This Startling Recipe Made Englishmen Fear: Bone Bread

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Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he ‘live, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

So it seems that writers have puzzled over the origins of this chant and what it means for over four centuries!  Here are a few sources of Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!

In the “The History of Tom Thumbe (1621 edition), from the “gyant” while searching for Tom (p40):

Now fi, fee, fau, fan,
I feele smell of a dangerous man:
Be he alive, or be he dead,
Ile grind his bones to make me bread.

Onto Jack the Giant Killer (1761 edition, p63):

Fee, fau, fum,
I smell the blood of an English man,
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

The Opies footnote the pattern as “perhaps the most famous war cry in English literature” (p63), common to British tales of giants and ogres, in numerous versions, such as:

Fe, fi, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman;
If he have any liver and lights
I’ll have them for my supper tonight.

But as to its origins? Thomas Nashe* cautions in Haue with You to Saffrom-Walden (1596, p48):

O, tis a precious apothegmaticall Pedant, who will finde matter inough to dilate a whole daye of the first inuention of Fy, fa, fum, I smell the bloud of an Englishman.

*Thomas Nashe is considered the greatest of the English Elizabethan pamphleteers. He was a playwright, poet, and satirist. He is best known for his novel The Unfortunate Traveller.

Which brings to mind this woodcut from an 1840 edition of Jack the Giant Killer (p59):
Still, leaving Opie, a two-part footnote in Jacobs’ English Fairy Tales (p152) tantalizes. First, in the 1889 The Folk-tales of the Magyars, Kriza et al. review cross-cultural olfactory keenness of folk creatures, and include this elf king’s version (p341):

With fi, fe, fa, and fum,
I smell the blood of a Christian man,
Be he dead, be he living, with my brand,
I’ll clash his harns frae his harns pan.

Then, in his introduction to Perrault’s Popular Tales (PCVI/II), Lang traces the blood-scent archetype back to at least Aeschylus’ Eumenides from 458 BC, wherein the Furies trace the scent of Orestes (“The smell of human blood gives me a smiling welcome” (l252)—although their apothegms miss apophony.

Putting aside all the mystery and wonder to the origins of the famed Fee Fie Foe Fum we turn back to grinding the bones of Englishmen to make bread; was this the beginnings of a recipe?  We find the old English recipe for Bone Bread below. Bone Bread comes from the boneyard scavengers who lived on the River Severn in Gloucestershire in the 1860’s.

Bone Bread
Ingredients:
6 cups  flour
2 (1/4 ounce) packages yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
2 tsp salt
Cornmeal to sprinkle on top

Directions:
1. Heat together milk and water until warm add the yeast, sugar. Let rest for 5 minutes to bloom the yeast.
2. Add half the flour and mix well. Let stand for 15 minutes.
3. Ad the salt and remaining flour and mix.
4. Kneed the dough for 10 minutes in in an electric mixer for 5.
5. Let rise for 45 minutes
6. when double in size punch down the dough. (Punch down:  Deflate the dough by removing the gasses.)
7. Grease a sheet pan and shape the dough like bones. To make bones roll out the dough and cut into strips approximately xxx in length and xxx  width.  Split the dough strips lengthwise at the end by one inch and ball the ends to make humerus bones. Funny huh?
8. Sprinkle cornmeal on top.  Let the bones rise  in warm place for 45 minutes. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes.

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5 thoughts on “This Startling Recipe Made Englishmen Fear: Bone Bread

    • Yeah, bone meal isn’t on my list to eat either. Except for my garden. Bone meal (or Bone manure) is a mixture of finely and coarsely ground animal bones and slaughter-house waste products. It is used as an organic fertilizer for plants and as a nutritional supplement for animals. As a slow-release fertilizer, bone meal is primarily used as a source of phosphorus and protein.

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