The practice of utilizing all parts of an animal killed for food has existed since the earliest ages, and this has traditionally included blood, which is highly nutritious, but also highly perishable. Healthy blood contains lots of protein and minerals (notably iron) and is a very rich source of vitamin D if the animals are wild or on pasture.
Many cultures would have consumed blood raw. The semi-nomadic Maasai of Kenya and northern Tanzania are herdsmen, and while they rarely slaughter their cattle (which are valuable monetary units; they raise sheep and goats for meat), they do consume their milk and blood, via careful bloodletting that does not endanger the animal’s health. Marco Polo described how the Mongols, on distant military campaigns, would pack no provisions, but each warrior rode with a string of 18 remounts. Daily each warrior would consume about a cup of blood from one of these horses, knowing that the animal could be thus used every ten days. History tells us of the devastating successes in battle for which the Mongols became feared and famous.
In modern times, the use of blood as food is not common, but it would be a shame for some once-popular delicacies to disappear from the culinary canon. Blood as a main ingredient in soups and sausages enjoyed very wide popularity the world over, restricted only in some localities because of religious tenets.
The Polish specialty czarnina (pronounced char-NEE-na, from czarny, Polish for black) is duck’s blood soup. I was struck by the fact that virtually every person I’ve talked to who remembers eating this soup (always prepared by a grandparent here in the New World) becomes utterly rhapsodic when describing the soup’s nuances of sweet and savory delight. The soup once played an interesting cultural role in the case of a young man’s courting career. If his intended ultimately decided to reject him, her parents would deliver the verdict to the luckless suitor by serving him a plate of czarnina, presumably as a consolation prize.
Cities with Polish neighborhoods large enough to produce restaurants with authentically traditional cuisine can be good places to sample this soup. Original recipes for home preparation include a live duck (or sometimes goose), a garnish of potato dumplings or egg noodles and presume mastery of basic poultry butchering and dressing skills. The following instructions are typical:
Czarnina, or Duck’s Blood Soup
1 live duck, approximately 5-6 pounds (to yield about 2 cups of blood)
1/2 cup vinegar
1 stalk celery, chopped
several parsley sprigs
1 small onion, chopped
bouquet garni of 2 bay leaves, 4 whole cloves and 4 whole peppercorns,
tied into a piece of cheesecloth
2 cups dried mixed fruit, made up of about
10 dried pitted prunes,
1/2 cup dried cherries or raisins,
and dried apples and/or pears
2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
1/2 cup sour cream
sea salt to taste
For the potato dumplings:
2 cups grated (and drained) raw potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
2 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
Kill the duck quickly and cleanly and sever the head. Catch the blood in a glass or ceramic bowl. Stir in the vinegar to keep it from clotting; set aside in the refrigerator to cool. In the meantime, pluck and dress the duck, removing the breastmeat and legs, to be prepared in other recipes later.
Place the duck carcass, including the neck, and the heart, liver and gizzard into a large stockpot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Skim the stock and reduce heat to a simmer. Add the celery, parsley, onion, and the bouquet garni to the stock. Cook slowly until the duck meat is done, 2 to 3 hours. Remove the bouquet garni from the soup and discard. Lift the duck carcass from the soup and pull the meat off the bones; reserve meat. Add the dried fruit to the soup pot and cook about another half hour.
Blend the flour into the sour cream, then slowly mix into the blood-vinegar mixture. Slowly (or it will curdle) add about 1 cup of the hot soup stock to the blood-vinegar-flour-sour cream mixture, stir well, and then add it all to the stock pot. Add the reserved meat, salt to taste, and if necessary a bit more vinegar. It should have a slight sweet-and-sour nip to it.
Many recipes note to cool and refrigerate the soup overnight at this point, so that the flavors can mingle and improve (the sweetness of the fruit will also become more apparent) and to serve the soup the next day.
Make a stiff dough of the potato dumpling ingredients. When ready to serve, drop the potato dumpling dough by small spoonfuls into the boiling soup stock. They are done as soon as they float to the top.
The following reminiscence, from www.soupsong.com/rczarnin.htm, gives hints at how to procure your ingredients if you have access to a farmer raising ducks–pastured, of course–without resorting to the cleaver yourself. Blood can be saved and frozen, by the way, by adding a tablespoon or two of vinegar to each cup of blood. Use within three months for best results.
