a procession of nobles and heralded by a fanfare of trumpets, he brought in a boar's head, the pi╦ce de resistance of a medieval baron's dinner.

And the old custom is kept up still in many parts, notably Brittany, in Central Europe, and in Hornchurch, Essex, which according to Viscount Castlerosse, the lessee of the tithes has every Christmas to supply a boar's head which, after being dressed and garnished with bay, is wrestled for in the field next to the church.

In my old home near Quimperl╚ in Brittany there was hunting twice a week in the season. I remember those days well, and have a vivid recollection of the lovely women in beautiful costumes on side-saddles who foregathered with huntsmen at our chateau, of the hunt itself, and of the feast later.

The boar's head, always called "the noblest dish on board," is as good as it sounds. Here is the way my family's old chef dressed, cooked and garnished it:

Bone the head, leaving only the jawbones (for shape) and tusks. Make a small quantity of stuffing composed of minced pig's liver, chopped apples, a little onion, sage and rosemary. Arrange this stuffing all around the inside of the head about half an inch in thickness. Now stuff the rest of the inside of the head with a second stuffing made of sausage meat, squares of ox tongue, chopped truffles, chopped apples, chopped mushrooms, chopped pistachio nuts and minced rosemary. Add one wineglass of Calvados (or sherry) and an equal quantity of cream.

When the head is filled tight with this, stitch a very strong cloth over the stuffing, then bind the whole head in another strong cloth, and put it in a large pot of boiling water to boil slowly for about eight to nine hours, during which time you add more boiling water as evaporation requires. When the head is cooked and is still warm reshape in cloth, remove the wrapping and let it get cold.

The ears, which have been cut off and boiled separately, are then replaced on the head with a skewer.
Place the head on an oblong dish, surround it with slices of truffles, slices of apples, and strew with rosemary.

--from The Viscomte in the Kitchen by Vicomte de Mauduit with introductions by Francis, Countess of Warwick and Elizabeth Craig, M.C.A., M.I.H., published in 1934 by Covici-Friede Publishers, New York.

Bon appetit!