Episode 674: We Cooked A Peacock : Planet Money In the 1600s, a good spice rub was the ultimate display of wealth. People would risk their lives for a sack of cloves. | Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.
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Episode 674: We Cooked A Peacock

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Episode 674: We Cooked A Peacock

Episode 674: We Cooked A Peacock

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Three quick things before we start the show. One, this show is a rerun. It originally aired in 2016. Two, it includes sounds of cooking and eating. Apparently, some people don't like the sound of eating, so that's a warning. And three, the show was recorded in stereo, which means if you have headphones, you might want to put them on. It'll make the show more fun to listen to.


ANSHU PATHAK: Good morning. Wild foods - can I help you?

KESTENBAUM: Hi, is this the Exotic Meat Market in California?

PATHAK: Yes, sir.

KESTENBAUM: My name is David Kestenbaum. I'm a reporter with National Public Radio. I work for a team that covers economics. And for the holiday, we want to cook this very, very, very old recipe from the spice trade days.


KESTENBAUM: It's from the 1600s.

PATHAK: 1600s.


PATHAK: What kind of meat?

KESTENBAUM: It calls for peacock.

PATHAK: Oh, yeah, beautiful.

KESTENBAUM: Do you have peacocks there?

PATHAK: Yeah, I do.

KESTENBAUM: I see it says whole peacock online. Is that right?

PATHAK: Yeah, yeah.

KESTENBAUM: Does that include the head and neck?

PATHAK: I can send you the head, neck, legs, everything - the whole thing. I can send it today. You can get it tomorrow.

KESTENBAUM: Wow. Do you feel bad killing peacocks because they're so pretty?

PATHAK: Do you know peacocks?

KESTENBAUM: I mean, I've seen them at the zoo, you know.

PATHAK: No, no, no, no, no. I mean, do you know peacocks, how they are?


PATHAK: They are really nasty birds.

KESTENBAUM: (Laughter).

PATHAK: They kick ass of the turkeys, the geese, the ducks. They go after them. They go after the emus. They are one of the nastiest birds at my place.

KESTENBAUM: I think we're ready to order.


KESTENBAUM: One more thing - we'd like to start our shows by saying hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. Can you say hello and welcome to PLANET MONEY?

PATHAK: Hey - hello and welcome to PLANET MONEY. This is Anshu from Exotic Meat Markets, and I wish you the best - the very best.

KESTENBAUM: Today on the show - here, I wrote this part down - today on the show, we try to cook a recipe from a Dutch cookbook written in 1612. It calls for a lot of ingredients that, back then, people risked their lives to bring back from the other side of the Earth - cloves, cloves, lots and lots of cloves. What did things taste like back then? What was the taste that changed the world?

PATHAK: Have you tried peacock before?

KESTENBAUM: No. I have not tried peacock before.

PATHAK: Amazing meat.

KESTENBAUM: What does it taste like?

PATHAK: Peacock.

KESTENBAUM: (Laughter).

PATHAK: I mean, you can't compare that meat with anything else.

KESTENBAUM: (Laughter).

PATHAK: I just love it.

KESTENBAUM: Thanks so much.

PATHAK: Thank you my friend. Bye.

SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: PLANET MONEY has a newsletter straight to your inbox. It's just the right amount of economics weekly. Go to npr.org/planetmoneynewsletter.


KESTENBAUM: Check, one, two, check, one, two. All right. It's a little after 9 a.m. The kids are off at school. Jess and Jacob are supposed to be here soon to help cook the peacock, which arrived yesterday by FedEx. We were supposed to have a professional chef join us to help, but that fell through, so we are on our own. I - to be honest, I'm a little nervous about that.


KESTENBAUM: Hello. Welcome to my house.



JIANG: Oh, it's so nice and warm in here.


GOLDSTEIN: Where's the bird?

KESTENBAUM: It's in the refrigerator. Do you want to see it?

GOLDSTEIN: I do. There's a lot of questions I have. It's a cooler. It's a Styrofoam cooler. I was ready for, like, the whole bird to just be in your fridge.

KESTENBAUM: Do you want to take it out?

GOLDSTEIN: OK, no feathers - the first thing I'm seeing is no peacock feathers.

JIANG: Oh, my God, but there's a head.

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, we asked that. Here. This is the hard part for me.

GOLDSTEIN: Ooh, the claws. The claws are poking through the plastic bag. You can really see with the claws the dinosaur thing, you know? It looks like a little Pteranodon or something.

