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Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish.


That mortal man should feed upon the creature that feeds his lamp, and,
like Stubb, eat him by his own light, as you may say; this seems so
outlandish a thing that one must needs go a little into the history and
philosophy of it.

It is upon record, that three centuries ago the tongue of the Right
Whale was esteemed a great delicacy in France, and commanded large
prices there. Also, that in Henry VIIIth's time, a certain cook of the
court obtained a handsome reward for inventing an admirable sauce to be
eaten with barbacued porpoises, which, you remember, are a species of
whale. Porpoises, indeed, are to this day considered fine eating. The
meat is made into balls about the size of billiard balls, and being well
seasoned and spiced might be taken for turtle-balls or veal balls.
The old monks of Dunfermline were very fond of them. They had a great
porpoise grant from the crown.

The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would by all
hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but
when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet
long, it takes away your appetite. Only the most unprejudiced of men
like Stubb, nowadays partake of cooked whales; but the Esquimaux are not
so fastidious. We all know how they live upon whales, and have rare
old vintages of prime old train oil. Zogranda, one of their most famous
doctors, recommends strips of blubber for infants, as being exceedingly
juicy and nourishing. And this reminds me that certain Englishmen, who
long ago were accidentally left in Greenland by a whaling vessel--that
these men actually lived for several months on the mouldy scraps of
whales which had been left ashore after trying out the blubber. Among
the Dutch whalemen these scraps are called "fritters"; which, indeed,
they greatly resemble, being brown and crisp, and smelling something
like old Amsterdam housewives' dough-nuts or oly-cooks, when fresh. They
have such an eatable look that the most self-denying stranger can hardly
keep his hands off.

But what further depreciates the whale as a civilized dish, is his
exceeding richness. He is the great prize ox of the sea, too fat to be
delicately good. Look at his hump, which would be as fine eating as
the buffalo's (which is esteemed a rare dish), were it not such a solid
pyramid of fat. But the spermaceti itself, how bland and creamy that
is; like the transparent, half-jellied, white meat of a cocoanut in the
third month of its growth, yet far too rich to supply a substitute for
butter. Nevertheless, many whalemen have a method of absorbing it into
some other substance, and then partaking of it. In the long try
watches of the night it is a common thing for the seamen to dip their
ship-biscuit into the huge oil-pots and let them fry there awhile. Many
a good supper have I thus made.

In the case of a small Sperm Whale the brains are accounted a fine dish.
The casket of the skull is broken into with an axe, and the two plump,
whitish lobes being withdrawn (precisely resembling two large puddings),
they are then mixed with flour, and cooked into a most delectable mess,
in flavor somewhat resembling calves' head, which is quite a dish among
some epicures; and every one knows that some young bucks among the
epicures, by continually dining upon calves' brains, by and by get to
have a little brains of their own, so as to be able to tell a
calf's head from their own heads; which, indeed, requires uncommon
discrimination. And that is the reason why a young buck with an
intelligent looking calf's head before him, is somehow one of the
saddest sights you can see. The head looks a sort of reproachfully at
him, with an "Et tu Brute!" expression.

It is not, perhaps, entirely because the whale is so excessively
unctuous that landsmen seem to regard the eating of him with abhorrence;
that appears to result, in some way, from the consideration before
mentioned: i.e. that a man should eat a newly murdered thing of the sea,
and eat it too by its own light. But no doubt the first man that ever
murdered an ox was regarded as a murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if
he had been put on his trial by oxen, he certainly would have been; and
he certainly deserved it if any murderer does. Go to the meat-market
of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the
long rows of dead quadrupeds. Does not that sight take a tooth out of
the cannibal's jaw? Cannibals? who is not a cannibal? I tell you it will
be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in
his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that
provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized
and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest
on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras.

But Stubb, he eats the whale by its own light, does he? and that is
adding insult to injury, is it? Look at your knife-handle, there, my
civilized and enlightened gourmand dining off that roast beef, what is
that handle made of?--what but the bones of the brother of the very ox
you are eating? And what do you pick your teeth with, after devouring
that fat goose? With a feather of the same fowl. And with what quill did
the Secretary of the Society for the Suppression of Cruelty to Ganders
formally indite his circulars? It is only within the last month or two
that that society passed a resolution to patronise nothing but steel