Whale Meat - History


In Europe, whale could once be hunted locally throughout the Middle Ages for their meat and oil. Under Catholicism, aquatic beings were generally considered "fish"; therefore whale was deemed suitable for eating during Lent and other "lean periods". An alternative explanation is that the Church considered "hot meat" to raise the libido, making it unfit for holy days. Parts submerged in water, such as whale or beaver tails, were considered "cold meat".

Eating whale meat did not end with the Middle Ages in Europe, but rather, whale stock in nearby oceans collapsed due to overexploitation, esp. the right whales around the Bay of Biscay (See History of whaling). Thus European whalers (esp. the Basques known for their expertise) had to seek out the New World to catch whales. The Dutch (Flemish) were also active in the whaling commerce during the Middle Ages, and a number of records regarding the trafficking of whalemeat and taxation on them occur from historical Flanders (extending to cities like Arras or Calais in the département of Pas de Calais).

French surgeon Ambroise Paré (d. 1590) wrote that "the flesh has no value, but the tongue is soft and delicious and therefore salted; likewise, the blubber, which is distributed across many provinces, and eaten with peas during Lent". This blubber, known as craspois or lard de carême was food for the poorer strata on the continent. The whaling industry in North America may have supplied rendered fat, partly for consumption in Europe.

In early America, Whalemen may have eaten blubber after rendering, which they termed "crackling" or "fritters", and were said to be crunchy like toast, though these were certainly reused as fuel chips to boil down the fat. Colonial America also more commonly consumed the meat and other portions of the "blackfish" (or pilot whale).

For a period of time during the post-World War II period in the United Kingdom, corned whale meat was available as an unrationed alternative to other meats. Sold under the name "whacon", the meat was described as "corned whalemeat with its fishy flavour removed", and as almost identical to corned beef, except "brownish instead of red". The Food Ministry emphasised its "high food value".

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