A meal and a hot bath in one?

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gregorach

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Sep 15, 2005
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Been meaning to post this for a while, and the hangi thread just reminded me of it...

I've found a couple of references in early Irish literature to a cooking technique which has the side benefit of getting you a hot bath into the bargain. It's kinda like pit roasting, but instead of burying your meat in a pit lined with hot rocks, you dig your pit, fill it with water, and then use the hot rocks to boil your meat. Then you use the hot water and the tallow from the cooking for a nice hot bath! Both of the references I have are to cooking an entire carcass (deer in one case, horse in another) in one go. I'm a little skeptical about the reference to cooking a horse - eating horseflesh was absolutely taboo in early Ireland as far as I know, and it's in a description of a pagan "coronation" ceremony that just reeks of propaganda (I'll not mention the details as this is a family site). However, seeing the same technique described in two different texts makes me suspect there's something to it.

I'm not entirely sure if this is even practical. First problem is getting your pit full of water - if it's big enough for a whole carcass, that's a lot of water. About the only way I can think of to do this is to site your pit strategically so that you can divert a stream to fill it. Second problem is stopping the water from draining away - I guess a clay lining would do the trick. The third question is just how long does it take to boil a whole carcass, and how many rocks do you need to keep your pit-full of water boiling that long?

The tallow and hot water thing does seem reasonable though, especially considering that there will inevitably be a bit of wood ash invovled too - instant soap!

So, I'm curious as to whether this seems like a practical idea, and if anyone has heard of anything like this anywhere else...
 

andyn

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Aug 15, 2005
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We attempted to simulate a smaller scale pit boiling the other weekend using a goat hide to line the pit. It didnt work quite as we intended but think there were a couple of lessons learnt that would mean it would in future, but as we only had one skin and that ended up with two holes through it we couldnt try it again. LOL

So i think it was certainly a method of cooking "back then" but as to the rest of it?
 

gregorach

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Sep 15, 2005
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Thanks for the replies folks...

andyn said:
So i think it was certainly a method of cooking "back then" but as to the rest of it?
Well, I reckon if it's a viable cooking technique then the bath idea is a good 'un. I mean, you've already got a large pit full of warm water, with tallow and ash in it - I reckon the opportunity to get in it would be too good to resist for our ancestors. Sure, bathing in broth seems a wierd idea to us now, but if it's all you've got...

xylaria said:
Might work in peat bog, where the water doesn't drain.
Ah! Now that really is an interesting idea! Not only is it practical, it ties together the idea of a pool or bog (the neolithic gateway to the Unworld) with the cauldron (the Iron Age gateway to the Unworld). It's especially interesting since both the references I have to this practice carry implications of rejuvination or rebirth, both involve powerful female symbols, and both involve the acquisition of power. And there's nothing to make you feel rejuvinated like a nice hot bath!

Well, it's something to think about at least... ;)
 

xylaria

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Ah! Now that really is an interesting idea! Not only is it practical, it ties together the idea of a pool or bog (the neolithic gateway to the Unworld) with the cauldron (the Iron Age gateway to the Unworld). It's especially interesting since both the references I have to this practice carry implications of rejuvination or rebirth, both involve powerful female symbols, and both involve the acquisition of power. And there's nothing to make you feel rejuvinated like a nice hot bath!

Well, it's something to think about at least... ;)
Now that really interesting, i was thinking it is the good old celtic make good use of your resources.

Whats the roof made of =TURF!
Whats the walls made of= TURF!
What burning on the fire=TURF!
Why so much turf= we used all the trees.:D
 

Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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I've got a few books about this archaeological conundrum you may like to have a look at.
I know of the stories you mention, and that the stories talk of the war band elite being feted by this custom. We do find massive mounds of thermal shock shattered stones near to stone lined pits ( not graves I hasten to add).
The main interpretational problem is that we only have stories, which are always open to debate :rolleyes: , and the stones...... all bones and dreams but no soft tissue, so to speak.
The problem with the honouring the heroes type thing, is that the stones are frequently found in out of the way, remote, not associated with high status or even highly productive centres.

I've heard theories about tanning, willow working, steaming timbers, cooking, (can't remember the word for boiling off the flesh from bones, medieval monks did this using lots of vinegar) sweat lodges. It's all kind of interesting :D

cheers,
Toddy
 

Greg

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Jul 16, 2006
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They must have used alot of rocks to keep the water boiling long enough to cook a whole animal.
Did the ancient celts (Irish in this case obviously!) have Fire gods?
Might explain all the de-forestation!:dunno:
 

xylaria

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They must have used alot of rocks to keep the water boiling long enough to cook a whole animal.
Did the ancient celts (Irish in this case obviously!) have Fire gods?
Might explain all the de-forestation!:dunno:
Well actually the deforestation started as soon as ireland had people. Sheep and flax where very important to the early settlers, and these required forest clearance. Also as time passed and metal work and ship building became very popular this further used up what wood they had. So they developed a greater use of peat as fuel and housing. I don't know how hot a fuel peat is.

