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, liverslices 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

Giblet Soup. At this season of the year giblets are easily procured. Take two sets of geese giblets, cleanse them thoroughly by parboiling them for ten minutes, then lay then in cold water for five minutes, after which they should be stewed in a gallon, with carrot, celery, six challots, two onions, each stuck with six cloves, two blades of mace, and a good bunch of savoury herbs.

Skim carefully when the soup boils, and let it simmer till the gibbets [sic] are tender, then stain off the stock, wash the giblets, cut the wings into half-inch pieces and the liver and gizzard into small dice. Remove all fat from the stock, thicken it, let it boil well, add salt, cayenne, also the meat, and serve.

Nutty gizzards

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):

Gizzards have tough muscular walls and they’re shaped like a figure eight, two lobes attached in one spot. They have a chewy texture and a nutty flavour and in some families, whoever fried the chicken gets the gizzard as a reward. (p. 11)

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:

Eschew grilled gizzards, as indigestible.

Odoherty Papers ch. 5, in Miscellaneous Writings (1855), vol. 1, p. 86

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:

Roast Heart.Required: 1 ox heart ; ¼ lb. bread crumbs; 2 oz. dripping or suet; 2 tablespoonfuls milk; 2 onions (previously boiled); ½ teaspoonful powdered sage; ½ teaspoonful salt; ¼ teaspoonful pepper.

Lay the heart to soak in cold water and salt to draw out the blood. Clean it well, taking care to remove all the clots of blood. Cut off all the loose flaps and the coarse fat; dry thoroughly.

Put the bread crumbs in a basin, rub thoroughly together. Chop the onions finely, add them, the sage, pepper, salt, and milk. Mix well; stuff the heart with this mixture and sew it up. Roast according to general directions, and serve very hot.

C. E. Guthrie Wright School Cookery Book (1881) 64

Liverslices 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:

Little crust crumbs of bread are mixed with it to produce the blue veins.

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”:

[Ingredients] 1 cup stale crust crumbs. 2 cups milk. ½ cup molasses. ½ teaspoon salt. ½ cup fruit. ¼ teaspoon spices.

Serve with Caramel Sauce.

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:

Fried Cod’s Roe. 1 lb. cod’s roe. Flour. Salt and pepper. Egg and bread crumbs.

Wash the roe in salt and water, cook gently for thirty minutes, drain, cut into sliced, dip in seasoned flour, coat with egg and bread crumbs, fry a golden brown in hot fat, drain on kitchen paper. Dish [sic] on a hot dish on a fancy paper, garnish with fried parsley.

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:

In that same period [i.e. six to eight years] a hen codfish (yes, lady codfish are called hens) will lay between 250,000,000 and 350,000,000 eggs.

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:

Thursday: not a good day either for a mutton kidney at Buckley’s. Fried with butter, a shake of pepper. Better a pork kidney at Dlugacz’s. (U 4.44-6)

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:

Mutton kidneys are a great breakfast speciality in England; grilled kidneys are only prevented from being as universally served as the national eggs and bacon by their dearness; the demand is always greater than the supply, and the price is high, accordingly. (p. 356)

John Simpson

revised February 2016


1 See 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.

2 Several years earlier “Molly Bawn” had also offered this recipe in her “Dress and Housekeeping” column in the Irish Times (21 April 1900):

Giblet Soup. This soup can be made from the giblets of fowl, goose, or duck. Two sets would be required. Wash them thoroughly in cold water, then scald them (by pouring boiling water over them); cut up the gizzards into small pieces, 1 lb. of shin of beef, also cut up; one large onion stuck with six cloves, two carrots sliced thin, a bunch of sweet herbs, one saltspoonful of salt, ¼ of pepper.

Add three pints of stock, and simmer the whole for four hours, taking care to skim well. Strain through a sieve, put the soup again into the saucepan, add 1 oz. of butter mixed with one dessertspoonful of flour, one tablespoonful of mushroom ketchup, and some pieces of giblets. Serve very hot. Cost, 1s.

3 James Joyce Archive vol. 22, p. 173.

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