Fried hencods’ roes and mutton kidneys: these are a few of his favourite things
U 4.2-5: He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver-slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
As we first meet Leopold Bloom in Ulysses he is preparing a simple breakfast of bread and butter on a “humpy tray” for Molly, and his mind wanders to meals that he himself knows and admires. This article looks briefly at the dishes themselves and in particular at two problematic words, crustcrumbs and hencod.1
Bloom’s favourite breakfast dishes are not everyone’s delicacies. He favours “the inner organs of beasts and fowls”, traditionally part of the “fifth quarter” that he mentions in passing later in the novel. His taste in food is our first hint at the characterization of the hero.
Thick giblet soup
Bloom regards the giblets of fowl as fair game for his breakfast. In this, he was in accord with another Molly, “Molly Bawn”, whose cookery column ran for many years in the Irish Times. Recipes for giblet soup were not unknown in the newspapers of the day. Here is Molly’s, published in her “Woman’s Work and Household Hints” just in time for Bloomsday in the Weekly Irish Times of 26 December 1903 (p. 20).2
It seems that “nutty gizzards” is not a fixed expression, and that “nutty” (like “thick” in “thick giblet soup”) is just a descriptive adjective.
In the absence of contemporaneous account of the nuttiness of the gizzard (“the second or muscular stomach of birds in which the food is ground, after being mixed with gastric juice in the proventriculus or first stomach” - OED), we can read Sharon Bowers’s Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Chicken (1999):
The nutty flavour is perhaps reinforced by the fact that the gizzard is of a small walnut-like shape when prepared for cooking. They are not universally admired. The Cork-born journalist and writer William Maginn (d. 1842) offered the following advice:
Stuffed roast heart
Stuffed hearts were more commonly
served at table in Joyce’s day than they are today. Cooking instructions are
also rather more direct than we might expect in today’s sanitized equivalents:
Liver-slices fried with crustcrumbs
Bloom was partial to fried and grilled offal. There is no mystery to fried liver slices today, but we are less familiar with “crustcrumbs”. The word “crustcrumb” appears neither in the Oxford English Dictionary nor in Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary. The Leicestershire Chronicle of 30 December 1899 (p. 2) discusses the manufacture of Roquefort cheese:
and the Young Woman’s Journal of 1909 (vol. 20, p. 134) requires stale crust crumbs (breadcrumbs made from the crust of bread) in its recipe for “Brown Bread Pudding”:
Fried hencods’ roes
Another old favourite of the time was fried cod’s roe, nowadays less common on the breakfast menu. May Little’s Cookery up-to-date of 1908 (p. 127) offers a taste of the delicacy:
The lexical issue which has not yet been satisfactorily explained is “hencod”: why “hencod” rather than just “cod”? In fact Joyce earlier wrote “fried cods’ roe”, and changed it to “fried hencods’ roe” in the Calypso placards, when he was in Paris.3
The real answer may be found in sources such as Charles Owen Minchin’s Sea-fishing (1911). In a chapter entitled “Cod bite softly but fight hard” Minchin states that “a hen fish in full condition will do battle to the last” (p. 55). More recently Roger Caras writes in The Cats of Thistle Hill (1994) that:
Female cod (hens) produce what is known as “hard roe”, whereas male cod produce “soft roe” or milt. Both hard and soft cod’s roe can be fried. By specifying “hencod’s roe” Joyce is simply adding an element of precision to his description: Bloom’s preferred fried cod’s roe are the hard roe of the female fish.
However, the issue is explained when we realise that a Calypso note in the NLI introduces the fish as “henfish” (NLI MS 36,639/5A, p. 1). "Hen-fish" is defined in Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary (1902, vol. 2) as “a species of cod, Morrhua minuta”, reportedly in use in northern Ireland. But we can take this as too specialized a use for Joyce.
Grilled mutton kidneys
Bloom’s favourite dish is grilled mutton kidneys. As with other dishes on his favourites list he may not have eaten these at home, but have ordered them at a nearby eating house:
Bloom wasn’t alone in his predilection for grilled mutton kidneys. Jessup Whitehead’s Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering (1903) observes that:
Alison Armstrong’s The Joyce of Cooking:
food & drink from James Joyce’s Dublin (Station Hill Press, New York: 1986)
for some alternative recipes for these dishes.
3 James Joyce Archive vol. 22, p. 173.
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