Cock Breads — 18th Century Breads for Fighting Cocks

The following text is from the “Royal Art of Cockfighting” by Robert Howlett, published in London, 1709. The portion of the text I reproduce here concerns the breads fed to fighting cocks — known in the period as cock-breads. A couple things I’d like you to note.

Firstly, in the section, “Of the several Ways of making Cock-bread.” Howlett says that it is impossible to innumerate all of the breads fed to fighting cocks because everyone has their own opinion. While Howlett clearly has his own point of view, he is deferential to his readers. I find this same deference to the reader in gardening books, as well. I find the attitude refreshing. Our texts tend to suggest that the author is offering you the one true path to mastery. I get the sense that the 17th and 18th century writer assumed that his, and sometimes, her reader had their own opinions and expertise that needed acknowledging.

When it comes to the breads what you see is a reliance on the best commercial form of white bread — the manchet. The commercial form will have been made with wheat flour refined through a bolting cloth of approximately 300 microns. The flour should weight 1 pound per wine quart, which is the US quart measure. A refined animal is here being associated with a refined bread.

While just plain white bread is clearly the bread of choice for many cock trainers, others tend towards some of the ingredients in the breads that Gervase Markham formulated for race horses on race day — white flour plus refined bean flour and egg white. But Howlett also goes where Markham does not. Markham argued that herbs were for the sick and should be fed to well animals and furthermore that herbs had no efficacy in regulating how well a horse ran. Howlett, and his group of trainers are clearly big believers in the power of the herb to convey unusual strength and perspicacity.

Pea flour was a low status flour, while bean flour was considered edible, at least in extremis, by people of all social classes. In other words, a “student” as young scholars were denoted, might in extremis eat a cake of fava bean meal, they could not be expected to manage one made of pea flour. You will find this in Cogan Thomas’ “Haven of Health” from the mid 1500s. The acceptance of pea flour — a flour that has a rank smell — suggests to me that the cock, while honored, was not on the same footing as a race horse. Which is fair enough! A fighting cock is a magnificent looking animal — but compared with an Arabian?

In terms of ingredients, the recipe, “How to Make the Best Sort of Cock-Bread” is the most complex bread recipe I have seen. Embedded in the herbs used in its creation is an entire cock fight.

Excerpted from: “Royal Art of Cockfighting” by Robert Howlett, published in London, 1709.

To make the Scowering Pill.

Take of white Sugar-candyRosemaryFetherfewGround-Ivy bruised, mingle these with Sweet Butter, let the Sugar-candy be finely Powdered, and let these be well incorporated together, and just before you give the Cocks these Pills, put them into warm Urine; and these will cleanse a Cock of Grease, add to his Strength, and lengthen his Wind.

When and how to Stive your Game-Cocks.

And after the Cocks have been Sparred (as aforesaid) let them take a Diaphoretic, or Sweating after this manner: First take off their Hutts, and then immediately Stive them very close in some warm Room, where no penetrating Air can come to annoy the heated Cocks; for otherwise they [Pg 56]will loose the benefit of their Sparring, and in these Stoves you must leave the Cocks for three or four, six, eight or ten hours together, according as the Cocks are in Strength and Flesh; for a poor weak Cock will not bear long Stiving: And now in the Cock’s absence let their Pens be cleaned, and fresh Straw be put into them, and if need be, you may then alter their Perches higher, or lower, or remove them to another side of the Pen, as you see cause for it.

And when you take the Cocks out of the Bags or Stives, lick with your Tongue the Eyes and Heads of them, and so put them into their Pens, and so fill their Troughs with Cock-bread cut into small square bits, and steept in Urine, that so the Cocks may feed whilst ’tis warm; for this will cause their Scowering Pills to work and greatly cleanse, and purify both the Head and Body of your Cock.[Pg 57]

Of the several Ways of making Cock-bread.

Now to make Cock-bread aright, and at the same time, to have it suit with every Feeder’s humour, is a thing altogether impossible; seeing we are quot Homines tot Sententiæ.

How to make the ordinary Cock-bread.