KESTENBAUM: It's definitely farm to table. OK. All right. Back in the box you go. OK. OK.

GOLDSTEIN: So - OK, wait. What are we making?

KESTENBAUM: All right. Well, there were no photographs, but people made paintings back then. And it turns out there are paintings of this dish. And here's a picture. This is like those Renaissance paintings you see in the art museum, and you go like, oh, look, there's a bunch of food on the table. Here, look closely.

JIANG: Oh, my God, it's beautiful.

KESTENBAUM: Yeah. So it's like a pie where they've stuck the head of the peacock on the front of it and the tail feathers on the back and inside is the peacock meat.

GOLDSTEIN: Right. So it's like a chicken pot pie or something ***

GOLDSTEIN: but it's peacock pot, pie, like, that kind of idea?

KESTENBAUM: It's a peacock pie with the actual head of a peacock stuck onto it and tail feathers.


KESTENBAUM: Yeah. It looks nice.

GOLDSTEIN: I mean, now, to be clear, our peacock is, like, a dead peacock head. This peacock - I mean, it's obviously dead, but it has all the feathers on it.

KESTENBAUM: Yeah. I should have been more specific. Should we call the woman who got us the recipe?


KESTENBAUM: She's in the Netherlands, but she's agreed to be available on Skype.


KESTENBAUM: Hi, Christianne.


MUUSERS: Hello. I'm Christianne Muusers, and I'm a Dutch historian, culinary historian, food historian. Are you the cook?

GOLDSTEIN: (Laughter) There is no cook - bad news.

JIANG: We are cook-less.

MUUSERS: No, really?

GOLDSTEIN: It's OK. We're reporters.

MUUSERS: Yeah. Oh, I don't think it will be very difficult. Maybe you'll have to call me a bit more often than you'd like, but (laughter)...

KESTENBAUM: I have some questions about the recipe.


KESTENBAUM: Yeah. What's the title of it? What's it called?

MUUSERS: (Speaking Dutch).

KESTENBAUM: Which means peacock pie?

MUUSERS: Yeah, how to lay a peacock in a pastry.

GOLDSTEIN: Who would have been eating this?

MUUSERS: The rich citizens.

GOLDSTEIN: Was this, like, you know, the sort of Wall Street traders of their day, these people who are getting rich off the growth of capitalism? And, like, the way traders today will go to a steak house, back then, they'd be like, look, I got a whole peacock pie.

MUUSERS: Yes. It was a prestigious bird.

GOLDSTEIN: A prestigious bird.

MUUSERS: (Laughter).

KESTENBAUM: Why were people so in love with spices?

MUUSERS: You would like to have your food taste of something.

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, but, I mean, sort of.

MUUSERS: Also spices were important for health reasons. When you have arthritis or...

KESTENBAUM: Any of that true, or is it just, like, the diet fad of its day?

MUUSERS: Oh, of course, not.


KESTENBAUM: I read that people thought some spices would, oh, make your penis larger.

MUUSERS: Yes, of course. People still eat oysters when they have plans, so...

KESTENBAUM: So - but why - just help me understand why they were so popular. Like, was it just a fad? Like, what?

MUUSERS: No. I do not think it was a fad, but because it was expensive, it remained popular by the people who could buy them to make a long nose to the people who could not.

GOLDSTEIN: Make a long nose - you mean, like, it was a status symbol to show, like, look how rich I am; I can buy these spices.


KESTENBAUM: The fact that they were expensive made them popular.


KESTENBAUM: (Laughter) Let's cook, yeah?


JIANG: Wish us luck.

MUUSERS: Just have fun. There is a saying here in Europe - I think it is French in origin - that someone who loves good food will be sick once or twice a year.


KESTENBAUM: Thank you very much.

MUUSERS: (Laughter).

KESTENBAUM: All right. Here's the recipe. Yeah. These are not timid spices. They're, like, all pretty strong-tasting - calls for cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. So a little thing I know about cloves and nutmeg is that the only place on Earth they were grown at the time were these little islands in Indonesia. So it was, like, a total miracle to even have these in your kitchen.

Pastry dough - calls for lard.

GOLDSTEIN: A handful of lard.

KESTENBAUM: Heat gently until the lard melts, bring just to a boil.

GOLDSTEIN: You're going to need a bigger bowl. You got a peacock cutting board?

KESTENBAUM: It's a cutting board.

GOLDSTEIN: Is there empty space underneath the crust?


