A medieval subtlety
There really are recipes for preparing hedgehog, but fear not: the recipe on this page is without hedgehog meat, it only looks like a hedgehog.
The dish is a medieval one, for a savoury ‘hedgehog’ with pork. The extra recipe is from the eighteenth century, a sweet version with marzipan. Both recipes are from English cookbooks. And both have spines from almonds. The picture of the hedgehog is from British Library, Royal MS 2 B. vii, Folio 97v. (see below for the description)
A medieval recipe for fake hedgehog
The first recipe is from the fifteenth century English manuscript Harleian 279 (edition Austin p.38, see bibiography), which I have used several times for this site (Strawberye, Apple fritters). The yrchoun was made as follows: a cleaned pig stomach is filled with chopped meat and spices, pricked with almond sticks to make spines, then roasted and glazed with a paste made of flour with a colouring agent.
On the menu list of several festive banquets that is written down in the same manuscript, it can be read that the Yrchouns were served during the second course of the funereal meal of Nicholas Bubwith, bishop of Bath and Wells, on 4 December 1424, together with roasted fowl and game (pheasant, woodcock, partridge, plevier, lark, curlew, rabbit, large animals) and other dishes. There was another menu especially for the clergy, with fish instead of meat. They too got fake hedgehogs. I haven’t found any medieval recipes for fake hedgehog with fish, but several with almond paste (see below). So the bishops and priests probably ate almond hedge hogs.
The fake hedgehog in other medieval cookery books
The Forme of Cury, an English cookbook from the fourteenth century (edition Hieatt and Butler p.139/140, see bibliography), also uses a stuffed pig stomach as the body of the hedgehog, but here the spines are made from dough.
The fake hedgehog is not exclusively English. In one of the manuscripts of the French Viandier, from the fifteenth century, there is also a recipe for it (herisson, in Bibliotheca Vaticana, Regina 776 olim 233 and 2159, The Viandier, edition Scully p.264/265, see bibliography). This recipe uses a sheep stomach. There is also a ‘sweet hedgehog’, in the printed Viandier from 1486 (The Viandier, edition Scully p.30/31): this recipe is meatless, the hedgehog is made from almond paste, with almond spines. The Ménagier de Paris (late fourteenth century) also mentions the dish (edition Brereton and Ferrier p. 802, see bibliography), but according to the author of the cookbook it is not worth the trouble. Chiquart on the other hand uses the fake hedgehog as part of his spectaculair subtlety the ‘Love Castle’, in Du fait de cuysine (around 1420, edition Scully p.147, see bibliography), but neither he nor the Ménagier provides us with recipes.
In the German cookbook of Maister Hannsen from 1460 there are no less than three recipes for fake hedgehogs, a white hedgehog of almondpaste with almond spines, a black one with ginger, spices and sugar, with pines of cloves, and a hedgehog of pureed figues, also with pines of cloves. The links lead to the site of the American Gwen Grasse, who adapted and photographed these recipes. Quite lovely, and a nice addition to the ‘meaty hedgehog’ on this page.
Of course I also looked in Dutch cookbooks, but there are no medieval or later Dutch recipes for fake or real hedgehogs. But we do have the Fake Fish, and Fake Calf’s ears.
The real hedgehog
Both Pliny the Elder and Isidore of Seville describe the hedgehog as a beast with tricks: according to Pliny, the hedgehog rolls over fallen apples to bring them to his nest as winter hoard, Isidore lets it roll over grapes to take them to feed its young. The two stories are nonsense, of course. If only because hedgehogs are insectivores (and they love catfood too!). The picture above shows a hedgehog that has rolled over grapes (or apples, I can’t determine which), just like Pliny and Isidore described..
In De honeste voluptate et valetudinefrom 1468, the Italian humanist Platina compares hedgehog meat with that of a porcupine. It is not common to eat either, he writes, but the meat of both animals is good for the stomach, works laxative, relieves several skin diseases and eczema, and lessens bed-wetting. If the meat of the hedgehog is cured with salt, it also helps against dropsy. A very useful animal.
In case you want know: the best way to prepare a hedgehog, is to pack it in clay and bake it. When you break away the clay after baking, the spines come with it. According to Alan Davidson the meat is succulent and tasty, resembling chicken or pork. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never tasted one.
