Stuffed Boar’s Head

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I don’t do Elizabethan much.  There are many many books and commentary on a great many varieties of recipes from this period.  Stuffed Boar’s Head is a bit different.  The recipes in both the redaction books and websites give pictures of finished/cooked pig’s heads and a brief over view of how the recipe was redacted.  This is a full blown, step by step (mostly) from raw pig to Stuffed Boars Head presentation ready for the High Table.

Candlemas pig

Christmas Royal Fare

Boar’s Head

“The Boar’s Head in hand bring I

With garlands gay and rosemary,

I pray you all sing merrily.”

So sang the procession when presenting the Christmas Boar’s Head to the King (or Queen) of England.  Boar’s Head.   A boar’s head was skinned then re-stuffed with meats, spices and fruits and cooked till golden.  This dish was the crown jewel of the King and his baron’s feast held during Christmas with large amounts masques and pageantry.  (Craig, pp. 154)     However this tradition of Boar’s Head has fallen out of favor since James the 1st that was rumored to have started the tradition of turkey instead of boar for the high table.

I have several recipes for Boar’s head.  Each one has a slight variation.

The first recipe is:

The boar’s head, always called “the noblest dish on board,” is as good as it sounds. Here is the way my family’s old chef dressed, cooked and garnished it:

Bone the head, leaving only the jawbones (for shape) and tusks. Make a small quantity of stuffing composed of minced pig’s liver, chopped apples, a little onion, sage and rosemary. Arrange this stuffing all around the inside of the head about half an inch in thickness. Now stuff the rest of the inside of the head with a second stuffing made of sausage meat, squares of ox tongue, chopped truffles, chopped apples, chopped mushrooms, chopped pistachio nuts and minced rosemary. Add one wineglass of Calvados (or sherry) and an equal quantity of cream.

When the head is filled tight with this, stitch a very strong cloth over the stuffing, then bind the whole head in another strong cloth, and put it in a large pot of boiling water to boil slowly for about eight to nine hours, during which time you add more boiling water as evaporation requires. When the head is cooked and is still warm reshape in cloth, remove the wrapping and let it get cold.

The ears, which have been cut off and boiled separately, are then replaced on the head with a skewer.  Place the head on an oblong dish, surround it with slices of truffles, slices of apples, and strew with rosemary.

–from The Viscomte in the Kitchen by Vicomte de Mauduit with introductions by Francis, Countess of Warwick and Elizabeth Craig, M.C.A., M.I.H., published in 1934 by Covici-Friede Publishers, New York. (Castlearcana)

The second recipe is:

From: The Cookbook of Sabina Welserin; 1553; version by David Friedman

How to cook a wild boar’s head, also how to prepare a sauce for it.

A wild boar’s head should be boiled well in water and, when it is done, laid on a grate and basted with wine, then it will be thought to have been cooked in wine. Afterward make a black or yellow sauce with it. First, when you would make a black sauce, you should heat up a little fat and brown a small spoonful of wheat flour in the fat and after that put good wine into it and good cherry syrup, so that it becomes black, and sugar, ginger, pepper, cloves and cinnamon, grapes, raisins and finely chopped almonds. And taste it, however it seems good to you, make it so.

If you would make a yellow sauce.

Then make it in the same way as the black sauce, only take saffron instead of the syrup and put no cloves therein, so you will also have a good sauce. (Theoldfoodie)

A third recipe:

Boar’s Head
“Christmas, then as now, had a variety of dishes associated with it. The first was the boar’s head, which formed the centerpiece of the Christmas Day meal. It was garnished with rosemary and bay and evidently was presented to the diners with some style, as told by the many boar’s head carols which still exist…Thomas Tusser in Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry suggests a number of dishes, that, lower down society, the housewife should provide for her guests at Christmas. He mentions mutton, pork, veal souse (pickled pig’s feet and ears), brawn, cheese and apples, although none of these items was connected especially with Christmas; they were all associated with feasting generally. He also talks of serving turkey, but only as a part of a list of other luxurious items that the housewife should provide. It does not seem to be the centrepiece in the way that the boar’s head was in grander circles.”
Food and Feast in Tudor England, Alison Sim [Sutton Publishing:Phoenix Mill] 1997 (p. 113-115)