GOLDSTEIN: Oh, I see. So the crust is just kind of like a lid.

KESTENBAUM: Here's a way to think about it. It's like we're putting the peacock to bed in this pan, and then we put a little blanket on top, which is the dough.

JIANG: So the blanket comes off in the morning. The blanket comes off when we eat it.

KESTENBAUM: Yeah. The blanket comes off when you eat it. All right. So, Jess, you're on dough. Jacob, your job is to cut the peacock.

GOLDSTEIN: (Laughter) All right. Come on, booby.

KESTENBAUM: Did you just call it booby? Oh, that's not the joint. Look, that's the bone. Hang on. Let me pull it so you can see.

GOLDSTEIN: Strong - the hand butchery - it's, like, beyond artisanal. The claws really take up a lot of the real estate in the roasting pan.

KESTENBAUM: We could leave the legs sticking out.

GOLDSTEIN: Good one. Good one. It really makes it clear what's going on. I mean, I suppose the head makes it clear but...

KESTENBAUM: OK. So spices - pepper.


KESTENBAUM: Nutmeg - actual nutmeg.

GOLDSTEIN: Putting the nut back into the...

KESTENBAUM: The nuts, yeah.


KESTENBAUM: We need two teaspoons.


GOLDSTEIN: And then should I grind...

KESTENBAUM: You grind up some cinnamon.

GOLDSTEIN: Should I grind the cinnamon?

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, do two teaspoons cinnamon.


KESTENBAUM: In the early days, people didn't know where these things came from. And there were stories that they were, like, guarded by monsters. And you had to, like, wear special suits of, like, animal skin to even go near it and to not get killed. And, like, no one really - people didn't always know where they came from. They got passed along from, like, 10 different middlemen. So, like, that's one reason they were expensive. A, it was traveling a long way. You didn't have, like, container ships. Like, it was dangerous to travel. And it passed through a whole bunch of middlemen. And they had this story they could tell you about how this stuff was magical, you know?

GOLDSTEIN: So you're like, hey, I'll give you a hundred guilders for that pepper. The guy's like, you kidding me?

GOLDSTEIN: *** There was a monster I had to get this from.


JIANG: Like, I almost died to get this thing.

KESTENBAUM: People did almost die.

GOLDSTEIN: I imagine they actually died.

KESTENBAUM: They did, yeah.

GOLDSTEIN: You definitely - you have a quarter teaspoon there. You only got seven more to go.


JIANG: I might have to tap out.

GOLDSTEIN: I'm in. I'm in.


KESTENBAUM: There's a moment when the Dutch had a total monopoly on the spice islands, basically.


KESTENBAUM: No other country could get near them, and there was a gigantic markup - like 6,000%, basically. They could surcharge what they want. There are stories about them burning nutmeg in order to keep the supply small.

GOLDSTEIN: (Laughter).

KESTENBAUM: Like, the Dutch - and they were brutal on the islands, totally brutal.

GOLDSTEIN: And so - I mean, so for Holland as a country, that means, like, they're selling it to whatever - to rich people in Spain and Britain and...

KESTENBAUM: Everywhere - yeah, everywhere. You want to get it, you got to go through the Dutch, basically.

GOLDSTEIN: And so does the whole...

KESTENBAUM: And they got incredibly rich.

GOLDSTEIN: They - the whole country?


GOLDSTEIN: So were spices it? Like, if you think of, like, the global economy, was it, like, spices then were what - I don't even know what - what, like, technology is now or something?

KESTENBAUM: It was a large part of global trade.

GOLDSTEIN: This is nice. Smell it.

JIANG: Yeah. It's, like, a little spicy.

GOLDSTEIN: So in here, it has pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg.

KESTENBAUM: Rub it? We're going to rub this? Is that what's happening? (Coughing) Excuse me. Right? Gets up in there. I think I have, like, a large spice ball going here.

GOLDSTEIN: How are we doing on the rub? I'm doing good on the rub.

KESTENBAUM: We have a lot of spices still.


GOLDSTEIN: And what do we do with the cloves? I think I inhaled a little bit.

JIANG: (Laughter).

KESTENBAUM: Stick the breast full with cloves, the same with the thighs.

GOLDSTEIN: I'm so rich.

KESTENBAUM: These were $2.

GOLDSTEIN: Two dollars per clove? Oh, you mean the actual cloves.

KESTENBAUM: (Laughter) The whole plastic container of cloves.

GOLDSTEIN: Who is the richest...

