top of page

Roasting Meat

Roasting meat over an open fire

Roasting Meat

Recent History

June 10, 1790

Recollections on Hunting in Kentucky, 1790-1791 by Hugh Bell


A Kentucky hunter tells stories about the carnivore diet he survived on while hunting buffalo, just a few years after the foundation of the United States. "They always relied upon the forest for a supply of food - buffalo, bear, dear, elk & turkey. Stewed bear's liver, or roasted bear's kidney, made a good substitute for bread."

Mrs. H F Bell and the Indian cows were up -- the gate creaking, an Indian lay behind a log some 15 feet off, peeped up his head, which Mrs. B saw -- dashed to & fastened the gate, & escaped. The Indian knowing the alarm wd. be instantly give,  jumped up & ran off.

Wm. & Nick S. Baker & some few others from the settlement, living on McAdoe Creek, a few miles above Clarkesville, in the present county of Montgomery - went down Cumberland below Palmyra,  down the north shore hunting buffalo -  Wm Baker had wounded a old buffalo bull, & was following it close behind through the cane, it turned upon him; Baker turned & ran but was soon over taken by the enraged animal, run one of his horns through his leather pants & badly goring his thigh, threw him back entirely over his head -- the buffalo went on.  Baker was barely able to clear the other way & left the buffalo to go unmolested. This was in 1790. 

This same year Hugh F. Bell, his older brother John & Isaac Peterson went out hunting on Little River in Trigg Co - Ky-. John Bell was pursuing a gang of elk,  Hugh F Bell & Peterson got after a gang of buffalo, & each shot buffalo bulls. Bell went and sat down upon Peterson’s buffalo, & then proposed to go & skin his first - went; and on their return Peterson’s had gone! By the time John Bell returned, not having killed any of the elk, & aided the others in hunting up the lost buffalo. The grass in the river bottom there was thick & as tall as a man’s head - the two Bells clamped several feet up a fallen lodged tree & discovered the bull lying down some 15 paces off. Called  to Peterson to shoot it - he said he wd go & stick it - crept up behind a small blackjack pine nine inches through, close to which the buffalo lay - & as Peterson was within point of giving the fatal stab in the buffalo’s side, the animal suddenly bounded to his feet, & Peterson up the tree - clear of limbs for fifteen or 20 feet - would get some eight feet, & then from fear & exhaustion, wd. fail & gradually slip down until nearly in reach of the buffalo’s horns, - who all the while kept a warfare upon the tree, completely barking it with his horns -  Again Peterson wd make an effort & ascend about the old height, & again give way & slide down - begging the while for the Bells to shoot the buffalo; who, so full of laughter, could not - Seeing after his third ascension, that he could not stand it much longer, & had already rubbed the skin from his breast & face, - shot the buffalo, & rescued Peterson.

The next year, 1791, Hugh F. & Wm Bell over Little River on the Barrens - they went so far, became less dangerous than nearer the settlements - hunting; came across two buffalos,  Hugh F. Bell shot one of them - & William took buffalo & Elk after the other -  the buffalo took after Bell, who mounted dashed away around a large sink hole of some ten acres, & the buffalo in hot pursuit, went around twice, & the buffalo gained & had got within 20 steps when Hugh F. Bell came up & shot him down. They both thought the buffalo had no evil design, but in its fright mistook  Bell’s horse for its mate & thus followed. At a subsequent hunt, Hugh F. & John Bell & John Newell were again out together, in the old range on Little River, came upon a gang of 3 or 4 elk - the dogs took after & overtook him, some seizing him by the nose, others by the ears, while one of the dogs bounded upon his back & took post between the large antlers that lay up behind, & the dog clung to his place all the while gnawing into the flesh of the neck of the elk - & the elk ran several rods with the dog upon his back; took post in a spring, & there took his stand, & remained until H.F.B. came up & shot him. The hunters wd take with them some pack horses, to convey home the meat. When they had it, they wd take with some salt & pepper & sage - a camp kettle; these with their knives & rifles, tomahawks sufficed. They always relied upon the forest for a supply of food - buffalo, bear, dear, elk & turkey. 

