Station 4 - English
Small Sins – Serious Consequences Station
Blessed be the flesh of the beaver
“Sit benedicta fibri caro, piscis voce salubri” (Blessed be the fish-like flesh of the beaver). With this church blessing, over 1000 years ago the beaver was declared to be a cold-blooded, fish-like animal, which was therefore permitted to be eaten even during the fasting period of Lent.
Its tail, with a surface similar to fish scales rather than covered with fur, was the reason why, beginning in the Middle Ages, the beaver was intensively hunted in the Eifel, too, as a welcome addition to the menu during Lent. The paddle-shaped tail, which comprises almost one-third of the body length, is used by the beaver not only as a steering rudder; it also stores fat reserves and aids in regulating the body temperature.
The otter, similar to the beaver only in its aquatic way of life, was also occasionally included in the list of foods permitted during Lent.
The following is a historical recipe from the Großes Illustriertes Kochbuch für den einfachen, bürgerlichen und den feineren Tisch (Large illustrated cookbook for simple, middle-class and fine dining), 1897:
Recipe 2178: Stewed beaver tail
Both the beaver and the otter are permitted food during the fasting period, and make a pleasant change during Lent. The beaver tail is a particularly tasty part of this animal. Clean and wash the tail well, then cut it into slices, and place in an earthenware vessel. Pour over it a marinade made of good vinegar that has been boiled with all kinds of herbs, spices, bay leaves and onions, and leave for 6 to 8 hours. Then, in a stewing pot or pan, clarify a slice of butter, add several chopped onions and root vegetables, lay the meat on top, sprinkle with salt, and stew, well covered. After some time, turn the slices over, pour 1/2 litre of red wine over them, add rolls fried in butter, and cook until done. Then remove the meat and let the broth stand for a while undisturbed away from the fire, so that the fat comes to the surface. After skimming off the fat, pour the sauce through a strainer, bring to the boil again and add the pressed juice of 1 lemon. Then heat the meat intensively in the sauce once more and serve.
Recipe 2180: Otter stewed in red wine
Skin the otter and cut into pieces. Then prepare the individual pieces in the same way as the beaver tail, recipe 2178.
Castoreum is used by the beaver as a scent marking for its territory. This secretion is produced in two anal glands up to the size of an egg. These glands were formerly believed to be the testicles of the beaver (hence the German term, “Bibergeil”).
In the late Middle Ages in particular, people attributed great healing powers to castoreum. In the medical text Casterologia (1685), more than 200 different prescriptions for medicines made with castoreum are listed – with the result that, also for this reason, beavers were ruthlessly pursued throughout Europe.
The medical effectiveness of castoreum is more than questionable. Nevertheless, because beavers frequently eat willow bark, castoreum contains salicylic acid, familiar as the main active ingredient of the pain reliever aspirin.
To the left in the corner is a beaver that you can touch, with various sounds and the scent of castoreum.