“Another British specialty was brawn made of the head and foreparts of a boar or pig. Richer and fattier than the hams, it was regarded as a delicacy for the medieval feast, and by Tudor times it have become fare for the twelve days of Christmas. In the thirteenth century it appeared in the last course of the meats, along with the game birds and spicery. It was also sometimes incorporated with vinegar, pepper, and other spices in a rich pottage called ‘brawn en perverde’; or was sliced and served in a thick spiced syrup of wine with honey or sugar…By the end of the fourteenth century ‘brawn en peverade’ or cimple brawn with mustard had become first-course dishes…The details of brawn preparation were first made public in Elizabeth’s reign by William Harrison. He decribed brawn as ‘a great piece of service at the table from November untl Frebruary be ended, but chiefly in the Christmas time…It is made commonly of the forepart of a tame boar….”
Food and Drink in Britain From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson [Academy Chicago:Chicago] 1991 (p. 88-89)  (Foodtimeline)

A fourth recipe:

To make a re-dressed boar’s head – from And Thus You Have a Lordly Dish:

Take a head, large or small. Boil it in water and wine, and when it is boiled make sure that the bones all stay together next to one another. And remove all the meat from the bones of the head. Strip the skin carefully, the white part from the meat and chop the other meat from the boar’s head very small. Put it in a pan. Spice it well with pepper, ginger, and a little cloves, nutmeg, saffron, and let it get very hot over the fire in the broth in which the head was boiled. Next take the boiled head and lay it in a white cloth and lay the skin under it on the cloth. Then spread the chopped meat all around on the head and cover it with the flayed skin. And if you have too little meat from one head, then take it from two and cover the head entirely as if it were whole. Next, pull the snout and the ears out through the cloth. Also, pull the teeth together again with the cloth, so the head is held together while it is still warm, and let it lie overnight. In the morning cut the cloth from around the head. In that way it will stay whole. Then serve it with a cold farce made with apples, almonds, raisins. Thus you have a lordly dish.

Hansen, Marianne. “And Thus You Have a Lordly Dish: Fancy and Showpiece Cookery in an Augsberg Patrician Kitchen.” Medieval Food and Drink, Acta, vol. xxi. Binghamton University: State University of New York Press, 1995. (godecookery)

A fifth recipe:

“…Procure a pig’s head, specially cut with a large piece of the neck attached.  Singe the head well.  Wipe it very carefully with a cloth, then scrape all over with a knife with out scratching the skin.  …open it with a knife from the point of the under-jaw to the cut part of the neck, then strip off the flesh clean from its bones, with out piercing the skin.  Remove bones of the neck in the same way, and cut flesh into long strips, two inches thick and two inches broad.  Now place head and strips of flesh in a huge crock and rube will with a half a pound of moist brown sugar, a quarter pound of saltpeter, half an ounce of dried juniper berries, one teaspoonful of cloves, two cloves of garlic, five pounds of course kitchen salt.  Then add to pickle four bay leaves, four laurel leaves, a handful of thyme, a small pinch of sage, basil, marjoram and lavender, and six blades of mace.  Turn head in this pickle every day for a week, keeping it in a cool place meanwhile.  When about to dress head, remove from brine, wash it well with cold water, wipe it dry with a clean cloth, then pare of all uneven parts, and line head with the following forcemeat:  One and a half pounds of feel and half a pound each of fat bacon and sausage meat, all chopped into mince, and mixed with a teaspoonful each of salt and black pepper, two tablespoonfuls of parsley, finely chopped, a pinch of ground mace and a handful of peeled, chopped mushrooms…” (Craig, pp. 154-155)

This tells me that each time a Boar’s Head was cooked that the head cook or chef might decide to try some thing new each time and that there was no one way to do a stuffed Boar’s Head.

The elements in common:

Each recipe has several elements in common.  The first is that a boar’s head or a pig’s head is used as the main ingredient and show piece.  At some point boar became a rarity so pig’s heads were substituted.  This works out well for the modern day re-creationist, as pigs heads are more easily found then boars, but only just.  My personal experience has been that modern and upscale markets do not have heads on hand however markets that have marrow or tripe will probably have a head or two tucked away in the back for the medieval shopper.

Another element is that out of the four recipes, two mention the actual cooking technique of boiling the head to loosen the skin from the bones.  One says water to boil while the other says wine and water.   I can only theorize that the water and wine combination is either for taste or to mask the smell of boiling pig’s heads, possibly a combination of both.

Another element is the facial structure of the pig.  One recipe says to leave the jaw bones attached to the skin.  A second recipe states that the skin should be carefully detached from all bones.