Some fancy that the common Bakers Bread is as good as any: Others will tell you that there must be some Bean, or Pease Meal put amongst it, and a few Anniseeds, with the Whites of Eggs; and this is the best Cock-bread say they.

Another Receipt for to make Cock-bread.

But there are others will tell you, that you must take of WheatPeaseBeans, and Oates, of each a like quantity in Meal, or Flower finely dressed, with the Juice of Liquorish, and a little Sack, or strong Stale-Beer, with Brown Sugar-candyAnniseedsCarroway-seeds, mixed together: But if the Season be very hot, you [Pg 58]must put White-Wine instead of Sack, and as much common Ale as will make the Flower up into Dough, with the Whites of ten or twenty Eggs, and a Yolk or two amongst them; and this they take to be the best sort of Bread for to Feed Cocks withall.

How to make the best sort of Cock-bread.

But in my opinion there is yet a better sort than any of these, and I make it thus, viz. of the best and finest Wheat-meal, I take three-quarters of a Peck, and one quarter of Oat-meal of the purest sort, and first of all mix these well together; then add the Whites of twenty new laid Eggs, four Yolks, an Ounce of the best extract of Liquorish, and as much of the fine Powder of brown Sugar-candy, a quarter of an Ounce of Anniseeds, and Carroway-seeds grossly bruised, with a Lump of good sweet Butter as big as your fist at least, and a quarter of a Pint or more of the best White-Wine that can be bought for Mony, with three or four spoonfulls of Syrup of Clove-gilliflowers put into it, and a Date or two, with some Candyed Eringo Roots cut very small so that it may be scattered into every part, and let these Ingredients be all well worked together, in some Tub, or Pan fit for that purpose, with your hands, until you are Satisfied that they are thoroughly incorporated.

Then take Wood-sorrelGround-IvyFeatherfewDandelion, and Burrage, of each a like quantity, and distill them in a cold Still, and add three or four Spoonfuls of the pure Juice of Lemmons to every Pint of distilled Water; And add as much of this Julip as will serve to make all into a good stiff Past; let this be wrought quick, and made into little flat Loaves, which ought to be a day or two old before you spend them, and then being well rasped, or pared, so that none of the burned or brown outside remain, they may then be cut and given to the Cocks, as aforesaid.

And this I take to be the best and fittest sort of Bread for English Cocks, it being a Food that does greatly strengthen and exhillate them, and at the same time cools, and keeps them Temperate in their Bodies, provided you have regard to the Season; for in Hot Weather, or where the Climate is more than ordinary hot, there must be more of the cooling Ingredients added; and fewer, or a less quantity of those that are hot in Nature.

Of other Food used by some for Game-Cocks.

There are those that think the finest Wheat-bread, with good store of hot Spices in it, and soaked or sprinkled only with the simple Water or Juice of Wood-sorrel to be the best of Food for a Cock.

And some again heed not what Bread they have, so that they have but good store of Flesh to give their Cocks, crying that up for the best and strongest Food.

But in my opinion these extreamly err in fancying Flesh to be Food fit for a Cock, these carniverous Sots understand not the nature of these valiant sort of Birds, who force such unnatural food upon them, nor is it possible for a Feeder to make a Cock strong, and at the same time Fight cool, and be long winded with such sort of Diet.

How a Game-Cock should be Fed before he Fights.

But suppose your Food to be either this, or that, or what you like best, be it what it will, yet is this on all hands agreed on by every one that pretends to Feeding, that the last Meal you give your Cock before he Fights must be common Manchet-bread, such as the Bakers usually make, with good store of Barm therein, and what they sell at every Market; for this sort of Bread is [Pg 62]ever very light and goes off quick, it being soon digested, leaves the Craw or Crop of a Cock fine and clean, and so it ought to be when your Cock Fights, for otherwise you do in effect but throw your Cock away.

And tho’ ’tis highly necessary to bring a Cock into the Pit clean and empty, yet you may, and ought to give him five or six little bits of par’d Pippin put into a Cup, or Dish of Spring Water, out of which let him pick the Apple, and drink a little if he pleases, of the Water: Or, for want of Apple, you may (as I said before) give your Cock a bit of White-bread, and drink after it, and so turn him into the Pit to try his Fortune.

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