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Tainted Meat


Here’s another recipe of sorts for you, from Elizabeth Fries Ellet’s 1871 book New Cyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, and Practical Housekeeper. Really more of a practical tip on how to make tainted meat edible again:

“Pour a few drops of hydrochloric acid in water till of a slight sour taste, and immerse the tainted meat in it for an hour or so, and it will become quite sweet again.”

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  • c u n d gulag

    Didn’t Food Lion do this a decade or so back, or was that bleach that they used?

    • rm


      • rm

        Darn ipod. I meant to type W^l-M^rt did that. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a lot of stores did or do.

    • Nathan Williams

      Food Lion and bleach is what you’re thinking of – there was an expose from some TV news show (60 minutes? something more local)? Maybe 20 years ago now.

  • Bill Murray

    this makes sense, HCl is pretty good on destroying organics and oxidized species. The tainted stuff is on the outside so will come off first

  • Warren Terra

    how to make tainted meat edible again

    Edible, or palatable?

    I suspect the treatment destroys compounds making the meat taste dreadful, compounds that were the products or byproducts from all the microbes that have been growing on the tainted meat. Still, I’d wonder whether a treatment so mild (a solution you taste-test!) would actually kill many of those microbes. Of course, the later cooking would accomplish the killing, if done sufficiently – but their may be other toxins, not contributing to the sour taste, that the microbes have released and that wouldn’t be destroyed by immersion in a weakly acidic solution.

    • Given that it was 1871, you can pretty much assume the worst.

    • UserGoogol

      The thing that puts this in an interesting context is that in 1871, the germ theory was a fairly new theory. Lister was still running around trying to get surgeons to wash their hands, so either this was trying to bring a fairly state of the art innovation in sanitation to the masses, or they didn’t entirely understand why it worked but it seemed to make food less rotten so it went in the book. Either way, it would seem pretty inevitable that the method would be quite primitive.

    • Emma in Sydney

      My granny used to treat lamb chops that were a bit old and smelled ‘meaty’, with a vinegar solution, and then cook as normal. She’d grown up in the 1910s when refrigeration was pretty minimal. She was also quite prepared to cut the maggoty bits out of a ham that had been flyblown, and wash it down with vinegar and eat it. If you didn’t know what had been done to it, it tasted okay.

    • ajay

      Not only that, but you’d imagine that most pathogens in meat would be able to survive a bit of HCl, because that’s what’s in your stomach…

  • Malaclypse

    Woo-hoo! Half off expired meats!

  • firefall

    You need to find a recipe for pheasant … started as something like ‘Hang by the neck until it drops off’. So, start by ensuring its tainted and rotting through. Mmm mm mm pass me another drumstick.

    • heckblazer

      Done under the right conditions aging does improve the taste and texture. As the connective tissues break down the meat gets more tender, and the loss of water through evaporation concentrates the flavor. This is a desirable enough result that high-end steakhouses charge lots of money for dry-aged steaks.

    • According to James Clavell, then you finish off by beheading the servant who takes it down.

  • Cool Bev

    The old “Household Receipts” books are a lot of fun, and terrifying.

    I recall one with a series of “receipts for sophisticating milk” – for ex, adding chalk and water to milk to increase volume. That was for shopkeepers.

  • DrDick

    The fact that meat purveyors used very similar techniques to doctor their products is one of the reasons we have an FDA.

    • Malaclypse

      Are you implying that the free market did not deliver untainted meats? Why do you hate salmonella?

      • DrDick

        Given half a chance and a decent profit motive, the market would cheerfully poison the entire human race.

        • Holden Pattern

          Why do you hate America?

      • Njorl

        The FDA unfairly destroyed the neighborhood toxicologist business. I remember when I was a kid, listening to him drive through the neighborhood, calling out, “TOXY TOXY TOXY, get your toxicology!” The neighborhood kids would all come running carrying slabs of meat.

  • Don’t putrify please
    I cannot stand the way you make me heave
    I eat you though you hurt me so
    Now I have to toss my chunks and blow
    Tainted meat
    Tainted meat
    Touch me, baby
    Tainted meat
    Tainted meat

  • DJA

    Of course, nowadays we’re much more enlightened — we use ammonia:


  • Quaker in a Basement

    In 1871, they used to keep a bottle of HCl handy in the kitchen?

    • Warren Terra

      Yeah, I thought that was a much more recent development.

      I know some people insist on the Heinz HCl, but I usually go for the store brand.

    • Bill Murray

      Muriatic acid or Spirits of Salt. In England much was produced following the Alkali Act of 1863

  • AGM

    When reading any pre-20th century history, there seems to be a pretty high occurance of people suddenly coming down with a fever and dying 3 days later. I think stuff like this could have something to do with that

    • DrDick

      That or the bad water. There was a dramatic decline in disease and mortality in the US in the early 20th century as a result of basic public health measures like ensuring clean drinking water and proper sewage disposal.

      • ajay

        Yep, I’d think most of those fever deaths would be King Cholera.

        • Well, cholera is a very specific condition that only appeared from time to time, most notably in 1832, 1849, and (I think) 1861. Could be wrong about that last date. Anyway, other types of food/water contamination were far more common.

          • ajay

            Cholera pandemics only happened from time to time, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t smaller outbreaks in between…

            • DrDick

              Actually typhoid, dysentery, and plain old gastroenteritis (salmonella, etc.) were, and still are in the 3rd world, much bigger problems.

              • ajay

                Hmm. OK. (quick google) I think I may have been misled by confusing cholera with cholera morbus. Sorry.

      • Malaclypse

        Wait, are you saying government water was a good thing?

        Look, if Jesus shat outside and drank from a nearby river, who is the government to say that is not a good idea?

    • dave

      History, lesson 1: what you think of as ‘normality’ is a fragile, complex and temporary result of processes that are both surprisingly rapid and recent, and unalterably connected to previous developments. They also have not yet stopped.

  • rick perry’s running for president. he’s like gw bush dipped in hcl for a while and then cooked to order by the republican party.

    • BigHank53

      I’d thought it was the Texas sun that gave him that patina. The man looks…shellacked? Upholstered? Sprayed with paint sealant?

      Whatever it is, it’s put him a step closer to the uncanny valley than the average human.

  • Thomas

    I worked at a seafood counter when I was in college, and one common practice was giving fillets a lemon bath when they started to “go off”. The citric acid kills the odor-causing bacteria. I think this practice was frowned upon by food inspectors (if it wasn’t outright illegal).

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