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Forklore: Dining on alligators, mice, and the occasional king

October 30, 2011 |  6:30 am

Forklore1Another in our series of rediscovered gems from food historian Charles Perry:

Among the high-minded, strenuously active eccentrics of Victorian England, the naturalist and Inspector of Public Fisheries Frank Buckland stands out. His particular interest was enriching the English diet, and he was famous for his willingness to taste absolutely anything that might prove edible. Field mice, he said, were excellent--thunderously better than house mice. He did complain about the flavor of some panther steaks that had been buried in the ground for a while.

But as the saying goes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. His father, the geologist/clergyman William Buckland, dean of Westminster, had much the same habits. In his "Life of Frank Buckland," George Bompas recorded that at William Buckland's table, "Alligator was a rare delicacy . . . but puppies were occasionally and mice frequently eaten. So also at the Deanery, hedgehog, tortoise, potted ostrich and occasionally rats, frogs and snails were served up for the delectation of favoured guests." ("Party at the Deanery," wrote one guest in his diary; "tripe for dinner; don't like crocodile for breakfast.")

In 1856 the senior Buckland was asked to taste a strange, stony object and accidentally swallowed it. I turned out to be the heart of Louis XIV, stolen by grave robbers after the French Revolution. He said that it was rather tough, but that after all, it was the first heart of a French king he had tasted.

--Charles Perry