“Mom got her ducks from a woman who raised them. Annie would show up a couple of days before soup day with a package of feet, necks, gizzards, livers, hearts, plus my mother’s order of butchered duck for the freezer. There would also be a quart+ of blood in the delivery. This was easy to do since Annie did her own butchering.
“The simmering time was all morning to get every smidge of flavor out of that meat. There was no chopped breast in the broth, but there may have been a couple of backs, occasionally. I recall lots of neck bones. Some of the farmer’s customers only wanted the breasts. Annie always ate with us on duck soup day. She lived alone and didn’t like to make big pots of anything, so never made soup.
“We called the soup ‘chocolate’ soup for its color. I can just see it in a lovely silver or pewter tureen with the fluffy white dumpling clouds floating in triumph.”
Blood soups appear in the cuisines of various other cultures. Tiêt cahn is a raw duck, goose or sometimes pig blood soup of the country people of North Vietnam, garnished with ginger, green herbs and sometimes with peanuts sprinkled on top. It is often served as a protein-rich breakfast, or is recommended as protective if one expects to indulge in alcohol. In any case, it will make you strong, say those who prepare and eat it. Local authorities may try to make tiêt cahn illegal due to scares regarding bird flu virus, but, if successful, will really be eliminating small poultry growers and local butcher shops.
Svartsoppa (black soup in Swedish) is a regional specialty of Skåne, in southernmost Sweden, and is, or perhaps more accurately, was traditionally consumed at the feast of St. Martin’s Day on November 10. A colorful story of St. Martin of Tours tells how the modest 4th century monk wished to avoid being ordained a bishop and so hid among the monastery’s flock of geese, who betrayed him with their cackling. St. Martin grudgingly accepted his benediction, but in a bizarre twist on Christian forgiveness, vengefully dined on goose that night. The story and the feast migrated to Sweden in the 16th century, along with the ritual of roast goose, which continues to the present moment. The festival soup–whisked goose blood spiced with cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and tasting like rich gravy–is much less common now that most households no longer raise poultry at home.
Blood sausages of all types are found in the cuisines of many nations. Called black pudding in the UK, Blutwurst in Germany, morcilla in Spain, boudin noir in France and xué doufoú (blood tofu) in China, blood sausages are in essence all prepared from the blood of pigs, sheep, goats or cattle, along with seasonings, suet or other fat, and often grains such as barley, oatmeal, buckwheat kasha or rice.
Elizabeth David, in her classic of 1960, French Provincial Cooking, notes that the blood sausage (boudin noir) of Nancy, in Lorraine, is renowned. Here are her instructions for preparing purchased sausages at home.
“Boudin or blood pudding, which in France is nearly always heavily flavored with onion and so much less insipid than the kind usually to be found in England, is cut into lengths of about 5 inches, painted with olive oil or pork fat and grilled about 5 minutes on each side. Serve it on a bed of peeled, cored and sliced apples, six to a pound of sausage, gently fried in pork fat.
“An old-fashioned way of serving these blood sausages was on a bed of onions similarly fried in pork fat, with the addition of little pieces of pig’s liver and heart; the onions were then removed and kept warm while the sausage was fried in the same fat.” Ms. David adds that this dish is perhaps not for those of delicate digestion.
My 1973 edition of Joy of Cooking provides the following recipe for blood sausage, which includes no grain fillers. With autumn upon us and the annual butchering of animals to feed us throughout the winter, we can be inspired to revive the old arts of using the entire animal, and not waste the nutritious blood.
Blood Sausage or Boudin Noir
Have sausage casings ready.
Cook 3/4 cup finely chopped onions gently in 2 tablespoons of lard without browning.
Dice 1 pound of fresh pork fat into 1/2-inch cubes and half melt. Cool slightly and mix in a bowl with 1/3 cup heavy cream, 2 beaten eggs, a grind of fresh pepper, 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme and 1/2 pulverized bay leaf.
When these ingredients have been gently combined, mix in 2 cups fresh pork blood.
Fill casings about 4/5 full, as this mixture will swell during the poaching period. Without overcrowding, put the sealed casings into a wire basket. Plunge them into boiling water. Reduce heat at once to 200-203 degrees and continue to cook at this temperature for about 20 minutes. To serve, split and grill them very gently.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2006.