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16 September 2007
Hedgehogs on menu for ancient Brits

A meal of hedgehog or stinging nettle sounds like a recipe for the world's worst mouth ulcer. However, these were once the ingredients of choice in Britain. The country's 10 oldest recipes were unveiled, following extensive research into the history of Britain's eating habits. Nettle pudding, which dates back to 6000 BCE, was declared the oldest recorded recipe in the study from the Food Science department of the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff.
     The stodgy concoction, of crushed leaves in a dough, was not the only meal that researchers discovered dated back to the early-Neolithic period. Experts believe Neolithic man had a penchant for chomping through an offal-heavy ancestor of haggis called meat pudding and even pastry-wrapped roasted hedgehog.
     The discovery that hedgehogs were used in early cooking was based on archaeological findings where cooked spines were found in areas used for compost. Ruth Fairchild, of the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, who led the research team, said: "The findings are the culmination of a huge amount of intensive research. The team have pieced together evidence taken from a wide range of sources - archaeological evidence, social history texts, medieval records, even the work of experimental archaeologist Jacqui Wood - to bring together what we see as 'the oldest recorded recipes in the UK'. We set out to find recorded 'cooking directions' that embodied the true elements of a recipe. The oldest recipe that fitted that description was the recipe for nettle pudding."
     Nettle pudding was eaten from Neolithic times and was a mixture of readily available leaves, such as nettle, mixed with coarsely ground barley flour, salt and enough water to bind to a dough. The leaves used would show some geographic variation, but combinations of sorrel, dandelion, watercress, chickweed, wild radish, vetch, nettles and even seaweed would be common. Regional variations of this exist today, notably dock pudding in Northern England and laverbread in Wales. Smokey fish stew was also eaten since Neolithic times, and is a simple combination of bacon (very common particularly in Wales and Scotland) and fish which has been previously smoked. Geographic differences would include the herbs added and the fish used. Inland carp, perch, trout, etc. On the Scottish and east English coast herring was plentiful; around the south of England and Wales bass, mackerel or dogfish were more common. Finally, Meat Pudding was a simple mix of meat - mainly offal, some fat, which would have been regarded as a real luxury, and herbs.

Sources: The Scotsman, The Independent (14 September 2007), The New Zealand Herald (15 September 2007)

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