Food For the Immortals
by Mark R. Vogel

        Of all the lurid creatures conjured up by the human imagination over the ages, the one that seems to beguile us most is the vampire.  The never ending stream of books, plays, movies, and television shows, are a testament to our macabre captivation with this creature of the night.  The vampire was originally portrayed as a straightforward fiend:  an evil, inhuman being whose sole purpose was to kill, and feed on the blood of the innocents.  But slowly over time, man has romanticized the vampire.  We’ve made vampires sexy, as evidenced by the prurient renderings of them in modern vampire tales.  But we’ve gone even further than that.  We’ve humanized them by projecting our mortal inclinations and conflicts upon them.  The movie Interview with the Vampire was a pivotal point in the evolutional depiction of the vampire.  Its intrigue lies in the main character and raconteur Louis (Brad Pitt), who struggled with being a vampire.  Rather than being a soulless monster, he was eternally agonized by the taking of human lives.  And yet, despite his relaying of the dark side of vampirism, by the conclusion of his story the interviewer (Christian Slater), is fascinated more with his immortality than his angst.  He practically beseeches Louis to transform him into a vampire.  Louis, exasperated by the interviewer’s failure to appreciate his torment by glamorizing his strife, lurches him up by the throat, and with his piercing, demonic eyes furiously retorts:  “Do you like being food for the immortals?”

            Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and the fact is that humans have been consuming blood for time immemorial.  Anthropological evidence from around the globe reveals that many different cultures drank human blood.  This was often done as a rite of passage, or for superstitious or spiritual reasons.  Young male Aborigines in Australia had to drink the blood of the eldest member of the tribe in order to become a man.  The early Mesoamericans practiced human sacrifice and blood drinking to appease the Gods.  Precursors to the vampire legend, some of these civilizations believed that drinking blood revitalized or extended human life.  Even modern Catholics symbolically drink the blood of Christ. 

            But blood has been, and continues to be consumed by man for another very simple reason:  nourishment.  Eskimos drink seal blood for sustenance.  Various tribes in Africa, such as the Mursi of Ethiopia drink a mixture of cattle blood and milk.  In Spain, solidified blood cut into squares is served as a tapa (an appetizer found in bars and restaurants).  The Swedish make a soup of goose blood known as swartsoppa.  Likewise, the Poles have czernina, a soup of duck blood and poultry broth.  Duck au sang, a popular dish from Rouen France, involves incorporating the animal’s blood into the final sauce.  The French even have an expression, “cuit a la goutte de sang” which translates into “cooked to the drop of blood” and refers to young poultry or game that is just barely cooked.

            Probably one of the most common uses of blood in the culinary world is blood sausage, also known as “black pudding.”  Blood sausage is a savory sausage made from pig’s blood and fat, although ox, cattle and sheep’s blood are also sometimes used.  It is believed to have originated in ancient Greece.  Today it is found throughout Europe and Russia.  In France, blood sausages are known as boudin noirs and recipes vary greatly from butcher to butcher.  The pork blood and fat are combined with various combinations of herbs, spices, vegetables, fruits, milk, cream, grains, or bread.  The Alsatians make a blood sausage called zungenwurst which incorporates ox or pig’s tongue and schwarzwurst which, in addition to the blood, incorporates the pig’s ears, head, and trotters (pig’s feet), and is then wrapped in an ox intestine. 

            Italy makes sanguinaccio, a combination of pig’s blood and brains.  The Spanish have botifarra and morcilla, which contain rice and pine nuts.  In Belgium you’ll find bloedpens where eggs, butter and cream are added to the mix.  British blood sausages are made with oatmeal or barley.  The Irish drisheen is fabricated from pig or sheep’s blood.  Finally, Germany is quite fond of their blood sausages, known as blutwurst, which is comprised of a variety of admixtures. 

            Palate-challenged America has yet to warm up to the idea of consuming blood.  In fact, it would be fairer to say that we have a distinct aversion to it.  Throngs of food-neurotics recoil at the sight of any pink juices emanating from their steak or burger, even though it’s not actually blood, but sanguine colored proteins called myoglobin.  Even the thought of consuming blood is apparently, shall we say, not in our blood. 

            But if you’re a vampire, blood can be as exquisite as a fine French wine.  Returning to Interview with the Vampire, Louis is schooled in the art of vampirism by his creator Lestat (Tom Cruise), who has no compunction about taking human life.  He discusses the allure of Creole blood as if he’s articulating the nuances of a classic Pinot Noir.  In one particularly gruesome scene he bites open a rat, pours its blood into a wine glass and hands it to Louis to drink.  As Louis indulges Lestat laments that “it gets cold so fast.”  Food for the immortals can indeed be a chilling experience.   

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