I spent several weeks visiting farms and following leads to try and find a cow’s bladder. I have a freezer full of sheep bladders for crocks but nothing large enough to stuff a chicken in. The reason I need one is that I’m doing a program for ALHFAM, The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums. The regional meeting of ALHFAM will be held in March at Old Sturbridge Village. My workshop is called “They Ate That.” It’s a look at foods we don’t often use today. I will use the bladder for Pigeon Pears. I‘ll have more on the receipt and how it is done after the workshop, so stay tuned. If I lived in Europe I’d have no problem getting a bladder, as there they process them, dry them and ship them to all the restaurants who want them. However I’m glad I’m right here in the good old U S of A.
With a lead from Ron, the Executive Chef-Owner of Chez Boucher, in Hampton, I found a place on the other side of Manchester. I gave them a call, and in a week they had a bladder. So Allan and I drove over, not sure what to expect in size or condition. I once bought a cow’s bladder that was badly butchered and had holes in it and was of little use. Now a cow’s bladder is said to be able to hold 40 gallon of urine, that’s one stretchy balloon and the size I’m sure I would be looking for.
We arrive and the place was very busy; that was a good sign; and I introduced myself, and was immediately recognized, I’m sure, as the crazy lady who is looking for a bladder. Not many people pass through their door asking for one of those I bet. While someone went back to get it, I looked around and saw that they sell ½ a pig and many other interesting things. Soon Rick appeared with a clear bag and I was so happy to see a huge bladder in it. It was tied double and placed in a shopping bag. I paid for it and then it dawned on me; why not get a cow’s tongue there too? I’ll need one of those for our tongue pie, and sure enough they had one. So that’s two down, now I just need the cod fish head.
We arrived home, had lunch and I began working on the bladder. I first washed the kitchen sink down really good, found a knife and scissors to use and a few towels. I was ready to clean the bladder. The bladder was filled with urine and had fat and other attachments that needed to be removed. I first washed it down with warm water.
The bladder is a slippery thing and it kept trying to go down the drain. I was afraid it might catch on it and puncture, so I placed it on the bag it came in and began to pull off the fat.
I worked on the bladder for a good 40 minutes to remove all the stuff, using my knife and scissors. Once that was removed I could let the liquid out and then I filled it many times with warm water. There is a light membrane that is attached to the opening and I was very careful not to put any tear in the bladder as I pulled it off. Next I turned it inside out to give it a good wash.
Here you see it cleaned and filled with water. Perhaps not 40 gallons, yet certainly big enough to do a demonstration of how it was stuffed with a chicken. Does look like a balloon, doesn’t it?
I emptied the bladder and flattened it out on a piece of wax paper on a roasting pan and put it in the freezer. After a while it was rock hard and I wrapped it up and put it in a baggie for later use. Not all bladders were used in reciepts, many were used to seal the top of potted meat and other foods to keep during the winter months. Here is one I use as a demo, the top was tighter, however, the kids love to drum on it so it is a bit loose.
I’m looking forward to the workshop and have other things to prepare before I go, and, thankfully, perhaps for my readers, nothing like this. I need to make 18th century catsup and fish gravy.
Your Most Humble Servant,
I will be taking a cow to the butcher (Bloods in Groton, MA) probably near the end of March. I am happy to donate any of the “less marketable” parts to you or anyone who can use them. We are charged to get rid of anything that is not taken. I will also be taking pigs in the fall.
We made Chicken in Bladders two years or so ago at one of Deb Peterson’s historic foodways symposiums at Pennsbury Manor, PA. The end result is full of flavor and VERY moist. In short, it was extremely tasty! HUZZAH! But finding bladders ’round here is also a lesson in futility. The few I have gotten came from a fellow hearth cook who lives in PA. I’ve heard it’s illegal here in New York to sell such things, but I don’t really know. Obviously, that’s not a problem in PA! I even went to local small butcher shops and spoke to meat sellers at local farmers markets, but alas…nothing. In fact, I found those folks to be surprisingly out-of-touch and clueless as to where ALL the parts of their own animals end up! Oh, well….
@Paul Bourdon: Dagnabit! Wish I lived closer to you. I’d take some of those “less marketable parts”! I’m a working hearth cook, as well, but here in NYC. Don’t suppose you could mail or UPS them?
You bet I’m interested and we get together at the end of March
So glad you finally found your bull bladder. Gads lorry would be in rigth with you to try to indulge in the eating of it.
I was part of the Pennsbury Workshop that did chicken in a cow’s bladder several years ago. We used Cornish Hens as their size fit the bladder. All the flavor and aroma is preserved by cooking in the bladder. We all loved it and hope you do too.