KESTENBAUM: Wait. Are you getting it to stick in? Are they strong enough to just poke?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, man. Look. Look.

KESTENBAUM: My cloves are breaking when I do it.

GOLDSTEIN: Don't blame it on the clove.

KESTENBAUM: Let's call her to show her the bird before we put it in the oven.

JIANG: Hello.


MUUSERS: How are you doing?

KESTENBAUM: Good. Can I show you the - I was going to say turkey - the peacock?

MUUSERS: (Laughter) Just think of it as a turkey.

KESTENBAUM: It actually looks pretty good. Like, I'm...

MUUSERS: Yes, it looks quite good.

KESTENBAUM: How much do you think this recipe would have cost to cook? Like, was this, like, the equivalent of, like, hundreds of dollars? Would I be spending, back in the day, the equivalent of, like, hundreds of dollars today to cook this dish?

MUUSERS: One or two dozen guilders?

KESTENBAUM: How many days' wages?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, how many days' wages for a typical worker?

MUUSERS: Well, I think you must work a couple of weeks for this pie.


KESTENBAUM: Was there a time when spices fell out of favor - people stopped caring so much about them?

MUUSERS: I - well, my theory is that because spices became more readily available at the end of the 17th century, the rich people needed something else to distinguish themselves.

GOLDSTEIN: So it's just the fashion story. Like, once people who aren't rich can get it, the people who are rich find some new thing that only rich people can have.

MUUSERS: Yes, absolutely, and it's still the same these days.

KESTENBAUM: All right. We're going to put it in the oven.

MUUSERS: Good luck.

KESTENBAUM: Thank you.

JIANG: Thank you.

GOLDSTEIN: Thank you.


Here it goes. OK, peacock - feet first. OK, all adjusted. It's in. Set the timer for an hour.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Your timer is set for one hour.

KESTENBAUM: All right, you want me to tell you a few things I learned?

GOLDSTEIN: I've been waiting.

KESTENBAUM: First thing - America, Columbus...

GOLDSTEIN: Heard it - I know all that. I know about Columbus.

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, it was about spices, right? He was looking for a spice route. I don't think about that.

GOLDSTEIN: That was the economic motivation?

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, he was trying to go west to get to the East Indies, where all the spices were. There spices wer on, just, like, a handful of islands in Indonesia.

GOLDSTEIN: And, like, they couldn't grow them, I guess, in Europe?

KESTENBAUM: People were constantly trying to, like, steal them from the island and grow them elsewhere.

GOLDSTEIN: (Laughter).

KESTENBAUM: But for a long period of time, like, every clove in the world came from a handful of islands in Indonesia. And some of these islands were, like, hard to find. You know, these, like, teeny little dots. You barely see them on a map today in the middle of, like, millions of miles of ocean.

GOLDSTEIN: So it's like - knowing it is like intellectual property. It's like your secret that you can profit off of.

KESTENBAUM: One of the funny things about the Columbus story is that, like - when he comes back, and he's like, I got there. I got there. I got to the East Indies, and he has these spices to prove it. Like, he has what he says is cinnamon, but botanists look at it, and they're like, that's not cinnamon. He's like, no, no, it is. It's just a slightly different kind or something. One of the things that he is perplexed by is that the spices seem all wrong in the Americas because he's not in the East Indies.


GOLDSTEIN: Should we check the temperature?

JIANG: Let's do it.

GOLDSTEIN: Should we check it in the oven or take it out?

KESTENBAUM: Just, like, can we - we should probably take it out.

GOLDSTEIN: Let's take it out.

JIANG: Let's not burn any limbs.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, I know. It's a classic lazy move that I...

KESTENBAUM: I'm nervous. I'm nervous. I'm nervous.

GOLDSTEIN: Sure, you've been nervous all day.


GOLDSTEIN: OK, where's the - oh, you have two mitts.

KESTENBAUM: They're right here.


KESTENBAUM: It's hard to know because it's underneath a blanket, but every place we stick the thermometer seems to say it's done.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. It's only been an hour, and Christianne said five-quarters of an hour.

GOLDSTEIN: *** I mean, I'm only worried that, like, we're not hitting - there's some, like, deep meat spot 'cause it's all hidden under the blanket of the crust. Do you know what I'm saying?

KESTENBAUM: You try and find a spot anywhere in there that's under 165.

GOLDSTEIN: All right.

KESTENBAUM: After the break, we eat the peacock.