A buffalo hide per adventure wd be stretched across poles overhead for a covering from the damps & rains - other skins, with the hair side up, wd be placed upon the ground before the fire to be used as a kind of rug & for the bed at night - & sometimes with another hide for a covering. When upon the hunt by day they wore a kind of moccasin made of buffalo hide, the hair side turned in - these would not easily saturate; at night these were taken off & thrown one side & away from the fire that they might freeze if the weather shd be sufficiently cold to congeal water - for the buffalo moccasins were all the better for being frozen. While in camp, the hunters wore the light tanned deer skin moccasins. 

 Now for the mode of living.  The stew was a common and favorite mode - the choicest bits of buffalo, deer, elk, bear & turkey, part or all of these as the case might be - put into the kettle, with the proper seasoning would furnish a nice dish, leaving each of the company to choose as to kind. Stewed bear's liver, or roasted bear's kidney, made a good substitute for bread. When hunters had a roast turkey, they had a way of cutting numerous small incisions in the body, & putting in them bits of fat bear meat & proper seasoning - this was excellent. But when a luxurious meal was to be provided it consisted of one or all of these articles, roasted beaver tail, buffalo tongue, or marrow bone. 

Take a large beaver tail, some 8 inches long, and 4 broad, well seasoned, & wrapped up in a coat of wetted oak leaves & put into a bed of embers & covered up over night, wd be elegantly cooked by morning. 

To cook properly after hunter's style a fine buffalo tongue - first scorch it a little & peel off the outside coating, then stick it upon a spit made of spice bush, with the lower end inserted in the earth & left to roast before the fire all night - the spicebush wd give it a very agreeable flavor. 

Cooking a buffalo marrow bone was the work of a few minutes - simply lay one end upon the live coals, & in a few minutes the other - then cut the bone in two with the hatchet, then split or hew off one side to the marrow - what rich delicious eating! Neither this nor bear's oil in any quantity even produces the least injurious effect - tip up the kettle after cooking bear's meat, & sometimes tip off a pint!

October 29, 1830

Trappers and Mountain Men - American Heritage Junior Library


"In addition to his other talents, the mountain man had to be a master of buffalo hunting, for meat comprised almost one hundred per cent of his normal diet. Buffalo meat has been called the greatest meat man has ever fed on. He cracked the marrow bones to make "trapper's butter."

The mountain man was a rugged individualist of whom Washington Irving wrote, "You cannot pay a free trapper a greater compliment than to persuade him that you have mistaken him for an Indian." In fact, he virtually had to become an Indian in order to survive. "A turned leaf," wrote George Frederick Ruxton in Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains, blade of grass pressed down, the uneasiness of wild animals, the flight of birds, are all paragraphs to him written in Nature's legible hand." 

In addition to his other talents, the mountain man had to be a master of buffalo hunting, for meat comprised almost one hundred per cent of his normal diet--at least when in the buffalo country. As in everything else, he had to develop new techniques for "making meat." When hunting horseback, according to the traveler Rudolph Kurz, the hunters (those operating from fixed forts, at any rate) did not use long-barreled rifles because "they think the care required in loading them takes too much time unnecessarily when shooting at close range and, furthermore, they find rifle balls too small. The hunter chases buffaloes at full gallop, discharges his gun [a short- harreled shotgunk and reloads it with out slackening speed.

Buffalo meat has been called the greatest meat man has ever fed on. The mountain man usually boiled the outs from the hump, and roasted other pieces. He cracked the marrow bones to make "trapper's butter", or he used the marrow to make a fine thick soup.

January 2, 1906

The Natives of Australia


With the exception of the kangaroo and the opossum there are no quadrupeds which the Australian native employs largely in his cuisine.

In the hunting of animals the native can also call to his aid his skill in tracking. 

Like most savages, the Australian black is keen-sighted, and he makes use of his eyes when an enemy has to be followed or an animal hunted down. Many stories are told of the extraordinary powers of the trackers. Cunningham, an early writer, says that they will say correctly how long a time has passed since the track was made ; in the case of people known to them they will even recognise the footprint as we know a person's handwriting. A tracker has been known to say that the man, unknown to him, on whose track he was, was knock-kneed, and this turned out to be correct. On one occasion a white man had been murdered, and it was suspected that he had been thrown into a certain water-hole ; before it was dragged a native, who could have had no knowledge of the affair, was called in to pronounce on the signs ; decomposition of the body had already set in, it appears, and there were slight traces of this on the surface of the pool ; the native gave a sniff and pronounced that it was 'white man's fat,' and so it turned out to be.

 Grey tells a story of how he was galloping through the bush and lost his watch ; the scrub was thick and consequently the ground was unfavourable, but the watch was recovered in half an hour. 