The next element is on how to cook the boar’s head.  Two of the four recipes say to use a cloth for covering the face while cooking for shape retention.  Another recipe says to baste on a grate so that the head looks to have been cooked in wine.

The stuffing of the head seems to be up for debate.  Each recipe has the common element of using the pork pulled from the head.  Other meats used are tongue, liver, sausage, more pork as well as apples, pistachios, almonds and raisins.  The spices used in the various recipes call for sage, saffron, ginger, pepper, salt, cloves, nutmeg, sugar and rosemary.  From the various recipes the head could be either sweet or savory depending on the taste of the cook or the request of the king.

There are a couple side sauces mentioned in one recipe, either black or yellow sauce, possibly both were served on the side.  The other three recipes do not mention a sauce per say other then sliced and served with apples, raisins and walnuts.  One article mentioned that mustard was served on the side as well.

Several of the recipes are out of date by a hundred or so years.  Several recipes are in period.  The range of dates may vary, as do the recipes, but they all have the most basic of elements in common.  A boar’s head (or pig’s) is dressed for the Christmas celebration as this is a most noble of dishes.


1 pig’s head (skin and meat)

1 beef tongue

2 apples

1 cup walnuts

1 cup almonds

1 cup raisins

1 tsp ea of ground ginger, clove, nutmeg, pepper, mace

1 pinch saffron.

½  gallon mead/wine


2 cups vinegar

2 cups water

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup salt

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp mace, cloves, ginger

My redaction:


Starting with the first element, the pig’s head is thoroughly washed on the outside with soap and water, well rinsed then cleaned of all viscera on the interior part of the skull.


If you look closely at the picture above you can see that the skin around the eyes has been removed.  If possible pick a head that has minimal skin removal from around the eyes or cuts under the chin.

The pig’s head was not sold in tact the one grocery store. I believe the back of the head was removed to extract the brains for sale.  (In some parts of the country eggs and brains are considered a delicacy so there for a sell able commodity.)  This leaves me with the frontal facial bones with meat and skin as well as ears of a pig.

After the viscera has been cleaned, the head is placed in a large pot with water and wine.  Several  recipes suggest that the head boil for 1-2 hours or until soft and loosened from the meat of the face.  I had to add lib this part as I had no pots big enough to accommodate even ½ a pig head with snout.  I had to remove the facial skin (including upper nasal bone).  This is a picture showing the removal of the facial skin starting from the outer edges of the head bones.

peeling side of skin

As for boiling the facial skin, the first time I did this I realized that this was a mistake.  Don’t boil the skin.

Separate the skin from the head with a good serrated knife.

freshly peeled

The boiling of the head is to cook the meat from the bones.  When the facial skin is cooked, the skin and underlying tissue (fat and meat) is rendered butter soft.  What this means is that the skin will not take any stitching required to repair the rents left from the butcher.


A close up of the skin being stitched.  This is using a regular needle and quilting thread.  I broke two regular needles, because the skin is extremely tough, so  suggest the use of a heavy duty embroider needle instead.  Linen thread was probably the most used in period; however quilting thread will do in a pinch.

My second attempt, the facial skin was brined as suggested in the English Royal Cookbook, instead of cooked.  Now this brining only happened for 36 hours.  It is recommended that the skin rest in a brine for 4-5 days.  The 36 hours brining worked really well for me.   I will leave this to the cook’s discretion on how much time to leave a face in brine for.

face in brine

This softens the skin (only a little), more importantly though the brine imparts a nice  flavor to the skin, which is then imparted to the inner layers when cooked.

The head bones were boiled in wine and water for 2 hours then allowed to cool for another 3 hours rendering the meat extremely tender and flavorful.

Once the meat on the head bones had been thoroughly cooked, the meat was cleaned and placed in a separate bowl.  A beef tongue was also cooked during this time as both Castlearcana and Craig’s recipes call for tongue, though Castlearcana’s recipe states ox tongue so a small compromise had to be done.

cooked whole tongue

The beef tongue is boiled for 2 hours then the outer skin is peeled and the attaching tongue ligaments are removed.   The tongue is cut into small cubes and put with the pork meat.

diced tongue

The pieces should be about the size of a woman’s pinky tip.   The pieces of meat from the head, should be cut small as well.  the reason for the small diced pieces of meat is that a person taking a bit should get a variety of flavors, not just pork or tongue or fruit.