KESTENBAUM: Let's take this stuff back to the office.

GOLDSTEIN: You want to just get in, and I'll hand it in to you?


GOLDSTEIN: Mind if I come back a little bit?

KESTENBAUM: Feels like a party car.

GOLDSTEIN: Feels like a blimp - so high.

KESTENBAUM: You're up really high - goes to the ceiling.

GOLDSTEIN: I think the peacock's going to fit in the revolving door (unintelligible).

JIANG: (Laughter).

KESTENBAUM: Normally, you're not allowed to have food in a studio, but too bad.

Right, so the feathers arrived.

GOLDSTEIN: So take the big ones, right?


GOLDSTEIN: Take the big ones and stick them in in the back, right? Is that what's going to happen?

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, yeah, yeah (laughter).

Before Stacey Vanek Smith comes in, here is what we're looking at. It does not look like the painting. It looks, frankly, pretty ridiculous. We have a roasting pan, like, from the supermarket, tin foil. There's a layer of dough on top. That looks good. Sticking through the dough is the head of the peacock, straight up at this kind of awkward angle. We've attached some feathers with a rubber band to make that look more natural, sort of. And then at the other end, there are the feet sticking out from under the dough, these big claws. And we've also rigged a kind of tail with some feathers, and that looks nice.

GOLDSTEIN: OK, Stacey. Open your eyes.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: (Laughter) Oh, my God - the head. Oh, the head - wow. This is, like, some very Henry VIII - wow. I mean, it's pretty spectacular. The feet, yeah.

KESTENBAUM: Mean birds - look at those talons. It was a killer. The world's better without it.

VANEK SMITH: It was a killer. Wow. Whoa. I mean, the head is freaking me out. Did you cook it?


VANEK SMITH: You cooked it with the head, yeah. Are you supposed to cook it with the head?


GOLDSTEIN: Stacey Vanek Smith...


GOLDSTEIN: ...Will you eat this peacock?

VANEK SMITH: I'll eat the peacock.



KESTENBAUM: Into nice pieces.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, I mean, we could just kind of take the dough off, right? The dough is just cover.

KESTENBAUM: It's true.

JIANG: It's like wrapping paper.

KESTENBAUM: Stacey, take the first bite.

VANEK SMITH: OK. It's good.


VANEK SMITH: Mmm hmm. Wait.


VANEK SMITH: There's just so much pepper.


GOLDSTEIN: Did you just eat a whole clove? Oh, you're wincing now.

VANEK SMITH: It's, like, black pepper.

KESTENBAUM: You know what my main thought is?


KESTENBAUM: My main thought is that we overcooked the peacock.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).


VANEK SMITH: There's not a lot of fat on those birds.

GOLDSTEIN: We also made wine with an insane amount of spices. This would be, like, million-dollar wine or something in the 1600s.

VANEK SMITH: Really? Oh.

GOLDSTEIN: And it was, like, hundred-dollar wine in 2015. It was an absurd amount of spices.

KESTENBAUM: It's wine, honey and then...

GOLDSTEIN: A crap ton of spices.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, like, five kinds of spices, like a mound, just like a mound of spices, a big mountain, like - that all gets mixed together. And then you have to pour it - we poured it through coffee filters. The recipe called for a sack.


GOLDSTEIN: (Laughter) It does. It smells like Red Hots...


GOLDSTEIN: ...'Cause the cinnamon.

KESTENBAUM: You can send us email - planetmoney@npr.org.

GOLDSTEIN: OK. Let's go around the room and all say our names really fast.

I'm Jacob Goldstein.

VANEK SMITH: I'm Stacey Vanek Smith.

KESTENBAUM: I'm David Kestenbaum.

JIANG: I'm Jess Jiang.

KESTENBAUM: Off-mic is Nick Fountain. Thanks for listening.

The rerun was produced by Bianca Giacabone. This is PLANET MONEY from NPR.


VANEK SMITH: My mouth is going numb in, like, a weird, piney (ph) way.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, you're going to be peaking in, like, an hour, hour and a half, just so you know.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

GOLDSTEIN: You're not driving, are you?


KESTENBAUM: Can you cut me another piece?


To the peacock.

VANEK SMITH: To the peacock.

GOLDSTEIN: Merry Christmas, (non-English language spoken).

KESTENBAUM: To the peacock. Happy holidays, everyone.

VANEK SMITH: Happy holidays.

KESTENBAUM: Kind of interesting.


JIANG: It's drinkable.


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