But his powers of tracking are more important to him in the search for food. 

With the exception of the kangaroo and the opossum there are no quadrupeds which the Australian native employs largely in his cuisine. 

The kangaroo may be taken in wet weather with dogs ; but it is more often netted in the same way that emus are taken ; sometimes three nets form three sides of a square, and beaters drive the animal in. Somewhat similar is the method of firing the bush, which is also used for other animals ; in this case the flames take the place of the net, and in their advance drive the kangaroo towards the hunters. They may also be driven, men taking the place of the fire ; or, finally, the most sporting method, they may be stalked single-handed or even walked to a standstill ; but for the latter feat extraordinary physical powers are needed. For single-handed stalking great patience is needed ; sometimes the lubra (wife) helps by giving signals by whistling; at others the hunter will throw a spear right over the kangaroo, which believes that danger threatens it from the side on which his enemy is not ; then the hunter creeps up and spears it. Grey describes how the West Australian runs down a kangaroo ; starting on its recent tracks, he follows them till he comes in sight of it ; using no concealment, he boldly heads for it and it scours away, followed by the hunter. This is repeated again and again till nightfall, when the black lights a fire and sleeps on the track ; next day the chase recommences, till human pertinacity has overcome the endurance of the quadruped and it falls a victim to its pursuer. 

Before they prepare the kangaroo for cooking, the tail sinews are carefully drawn out and wrapped round the club for use in sewing cloaks, or as lashing for spears. Two methods of cooking the kangaroo were known in West Australia ; an oven might be made in the sand, and when it was well heated, the kangaroo placed in it, skin and all, and covered with ashes ; a slow fire was kept up, and when the baking was over, the kangaroo was laid on its back ; the abdomen was cut open as a preliminary and the intestines removed, leaving the gravy in the body, which was then cut up and eaten. The second method was to cut up the carcass and roast it, portion by portion. The blood was made into a sausage and eaten by the most important man present. 

In Queensland the preparations are more elaborate. After the removal of the tail sinews, the limbs are dislocated to allow of their being folded over ; then the tongue is drawn out, skewered over the incisors, which are used for spokeshaves, and would be damaged if exposed to direct heat ; the intestines are removed and replaced by heated stones, the limbs drawn to the side of the body and the whole tied up in bark ; then the bundle is put in the ashes and well covered over. 

In the Paroo district the kangaroo is steamed ; the oven is made of stones and wet grass, and the whole covered over with earth ; if the steam is not sufficient, holes are made and water is poured in. 

The wallaby is taken with nets or in cages placed along its path. When this little kangaroo makes for shelter, it runs with its head down and consequently does not see the trap. In some districts they are trapped in pits, primarily intended to break their legs. The most ingenious method was in use in South Australia : at the end of an instrument made of long, smooth pieces of wood was fixed a hawk skin, so arranged as to simulate the living bird. Armed with this the hunter set out, and when he saw a wallaby he shook the rod and uttered the cry of a hawk ; the wallaby took refuge in the nearest bush, and the hunter stealing up, secured it with his spear. 

The opossom may be hunted on moonlight nights or at any time with dogs, but the commonest method is to examine the tree trunks for recent claw marks. When these are found the native ascends the tree, cuts a hole at the spot where he believes the opossum to be, and drags the animal out. Another method is to smoke it out. 

Various ways of climbing trees are known, the most ordinary being perhaps that of cutting notches for the 1 feet ; then the native ascends, usually with the ball of the big toe of each foot nearest the tree ; but in South Australia he walked up sideways, putting the little toe of his left foot in the notch and raising himself by means of the pointed end of his stick stuck into the bark. In Queensland and New South Wales the rope sling is also found ; in some cases it fits round the man's waist and he uses his axe (PI. xx.) ; in other cases one end of the vine or bark rope is twisted round his right arm, then he tries to throw the other end round the trunk of the tree ; on the end is a knot, to prevent it from slipping from his hand ; and when he has caught it, he puts his right foot against the tree, leans back and begins to walk up, throwing the kaniin a little higher at each step. If the tree is very large, he carries his axe in his mouth and cuts notches for his big toe ; the kajiiin is taken off his right arm and wound round his right thigh when the hand is wanted for cutting notches. When not in use the kamin is not rolled up, as might be imagined ; it is simply dragged through the bush by its knotted end ; it is hard and smooth. This is really the most practical method. As a rule, men only ascend trees, but in some cases women and even women carrying children have been seen by explorers to do so. 