The Ménagier de Paris has a recipe for real hedgehog too: it is prepared as a poussin (young chicken), roasted, with sauce cameline or a sauce for young ducks (edition Brereton and Ferrier p.790, see bibliography). He also explains how you get a hedgehog to unroll itself: put it in warm water.
When we still lived in Hilversum, we had a wooded bank in the back of the garden where hedgehogs hibernated. Sometimes we could see them strolling in the garden. And in Kortenhoef we also get visited by hedgehogs, as the picture shows. They are not sweet or nice animals, but cute to look at. (More about my cats)
The original recipe
About the manuscript Harleian 279: see the recipe for Strawberye. The text of the recipe is from the Austin edition. The letter þ (thorn, reproduced on your pc by pressing ctrl-alt-t) represents the ‘th’ in the modern alphabet. The phrase ‘every hole half, & eche fro other’ is mysterious. What does the author (or copyist) mean? My guess is: in each hole you stick the half length of an almond spine, and in each hole just one. If you know better, tell me.
Take Piggis mawys, & skalde hem wel; take groundyn Porke, & knede it with Spicerye, with pouder Gyngere, & Salt & Sugre; do it on þe mawe, but fille it nowt to fulle; þen sewe hem with a fayre þrede, & putte hem in a Spete as men don piggys; take blaunchid Almaundys, & kerf hem long, smal, & scharpe, & frye hem in grece & sugre; take a litel prycke, & prykke þe yrchons, An putte in þe holes þe Almaundys, every hole half, & eche fro oþer; ley hem þen to þe fyre; when þey ben rostid, dore hem sum wyth Whete Flowre, & mylke of Almaundys, sum grene, sum blake with Blode, & lat hem nowt browne to moche, & s[erue] f[orth].
Take a pig’s stomach, and scald it well. Take ground pork, knead it with spices, with powdered ginger, salt and sugar. Put it in the stomach, but stuff it not too full. Then sew it closed with good thread, and put it on a spit like a stuck pig. Then take blanched almonds, and cut them long, thin and sharp, and fry them in grease and sugar. Take a small pin, and prick the hedgehogs. And put in the holes the almonds, every hole half, and each from the other. Put them near the fire. When they are roasted, glaze them with wheat flour and almond milk, some green, some black with blood, and don’t let them brown too much, and serve forth.
A pig stomach is hard to come by, at least in The Netherlands. And when I finally found a butcher who sold them, he only had cut up stomach. I saw it, it was useless for this recipe. According to Schell, the Rotterdam butcher who sells practically everything (really, I even found sheep’s penis there) you simply can NOT buy whole pig stomach. That is the consequence of modern regulation.
An alternative is using pork caul instead of stomach. Not much better maybe for those who abhor the consumption of intestines, but at least it’s easier to come by. This membrane is ideal to wrap around ground meat, and it’s easy to form several small hedgehogs instead of a big one. Simply cut the caul in sizeable pieces.
The order in which things are done in the modern adaptation is different from the original recipe. The body of the hedgehog is roasted and glazed before adding the spines. Then it is returned for a few minutes to the oven. To me, this is more logical. Otherwise glazing would be rather difficult, with all those spines.
For 6 persons as a first or main course, for 24 persons as a side dish; Preparation in advance 30 minutes; preparation 90 minutes.
1 caul (crépinette)
500 gr (1 pound) ground pork (when using a pig stomach, you’ll need more, probably around 2000 gr/4 pounds)
ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pepper (ratio 5:3:1:1, together 1 Tbsp)
salt and sugar to taste
egg and bread crumbs if you like
For the spines
blanched almonds cut in sticks
50 gr (¼ cup) suet or lard (or butter)
2 Tbsp sugar
For the glaze
almond milk made of 50 gram (⅓ cup) ground almonds and ¼ liter(1 cup) boiling water
green and black food colouring (or pureed parsley and pig’s blood)
for every dl almond milk 60 gr (½ cup) flour
Preparation in advance
Add spices, salt and sugar to the ground pork. If you like, you can also add an egg and some bread crumbs to make the ground meat more cohesive. Shape one or more hedgehog bodies, and wrap them in the caul.
If you can’t buy almond sticks, cut some blanched almonds. Melt fat and sugar in a small saucepan, add the almond sticks and stir until the sticks start to brown. Spread the almond sticks out on a plate, to prevent them sticking together.
Make almond milk for the gaze: add boiling water to the ground almonds, steep for twenty minutes, and strain.