Walnuts, almonds and apples are chopped into small pieces then combined with raisins and spices as well as almonds and walnuts.  (Apricots and plums can be added to the mix as well)  The fruits and nuts are placed together in a separate bowl from the meat.

I chose to do the sweet as opposed to the savory.  The savory recipes listed sausages and sage as ingredients, both of which are on hand, however I prefer the sweet for pork.  What the variety in recipes tells me, between the sweet and the savory, that the cook was either instructed or decided upon himself which type of stuffed boars head he was going to present.


The fruit, nuts and spices are all combined into one large bowl, the meat from the head and tongue being held in another dish.  The brined face of the pig was rinsed thoroughly before using.

sewn skin

For cooking the pig head, either a large flat cooking pan (cookie sheet) or a large round baking dish can be used.  What ever choice is made, remember that the dish, once cooked can not be easily moved to a different serving medium.  I choose to use a large round baking dish.  This was lined with foil to reduce scorching to the dish.  In period, the head would have been cooked either by boiling after being trussed up in muslin, or on cooked on a flat tile/sheet depending on which recipe is used as a reference.

I layered the meat then the fruit/nut mixture about half way in the backing dish.  Once the layers were mounded into the center of the dish, I then carefully arranged the skin over the mound tucking the neck flap down the sides then stuffing meat and fruit into the lower jaw skin, eyes, and cheeks so that the face was completely filled.

The ears were covered in foil to keep from burning.

head w ear covers to be baked

In period, a couple of recipes note that the ears were covered in linen “bandages” then removed towards the end when baked.

A pear was placed in the mouth, after the head is stuffed, to help retain the shape of the lower jaw which has no bone, while cooking.  An apple would work just as well.

For a period boars head the skin at the back of the head would have been split after cooking with the bones being removed.  The back seam would have been re-stitched together then stuffed to be presented.  This is not available as complete pig heads are not readily acquired.  Allowances have been made to work with half heads and beef tongue opposed to a complete boar’s head and the tongue of an ox.

Cooking can be from 45 minutes.  The display needs to have a nice golden crispness while not being burnt.

head out of oven

The first time I cooked this, the skin came out dark brown as having been cooked for to long.   Keep an eye on the skin at all times so as to not over cook.  15-20 minutes before the head is to be removed from the oven, take off the foil covers on the ears to allow browning, though some browning will have occurred even with the foil “bandages”.


The eyes were covered with apricots while the open ear section was covered in walnuts.  I lined the side with alternating apricots and prunes for both decoration and to cover up the aluminum foil underneath.

head w apricots

The ears were propped up with skewers and the mouth stuffed with a pear.  (The skewers can be removed after cooking as the ears will stay upright more or less on their own at this point).   The pear is in the mouth to keep the shape.  The snot bones keep the upper snout in the correct shape, the bottom is boneless and needs some thing to keep the lower lip looking like a lower lip.

Around the head the recipes vary on displaying some suggested more meat and fruit, I choose to use rosemary sprigs which would have been available during winter time to complement the colors of the roasted head.

Candlemas pig


This dish requires a large amount of time and skill to do properly.  There can be no faint of heart when attempting this.  The sheer magnitude of removing both skin and meat in tact then replacing and then cooking is a feat worthy of the best chefs in period.  This dish could not be whipped up on the spur of the moment, but required at least a weeks worth of preparation for cooking, skinning, brining, re-sewing then the actual stuffing and cooking to present a worthy dish to the sovereign.

I did not enjoy doing this dish the first time.  I learned a lot from my first round of mistakes.  The second time was much easier, as I know knew the proportions required and the “cheat” of using a large cooking dish to help prop the head instead of relying on just the head shaped skin.  While the second time around was much easier, I do not plan on doing this dish again any time soon!


Craig, E., (1953). English Royal Cookbook. New York : Mauduit, V., (1934). The Viscomte in the Kitchen. Covici-Friede Publishers, NY. :  Friedman, D.,  From: The Cookbook of Sabina Welserin; 1553; :  Wilson, A., (1991)., Food and Drink in Britain From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson [Academy Chicago:Chicago] 1991 (p. 88-89)  (Foodtimeline) : Hansen, M., (1995). And Thus You Have  a Lordly Dish: Fancy and Showpiece Cookery in an Augsberg Patrician Kitchen. Medieval Food and Drink.  Bringhamton University: St. University of NY Press.