Other animals are of less importance. In the north of Australia the crocodile is taken with a noose, which a native will slip over his head, or by putting up screens in connection with a fence across a stream, in which an opening is left. The screen is made of split cane placed horizontally and all woven together with a very close mesh ; it can be rolled up like a blind. 

Rats are taken in traps or knocked over with sticks ; iguanas are speared in the open or dug from their burrows ; frogs are taken in the water in flood-time or dug out; and snakes are often found in iguana burrows. The wombat and bandicoot are dug out.

January 2, 1912

The Passing of the Aborigines


The Kaalurwonga, cast of the Badu, were a fierce arrogant tribe who pursued fat men, women and girls, and cooked the dead by making a deep hole in the sand, trussing the body and there roasting it, and tossing it about until it cooled sufficient for them to divide it.

Cannibalism had been rife for centuries in these regions and for a thousand miles north and east of them. When I made inquiries regarding the murder of Baxter (who accompanied Eyre in 1843) by the two Port Lincoln boys who stole the stores and fled back to their own country, I was told that they did not get very far before they themselves were killed and eaten. While these blacks had been under the protection of the whites, they were safe enough, but the moment they left them, they were descended upon and killed. Some years before my arrival, two white men, Fairey and Woolley, had mysteriously disappeared in this country, but of this comparatively recent affair, the natives would give me no information. I did hear of one instance of cannibalism at the white man’s expense, a shepherd whose name is known to me, found dead in the country to westward, with his thigh cut away.

Between Eucla and Eyre a group of six-fingered and six-toed natives existed. They had been seen by Helms as late as the ‘sixties, and though they were extinct in my time, I learned both from the natives at Eucla and from Mr. Chichester Beadon, that they had come from the Petermann Ranges, and had intermarried with the five-fingered groups. These six-fingered men were believed to transmit their peculiarity to their off-spring, as were the left-handed groups that I have myself often encountered.

The last manhood ceremony of Eucla was held in 1913, when Gooradoo, a boy of the turkey totem, was initiated at Jeegala Creek, some sixteen miles north. A great crowd of natives straggled in by degrees, remnants from all round the plain’s edge, from Fraser Range, Boundary Dam, Israelite Bay, as far east as Penong, and as far north as Ayer’s Rock, in the very heart of Australia, 700 miles and more of foot-travelling. There were numbers of women among them, as in all these gatherings an exchange of women is an important part of the ceremony. For the ceremony there must have been more than 200 assembled.

In physique these border natives were fine sturdy fellows. In their own country they were cannibals to a man. “We are Koogurda,” they told me, and frankly admitted the hunting and sharing of kangaroo and human meat as frequently as, that of kangaroo and emu. The Baduwonga of Boundary Dam drank the blood of those they had killed. The Kaalurwonga, cast of the Badu, were a fierce arrogant tribe who pursued fat men, women and girls, and cooked the dead by making a deep hole in the sand, trussing the body and there roasting it, and tossing it about until it cooled sufficient for them to divide it. Another group would cut off hand and foot, and partake of these first, to prevent the ghost from following and spearing them spiritually.

Although they camped about me for many days, I was sufficiently acquainted with their disposition and their custom to know that my own position was secure. All knew of kabbarli and her grandmotherly magic, and I look upon this exciting period at Eucla as one of the most illuminating contacts with this primitive race that I have ever made.

January 2, 1960

Fred Bruemmer

Arctic Memories - Beginnings


"The whale meant food and life and glory, the primal thrill of being, and at that moment nothing else mattered.... We ate the steaming seal meat; drank the fat, scalding broth; and glowed with marvelous warmth."

WE TRAVELED FROM NOWHERE TO NOWHERE IN A WORLD ALL WHITE, eleven dogs, a long sled, a fur-clad Inuk and I. We had spent a week at the floe edge, the limit of landfast ice, and the hunting had been good. Jes had shot and harpooned eight seals. We had eaten well and our sled was heavy with meat - food for his family and dogs - and with seal pelts he would sell at the store. 

We felt the coming of the storm. The air was still and oppressive. Gulls, screaming, flew toward the distant land. The sky turned leaden black. We should have left hours ago. But a pod of narwhals was feeding close to the floe edge; the eerie stillness was filled with the plosive "pooff," "pooff," "pooff" of their breathing. Small plumes of exhaled breath hung briefly in the icy air, and a few times we saw the gleaming ivory tusks of the males. 

