Among the pies on Mrs Musgrove’s festive tressel tables is some brawn, a dish probably very unfamiliar to us today:
On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel…
(Persuasion, Chapter 14)
The term originally meant the flesh of a wild boar and, then by extension, the preserved meat preparation made therefrom. It is interesting to note that well before the long 18th century the ‘boar pig’ used for making brawn was a tame, and not a wild, animal.
The term “brawn” later came to have the more general meaning of the fleshy part of a hind leg of an animal, not necessarily a pig. And by Jane Austen’s time the term “Brawn” really meant just a kind of potted meat and it was most often referred to in recipe books of the era as “Sham” or “Mock brawn”
This is Mrs Rundell’s recipe,taken from my 1819 edition of her New System of Domestic Cookery. Do note she does not use only a cut of belly-pork but “neat’s feet”,and by that she means the feet of Ox:
Susanna Carter in her book, The Experienced Cook (1822)
gives slightly more detailed instructions:
As Ivan Day of Historic Foods writes:
This spectacular English special occasion dish was also garnished with elaborately carved citrus fruits. Brawn was a kind of pickled pork prepared from domestic boar meat poached until very tender in a souse of wine, vinegar and spices. The cuts of boned meat, which were called collars, were cooked for such a long time that they were tightly wrapped in linen parcels to stop them disintegrating. When they cooled, they became firmer as a result of the jelly released in the cooking process. Collars of brawn could be kept for a number of weeks in the souse. To leach the brawn was to carve it into thin slices. This now extinct dish had been a mainstay of English cookery since the late medieval period when it was usually served with mustard at the beginning of a meal.
Here is a brawn prepared and ready to be soused in its linen fillet:
And here is a finished brawn decorated in the old fashioned way with accompanying rosemay “tree” covered in snow (really whipped egg white),which though the traditional manner of serving a brawn in the early 18th century ,as advised by Robert May in his book The Accomplish’d Cook ,
may still have held sway in the Musgrove’s old fashioned household.