This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Hare (Lepus), as to its medicinal uses in whole, or parts, has been considered somewhat fully in Kitchen Physic. Here we may sum up its character generally on a consensus of evidence as "melancholy meat," bad for persons disposed to hypochondria, and sluggish liver. The Egpytians expressed a melancholy man by a hare sitting in her form. Lucretius attributed sadness to the influence of hares even amid nature's brightest surroundings.
"Medio de fonte leporum Surgit amari aliquid quod in ipsis floribus angat".
The poet Cowper (1780) whose lamentable fits of depression are on literary record, chose pet hares, Puss, Tiny, and Bess, wherewith to try and divert his mind.
"Never give way to melancholy," taught Sydney Smith, "resist it steadily, for the habit will encroach. I once gave a lady two and twenty recipes against melancholy: One was a bright fire; another to remember all the pleasant things said of and to her; another to keep a box of sugar-plums on the chimney piece, and a kettle simmering on the hob. I thought this mere trifling at the moment, but have in after life discovered how true it is that these little pleasures often banish melancholy better than higher and more exalted objects".
The flesh of a hare is such dry food that cooks have a saying, "A hare with twelve pennyworth of sauce is worth only a shilling".
Matthiolus prescribed hare's liver dried, and reduced to powder, as a specific for biliary derangements; this was anticipating the advanced scientific treatment now recognized of such disorders by an animal extract from the same healthy organ (of sheep, calf, etc.), as that at fault in the human subject. The iodine value, and drying property of hares' fat are remarkable, as showing the presence therein of an unsaturated acid. The hare was not eaten by the ancient Britons. Hippocrates forbade its use because thickening the blood, and causing wakefulness. None the less hare soup is a favourite English dish having some of the blood included. The proverbial phrase "first catch your hare" (before proceeding to cook it), was attributed to Mrs. Glasse in Dr. Johnson's time, this having actually been a misprint in her Cookery book, for "first case (or, skin) your hare".
The aphorism signifies that before disposing of a thing one should first make sure of possessing it. In Shakespeare's time there were several superstitions about the hare; its shape, and aspect were thought to be assumed frequently by witches; the blood was reputed to cure ringworm, a bone of the hind leg prevented cramp, the skin burnt to powder stanched blood, and the animal was believed to have taught men the medicinal virtues of the succory plant.
Under the Levitical law propounded by Moses the hare was prohibited as food for the Israelites because "he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, therefore he is unclean unto you".
Charles Lamb devoutly favoured roasted hare as delicious food. "Pheasants," said he, "are poor fowls dressed in fine feathers! but a hare! roasted hard and brown, with gravy and melted butter! "Old Mr. Chambers, the sensible clergyman in Warwickshire, used to allow a pound of Epping to every hare. Perhaps that was overdoing it! But in spite of the note of Philomel who reiterates every Spring her cuckoo cry of Jug-jug-jug, Elia pronounces that a hare to be truly palated must be roasted; jugging sophisticates her, whilst in our way it eats so "crips," as Mrs. Minikin, the cook, says. Nash tells in his Spring song for that season:-
"Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing, Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo".
"The ancients must have loved hares, else why adopt the word lepores, but for some subtle analogy between the delicate flavour of the creature and their finer relishes of wit in what we poorly translate pleasantries. In fact, how light of digestion we feel after a hare! How tender its processes after swallowing! What chyle it promotes! How etherial, as if its living celerity were a type of its nimble coursing through the animal juices! "
Incidentally elsewhere Lamb says that bullock's heart is a substitute for hare. Certain large hares in the United States are "Jackass rabbits." Sam Weller in Pickwick described a fidgety invalid as "A genlem'n of the precise and tidy sort who puts their feet in little India-rubber fire-buckets wen it's vet vether, and never has no other bosom friends but hare-skins." Piscator, in Izaak Walton's Compleat Angler, teaches Scholar "there are many country people that believe hares change sexes every year; and there be very many learned men think so too, for in their dissecting them they find many reasons to incline them to that belief".