Jes wanted a whale. His entire hunter's spirit was focused on those whales, wishing them closer, closer. He was the perfect predator, quietly poised in total concentration, the ultimate Arctic hunter, as his people had been since the dawn of time. The whale meant food and life and glory, the primal thrill of being, and at that moment nothing else mattered. 

While Jes's soul was in that strange mystic sphere that links the hunter to his prey, I sat apart and nursed my white man's worries. I had spent far too many years in the Arctic not to know that the coming storm would be hell, the trip home utter misery and, if the ice broke up, exceedingly dangerous. It was 60 miles (96 km) back to the village. 

The storm struck, and Jes did not get his whale. He rose slowly, reluctantly. The tension seeped out of him and then he smiled a marvelously boyish smile, shrugged, and said: "Ayornamat. (It can't be helped.)" An Inuk does not rant and rave; his language has no swearwords. He does not rail against God or Nature, but simply accepts adversity. He does his best; the rest is fate. 

We lashed the load upon the long pliant sled with utmost care, passing the bearded-seal thong back and forth, pulling it tight with all our strength. Jes called to the dogs. Normally they would have leapt into a joyous gallop. Now they moved without enthusiasm, their tails, usually cockily curled, drooping sadly. Like me, they feared the storm. 

At first, brief lulls alternated with vicious gusts. Then the storm became steady and we traveled into a hissing, roaring avalanche of snow. The dogs hated it. The wind-lashed ice spicules hurt their eyes, and they tried to veer away from the wind. Jes beat them, coaxed them, directed them. There was only snow, the screaming wind, and nothingness; we seemed suspended in time and space. But Jes was guided by sastrugi, snow ripples created by prevailing winds, and by the knowledge of a thousand trips since he had first gone to the floe edge as a small boy with his father. 

We traveled for hours, our faces seared by the wind, our fur clothing plastered with snow. The ice changed, became rugged, hummocky. We were in a tidal zone, close to a coast. For a moment I saw a cliff and then it vanished again in the whirling white. Jes walked ahead now, leading the dogs through a maze of ice blocks. Near the base of the cliff he tied the dogs securely to a stone upon the ice. "Come," he said. We clambered up an incline, perhaps a beach in summertime, walked past a house-high rock, squeezed through a triangular hole between the rock and the cliff, and were suddenly in a spacious cave. Jes laughed, delighted by my amazement, the magician who has performed the perfect trick. 

Jes unharnessed and tethered the dogs, then cut up a seal and fed them. They rolled into balls, noses tucked under bushy tails, and soon the snow covered them with an insulating blanket. I lugged our sled load into the cave, shook the snow out of the bedding furs and my clothing, and made supper: a big pot of seal meat boiled on a Primus stove. 

After the elemental chaos of the storm, the cave felt calm and secure. It had obviously served as sanctuary to other Arctic hunters for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. In the back were low sleeping platforms of pebbles and flat stones. Soot streaks along the walls and roof showed where seal-oil lamps had burned and flared. The cave floor was scattered with bones, remnants of past meals. Bone, stone, and ivory shavings and splinters marked places where men had sat and made or repaired tools or hunting weapons, and broken toys spoke of children who had once played in the cave. 

We ate the steaming seal meat; drank the fat, scalding broth; and glowed with marvelous warmth. Jes made tea, boiled it until it was coffee-black, and we drank it syrupy-thick with sugar. We were safe, warm, full of food, relaxed and utterly content. Long, long ago, said Jes, Tunit had lived in this cave, a giant people but stupid, and the Inuit had killed them. His stories - part myths, part ancient oral history - - spanned the ages. The Primus hissed, and outside roared the storm. 

We spread our furs on the ancient sleeping platforms and, minutes later, his deep, even breathing told me that Jes was sound asleep. Cozy in my furry cocoon, I looked at the soot patterns on the cave wall, listened to the eldritch screeching of the storm, and thought sleepily about my other life: our pleasant, book-filled home in Montreal; my wife; our children. It was early May. Maud would be working in the garden. The boys should be home from school. The first tulips would be blooming. As I drifted off to sleep, it seemed part of a dream.

Ancient History


Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human


November 3, 2009

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
bottom of page