Roast the stuffed caul in the oven at 170 °C/350 °F for about one hour and fifteen minutes (if using a whole pig stomach, it will take longer). Use a turnspit if you like, but take care that the weight is divided evenly around the spit. You can also put the hedgehog on a roasting tin.
When done, remove the spit, and let the hedgehog rest for fifteen minutes. Divide the almond milk/flour paste over two bowls, add green colouring to one, and black colouring to the other. For black, you’ll have to use colouring paste instead of liquid colouring. Glaze the hedgehog with these two colours as you like (half-half, quarters, whatever).
Now prick the almond spines into the glazed hedgehog, and put it back in the oven at 120 °C/250 °F for another ten minutes until the glaze has set. But if you simply let the hedgehog stand for a couple of hours, the glaze will have dried by itself.
Warm or at room temperature. A nice subtlety for a medieval meal.
You can play with the recipe as you like. For example, use ground veal and herbs instead of pork and spices, or use dough instead of caul or pig stomach. Adding raisins to the stuffing is also a good idea.
You can serve this dish as a first course (small individual hedgehogs), as a main dish with a medieval sauce (two recipes on this site: onion sauce and ‘sauce madame’, both from English manuscripts), or even as a side dish in a medieval buffet.
The glazing is rather tasteless. So don’t worry about the colouring, you’ll only scrape it off the hedgehog to discard it.
Like humans, pigs have but one stomach (cows have several). In the meat industry pig stomach is used in sausages, but also as encasing of sausages (at least, in 1965). As I have mentioned above, it is difficult to buy a whole pig stomach. If you kill your own pig, or know people who do, here’s what to do with the stomach according to my Butcher’s Book from 1965: first of all, the stomach must be cleaned: cut away grease; make an incision in the large curvature: through this hole push out the contents of the stomach, then turn the stomch inside out. The wrinkled mucous membrane will pop out. Rinse the stomach well and steep in cold water. The next day you can peel of the mucous membrane. […] The rest, stull mucous, will be conserved in salt. (from Moderne beenhouwerij en charcuterie [Modern butcher and meat products], p.211). On the left you can see a picture of a stuffed pig stomach, with thanks to Nick Stanley.
Stuffed pig stomach (saumaagen, seimaage or hogmal) is said to have been a traditional dish on Thanksgiving (November 14) with Dutch families in Pennsylvania, and in Germany this dish still is popular in the Palatinate (source).
The French call this crépine. The caul is the part of the peritoneum attached to the stomach and to the colon and covering the intestines. You can buy it deep-frozen. To thaw a caul, put it in cold water with salt that you change once in a while. When the caul is completely thawed, you can spread it out, and see a thin membrane with veins of fat. It reminds me a bit of lace, rather attractive, actually.
Why would one use a caul in the kitchen? Because it is so thin and the fat melts away in the preparation, it is ideal to wrap food in that would otherwise fall apart. And the melting fat serves as a kind of ‘instant dripping’. Use what you need of the caul, but not more. Do not wrap the caul six times around your meat because otherwise you have to throw it away, the dish won’t taste any better, on the contrary. A caul is cheap, you won’t go broke if you do not use it all.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- Terence Scully, The Viandier of Taillevent: An edition of all extant manuscripts, Ottawa, 1988.
- Le Viandier d’après l’édition de 1486, facsimile edition by Mary and Philip Hyman (Éditions Manucius, 2001).
- Thomas Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (Early English Text Society Original Series). Harleian ms.279 (ab.1430), & Harl.ms.4016 (ab1450), with extracts from Ashmole ms.1439, Laud ms.553, & Douce ms.55. Reprint Oxford University Press, 2000, digital edition).
- Terence Scully, ‘Du fait de cuisine par Maistre Chiquart, 1420’. In: Vallesia 40 (1985) pp.101-231. Online English translation by Elisabeth Cook.
- C.B. Hieatt en S. Butler, Curye on Inglysch (Middle English recipes) (Early English Text Society Supplementary Series), Londen, 1985.
- G.E Brereton and J.M. Ferrier, Le Menagier De Paris: A Critical Edition (Oxford, 1981). The edition Le Mesnagier de Paris has the Oldfrench text, but not the notes, of Brereton and Ferrier, with a translation in modern French by Karin Ueltschi (Paris, 1994).
- Meister Hans, des von wirtenberg koch. Transcription, German translation and commentary by Trude Ehlert. Tupperware, 1996.
Tasty hedgehogs, a medieval subtlety