The Gift of Meat: Victorian Potted Ham and Rabbit

The Gift of Meat: Victorian Potted Ham and Rabbit

Preserving food was an important part of Victorian life, as we have demonstrated through the year with experiments in pickling, canning, and drying. If I had a domestic staff, I would be a terrible tyrant, making them save and use every scrap of food and every animal bone. The Book of Household Management lists several recipes for potted meats, including veal, anchovies, and more.

Potted Ham with Red Currant Jelly and Fig Paste

What was, 150 years ago, an exercise in thrift and practicality is now an elegant snack that brings something unique to the table for holidays and entertaining. Potted meat can be thought of as a British precursor to deviled ham or paté. This is a great host/hostess gift or something unique for a meat lover you know. The potted meat keeps a long time, but it’s not shelf-stable like a pickle, so plan accordingly. It’s wonderful on crackers or spread on bread as a sandwich. Once you get the lid on, you can fancy it up with some pretty cloth or ribbons.

"Unpacked" Rabbit Meat

Recently, I potted some rabbit. They are worth shopping around for, because I see greater discrepancies in rabbit prices than any other meat. One Seattle store carries $25 rabbit, while at one of my favorite Asian markets I can usually get one for around $6.

Preparing the Rabbit for Stewing

Potted Rabbit [1028.]

This recipe just fills a pint canning jar for me, and can be easily doubled. The liquor that the rabbit is stewed in can be strained and used for soups and gravies.

Ingredients.
1 rabbit
4 slices of raw bacon
a large bunch of savory herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and parsley
1 cup of decent sherry
4 whole cloves
Pinch of powdered mace or a finely-chopped blade [optional]*
1 teaspoonful of whole allspice
2 carrots, chunked
1 onion, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
A small quantity of melted butter [1-2 tablespoons]

Mode.
1. Skin, empty, and wash the rabbit, if needed; cut it down the middle, and put it into a stewpan, with a few slices of bacon under and over it; add the spices, herbs, vegetables, sherry, and sufficient water to cover the rabbit (usually about a pint). Bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Stew very gently on low, covered, for 2 hours, until the rabbit is tender, and the flesh will separate easily from the bones.

2. When done enough, remove the rabbit from the broth, separate the tender flesh from the bones, and pound the meat, with the bacon, in a mortar, until reduced to a perfectly smooth paste. [The Victorians were very fond of pounding everything, but for this step I pulse the mixture gently in a food processor. You could also chop the meat very finely.] Should it not be sufficiently seasoned, add a little cayenne, salt, and pounded mace, but be careful that these are well mixed with the other ingredients.

3. Press the meat compactly into potting-pots (I like clear glass canning jars for this), pour over melted butter, and keep covered refrigerated.

* Mace, especially whole blades, can be challenging to source. It is possible to substitute ground nutmeg in much smaller quantities (usually half). I recommend mace for an authentic Victorian flavor, and also to blow people’s minds trying to figure out what it is, since many people are unfamiliar with it now.

Potted Ham, That Will Keep Good for Some Time [814.]

This recipe is great for using up leftover baked ham.

Ingredients.
To 2 lbs. of lean ham allow
1/2 lb. of fat (bacon grease, duck fat, or other drippings)
1 teaspoonful of pounded mace
1/2 teaspoonful of pounded allspice
1/2 teaspoonful of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoonful of cayenne
pepper to taste
clarified butter or lard

Mode.
1. Mince the ham and stir together the softened or melted fat in the above proportion, seasoning it with cayenne pepper, allspice, pepper, pounded mace, and nutmeg.

2. Grind to a smooth paste in a food processor, or chop very finely if needed.

3. Press the mixture firmly into potting-pots or a jar to prevent air pockets, pour over clarified butter, and keep it refrigerated. This recipe produces about 3 pints. If well-seasoned, it will keep a long time in winter, and will be found very convenient for sandwiches, &c.

Related: The first post where I mention potted ham.

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