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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pig Bladders: from Canning to Condoms

Please welcome Krista D. Ball who never fails to entertain with her eclectic knowledge on all things weird.


Pig Bladders

You’re putting a pig bladder on what?

It all started last fall during a discussion about the use of intestines and bladders for condoms in Europe a couple hundred years ago. Someone piped up, “How did they ever come up with that?”

This was such an odd question. It was obvious where the idea came from, right? Right? Apparently not.  I said that intestines and bladders had been used in food preparation for easily a thousand years, and probably more.

Cue looks of horror.

After traumatizing this group of canning and freezing women, I’ve decided to take the show on the road. To the internet, where I can traumatize large groups of people!

Okay, honestly I just love sharing tidbits of history with people, so I asked Maria if I could come on and discuss the history of food preservation. In particular, canning.

I grew up in Newfoundland where we “bottled” everything (we never called it canning). We preserved  jams, apple pie fillings, moose stew, lobster meat, turkey soup, and just about anything else we could think up. It was the modern method we all know: mason jars, sealing tops, metal rings, boiling water, tongs, popping of cooling tops.

But what did people use before the auto-sealing covers and rings?

Most people know about wax. Paraffin wax poured a half inch to an inch on top of the food will keep out the bacteria and oxygen and the goodies inside all fresh and safe. In fact, many people still use paraffin wax.

Before the advent of paraffin wax and the Mason company, there were other ways to preserve foods.  There are the typical ways – smoking your ham hung in the chimney, drying fish on rocks, pouring melted butter over shrimps in a small jar, and covering ceramic jars with pig bladders.

Say wha?

In reading many period British cookbooks, recipes mention putting “bladders” over the jam. Well, in many cases that meant a pig’s bladder. After all, a bladder is meant to hold liquid, so they are stretchy and waterproof. Plus, they shrink when they dry out.

To preserve jams and the like, the wife and her horde of daughters would cook up their pots of jam and pour into their crock jars. Then, they’d cut damp bladders to the size of the openings. As the bladders dried out, they’d shrink and form a tight seal around the jar tops.

And while I try to replicate as many period recipes and cooking styles as possible, I’ll be leaving this particular one for the history books.

-Canadian author Krista D. Ball combines her love of the fantastical, an obsession with potage, and a history degree from Mount Allison University to bring fantasy writers and food lovers a new and unique reference guide. Her guide, What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank, will be available autumn 2012.


Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, what a fascinating post. Not sure I wanted to know all that but it's really cool how people did things back then. Congrats on your book --it deals with an interesting topic-- and I hope you do well with it.

Sarah Ahiers said...

oh yeah, i knew this one. And if i had some pig's bladders, i would totally try it. Why not? It would be awesome and badass all wrapped up together.
But that's just me. I'm into that kind of stuff

Maria Zannini said...

Clarissa: I find Krista usually tells me things I don't want to know. LOL. But it's like a train wreck. You have to find out more.

Sarah: I had read ancient shepherds used sheep and goat bladders to carry liquids, but it never occurred to me to can with it. I'll bear it in mind if the world ever runs out of canning lids.

Krista D. Ball said...

I'm all about the weird and wondrous. Well, the weird anyway. :)

Raelyn Barclay said...

Scots...Haggis... Not a stretch for me to picture using bladders to preserve things. Fascinating post Krista, even if it is a bit ewww in today's world :)

Misha Gericke said...

That actually makes so much sense. Thanks for sharing this bit of weird history. :-)

Krista D. Ball said...

Raelyn - it's rather gross when you see all the veins in the fresh bladder. *cringe*

Misha - Thanks!

jackie b central texas said...

Since my uncles smoked homemade sausage using the intestines as the casing, since I read historical romances with the weirdness that is a primitive condom made out of a sheeps intestines and since it does make perfect sense that if you cut something like the bladder to size it would dry and form a really tight seal around a jar top I am not too shocked. Grossed out thinking about it yes but not shocked and will totally not try it for myself either!
Maria you do have some "entertaining" posts but this one kind of "takes the cake"!

Congratulations on your newest endeavors Krista and Spirits Rising looks spooky good.

Krista D. Ball said...

Jackie - a lot of people don't realize sausages were once (and sometimes, still) made with intestines. So if that works for food, why not sheath the sword with one, too. As a species, we've known where both VD and babies come from for quite a while now ;)

Bea said...

Krista, you always have something interesting to say. :D I'm looking forward to your book on what people ate.

I didn't know about the role of pig bladders in canning but I had heard of it's use as a sheath. I think I learned it from a historical romance, LOL.

Krista D. Ball said...

My sheath history is dodgy, but I think sheep was more common (like someone said above). But I *think* pig was common amongst the poorer folk because pigs were more common in general.

Regardless, however, those intestines were wrapping up all kinds of sausages.

(Maria is going to ban me from her blog...)

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: (Maria is going to ban me from her blog...)

I am beginning to doubt my scruples.

Krista D. Ball said...

Never trust a woman who enjoys talking about pig bladders.

Thanks for having me Maria! It's been fun :D