Back in the last century — 1983 to be precise — with some of you, gentle readers, as yet un-born, The Stones sang about this subject. Earlier still, Lady Macbeth of course thought the old man (Duncan) too full of it.
Life is fuelled by blood — unless you’re a mollusc (blue blooded) or flatworm or nematode (no blood!) of course — circulating around the veins, oxygenating and bringing nutrients to all parts of the body; red because it contains an iron-rich substance called haemoglobin. The ancient Greeks considered hema (“blood”) as synonymous with life itself. I think this is why a lot of people have a problem with eating their meat rare — still with the blood showing — a terrible reminder to them that this hunk of deliciously lightly charred & hugely tasty protein was — not that long ago possibly — part of a living, breathing animal, with that red stuff keeping it alive.
The Greek Keres on the other hand had no such scruples:
The black Dooms gnashing their white teeth, grim-eyed, fierce, bloody, terrifying fought over the men who were dying for they were all longing to drink dark blood. As soon as they caught a man who had fallen or one newly wounded, one of them clasped her great claws around him & when they had satisfied their hearts with human blood, they would throw that one behind them and rush back again into the battle and the tumult.
I have to say I’ve seen people who still eat like this…
Watch out though: blood, when drunk can be toxic. So, as in all things, moderation eh? Because blood is so rich in iron — and because the body has difficulty excreting excess iron — anyone regularly consuming blood runs the risk of iron overdose. Iron’s necessary for all animals (and indeed most life); but high doses can give rise to a condition called haemochromatosis which in turn can lead to a wide variety of diseases and problems, including liver damage, buildup of fluid in the lungs, dehydration, low blood pressure, and nervous disorders. Vampire bats are able to dump excess iron; you, however, are not a vampire bat and because humans haven’t evolved such an iron-extracting mechanism, drinking blood can kill…
In Britain we have “black pudding”; made from (any guesses?) blood and filler grain and spices (often oatmeal) and blood pudding is common across all of Europe — inc. Spain with their wonderful morcilla & botifarra. There, the Galicians have blood pancakes (called filloas), Andalusia produce sangre encebollada whilst the Valencians eulogise their sang amb ceba. The production of blood pudding ties in neatly in Spain, with their matanza — the right time to slaughter is in the winter when the animals are at their peak weight. And of course there’s France’s boudin. Europe isn’t alone though as pretty much every country & race around the world use this resource in their cooking.
The Irish used to bleed their animals as a prophylactic measure and then mix it with butter, herbs, oats or meal; a typical hearty rural food for the poor. In Northern Germany their pig’s blood is mixed with vinegar, meat scraps, spices and sugar to make schwarzsauer; eaten warm or it can be preserved in jars. Portugal’s blood soup is named papas de sarrabulho (“papas” translates as “mash” and “sarrabulho” is a popular expression for coagulated blood, so the literal translation would be “mashed blood”). Made up of pig’s blood, chicken meat, pork, ham, salami, lemon and bread scraps and then sprinkled with cumin, helping to produce its distinctive odour.
Like the heart that I talked about before that keeps it all circulating, blood is both a mystical substance and one that’s hugely important to life. I can understand the qualms some people have about eating blood products but if you have any respect for the animal that you’re eating, then you shouldn’t waste it — respect the source, eat (or use) everything.
There are a few (well, numerically quite a lot I guess) bearded sky-pilot religious nutters who refuse to eat blood of course. Or pigs. As I said before, their loss… If Mark Essig is to be believed — and I’ve no reason to doubt his deeply scholarly chops displayed in “Lesser Beasts” — then one reason was because pigs were animals that the poor could rear, on their own, with no reference (or deference) to a central authority. Anathema to those early religious types and their governments.
Eating pigs as subversive resistance to an over-bearing & over-weening government? Works for me.
Stepping back closer to the subject in hand, I’d commend you to chef & author Jennifer McLagan, talking here to Tim Hayward on R4’s Food Programme about Blood. She suggests thinking of blood as a substitute for egg whilst cooking; the same proteins and binding abilities apply and if you can get over the sheer REDNESS of everything you use it in, then it’s a great idea.
I’d also give a shout out to the fine people at Fruit Pig Company; they use only fresh blood in the black pudding. And that improves the taste and texture. Dramatically. So much so that they supply a stellar list of great eating places inc. The Hand & Flowers, Hawksmoor, The Duck & Waffle & Hambleton Hall. They also do mail-order. Buy from them; you’ll never go back to dried blood (which some people estimate makes up 95% of the blood used in the UK — which is insane. No provenance, no idea of the source whilst at the same time, there’s no shortage of local blood that shouldn’t be wasted).
And finally? Finally, as Neil Young said in his 1974 classic “Vampire Blues” –from one of his triumvirate of genius records, “On The Beach”:
Good times are comin’,
I hear it everywhere I go
Good times are comin’,
I hear it everywhere I go.
Good times are comin’,
but they sure comin’ slow.