Some metals where smelted out of natural stone so I can envisage this process producing alot of hot rocks. It would been an efficient use of resources to cook your tea and have bath at the same time. But something making sense doesn't mean that it was done.

The ancient Irish beliefs were written down by primitive christian monks, who had a theology that was very different to modern Christianity. Insinuating that their beliefs were built on what a view modern people would call Gaiaism or Animism, rather than a deities that are separate creative forces. Your local river was a Goddess, and still remained just as sacred to these primitive Christians. Evan today you see shrines to the virgin mother in fairy holes where water flows. Just as you do in iceland. As for fire Gods, the fire its self would of been sacred, they had quite a few gods with cauldrons that dispense a variety of different things. Cutting hole in ground to bathe would have a ritual purpose, I guess especially if there is a good link between a cauldron and bathing and the spirit world.

I had a friend was from the shona tribe in zimbabwe. The women had a ritual bath after childbirth. A tin bath full of water and herbs would be boiled on an open fire. It would be let go cold over night, then the woman would be pushed into the bath by the other women in village. The bath was very cold at this point. The lady who told me had had four child and only developed any problems when this wasn't done.
 

gregorach

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The problem with the honouring the heroes type thing, is that the stones are frequently found in out of the way, remote, not associated with high status or even highly productive centres.
Ritualistic behaviour! Isn't that the usual "explanation"? ;) :D

All good stuff folks, thanks!
 

gregorach

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Dunno if they're available on-line... I've got both in John T. Koch and John Carey's excellent "The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe & Early Ireland & Wales", which is well worth having if you're interested in that sort of thing. If you've got it, the passages in question are S108/3 "The Story of Mis and Dubh Rois" and S109 "From Giraldus Cambrensis's Topographia Hibernie", para 102 "The Confirmation of a King".
Can't do much better than that I'm afraid...
 

jamesraykenney

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Aug 16, 2004
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Dunno if they're available on-line... I've got both in John T. Koch and John Carey's excellent "The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe & Early Ireland & Wales", which is well worth having if you're interested in that sort of thing. If you've got it, the passages in question are S108/3 "The Story of Mis and Dubh Rois" and S109 "From Giraldus Cambrensis's Topographia Hibernie", para 102 "The Confirmation of a King".
Can't do much better than that I'm afraid...
Thanks! I am sure I can get it from an intra-library loan, or maybe online(If my search-fu is great:)).
 

Drop

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Nov 2, 2006
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When I was younger on my annual get dragged around Ireland by my parents I saw the prep for this method, unfortunately I didnt get to hang around long enough to see the actual cooking or sample the food.

I've done a bit of searching and I think that we were at the Irish National Heritage Park in county Wexford http://www.inhp.com/ . It was a very interesting day out and looking at the website I wouldn't mind going there again, It certainly looks to have developed even more in the intervening years.

It seems the method is called Fulacht Fiadh and seems to be open to interpretation but hey ho
Lots of stuff (experimental archaeology etc via google but heres a wiki link to get you started.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulacht_fiadh
 

Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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I knew I had a book of reports somewhere on this topic.

Burnt Offerings, International contributions to Burnt Mound Archaeology, compiled by Victor Buckley, Edited by Emer Condit, and published by Wordwell Ltd---Academic Publications, Dublin, original publication date is 1990.
Publication funded by Historic Buildings and Monuments Scotland (Historic Scotland) and The Office of Public Works (Ireland) ISBN 1 869857 07 0


cheers,
Toddy
 
Jan 31, 2007
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hi this my first post im from ireland and these f/f stone boilers are all over the place here they are mostly near rivers ive seen them work tasted meat from a re production one they lined it with stone slabs and wood the real ones do have a big pile of heated broken rocks beside them there is one 5mins walk from me . there is also a thery about them been used to brew beer??? and another thing when the normans invaded ireland the country was mostly forested and thats when our forests started to be felled . the trees were cut to build most of the great buildings of britan and ireland and it is said that most of the boats and ships were built of irish timber / westminsters beams are of irish oak . but thats the past . its a shame i would love ireland to have a few old big forests . but its mostly planted pine over here now .