Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Tasting "Tripe de Roche" at Mystic

Photo courtesy Peter Carney
One of the highlights of our time at the "Franklin Lost and Found" event at Mystic took place a bit out of the public eye, in the upstairs area that served as a sort of 'green room' for the speakers. There, thanks to the inestimable Arctic author (and mycologist)  Lawrence Millman, a serving of genuine tripe de roche -- rock tripe -- was available. As those who've studied Franklin know all too well, this humble lichen was, for the final weeks of his disastrous first land expedition, one of the few reliably available foods. As Franklin described it in his Narrative:
The tripe de roche, even where we got enough, only served to allay the pangs of hunger for a short time ... this unpalatable weed was now quite nauseous to the whole party, and in several it produced bowel complaints. Mr. Hood was the greatest sufferer from this cause.
Species of tripe de roche, after Richardson
Hood's sufferings, according to Millman, may well have had to do with the fact that the Franklin party didn't always boil its tripe de roche; when eaten raw, it contains an enzyme -- employed to help dissolve the uppermost layer of the rock surface -- which can cause intense intestinal discomfort and diarrrhoea. Thankfully, the samples I tasted -- both of a North American and Japanese species -- had been cooked in advance. As to their taste, I would say this: imagine that, by some magic, a piece of textured silk or rayon fabric were to be rendered soft and edible -- that is the texture, but taste there is none. Apparently, the texture alone makes it specially prized by the Japanese, who treat it, like tofu, by adding various flavors.

In fact, as to boiling, there are relatively few references to it in any part of Franklin's account. They boiled all sorts of other things -- deer bones, bear paws, buffalo robes, "iceland moss," and of course shoe leather -- but of the 25 appearances of the word "boil" in the text, only three refer to tripe de roche! In their last extremity, they were too weak to leave the "fort," or even drag out the bodies of their dead companions -- and so of course the boiling of anything was quite impossible. If only they had known, they might have saved themselves a tremendous amount of discomfort, and perhaps even poor Hood might have been in better health, and able to prevent his apparent murder by Michel Terrehaute, which seems to have been a crime of opportunity, by all accounts. I'm glad that, from now on, I can speak from experience as to the perfectly healthful -- if not especially tasty -- experience of eating it.


  1. Ah, Dr. Russell- you tasted it! Cross it off your bucket list. 😀

  2. Apart from the cooking to avoid health problems of the Tripe de Roche (very interesting information), did Lawrence Millman have any information on its nutritional value ?