My son and I were talking about the oddness of the English language and how many words can be spelled the same but pronounced and mean something different. He gave the example of ‘does’ – as in female deer, as in the third person present of the verb ‘to do’, and in such cords as hair-does. Here’s something I wrote a while ago about another word with two meanings, one of which you may not know: 

We lived in a flat as children and the elderly lady who owned the property, Aunty Gladys, lived upstairs. She was in conversation with my mum and mentioned that some meat she had was a little faint so she rubbed it with vinegar. The word faint has several different meanings or uses but I have never heard it used in this way since.

Faint can be used for a loss of consciousness, it can mean slight or hardly likely ‘a faint chance’ for example, or distant or hardly perceptible ‘a faint sound of singing’, or it can also mean lacking in enthusiasm; faintest can mean no idea – ‘I haven’t the faintest idea’, and, apparently coming from Middle English it can mean feeble or cowardly.

Aunty Gladys, however didn’t mean any of the above when she was referring to meat; she meant that it was on the verge of ‘going off’, it smelled ‘high’, it was getting towards being unfit for consumption. In the old days people were less squeamish and also less well-off and couldn’t necessarily afford to throw away expensive food such as meat. Aunty Gladys would rub her faint meat with vinegar to ether get rid of or disguise the smell and taste; in former times food would be highly spiced for exactly the same reason, and here is a recipe which dates from the 14th-15th century:

For 6-8 people:

  • 3 lbs lean pork cut into ½ cubes
  • a head of celery, chopped
  • 2 peeled, cored and chopped dessert apples
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 8 oz dried apricots, chopped
  • 6 oz dried stoned dates, chopped
  • 6 oz raisins
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 cloves garlic (seems rather a small amount for 3lbs of meat – I would add more!)
  • zest and juice of two lemons
  • 1 tsp each of marjoram, thyme, mace, cinnamon, black pepper, mild curry powder (I can’t find a recipe for Tudor curry powder but Eliza Acton gives 8 parts turmeric,four parts coriander seed, 2 parts each of cumin and fenugreek seeds, ½ part cayenne – more or less cayenne according to taste – this would make much more than is needed for this recipe but i think I would put in more than the recipe states anyway!)
  • ½ bottle cider
  • 1 oz seasoned flour (you may need more – it seems a small amount for 3 lbs of meat)
  • oil to fry
  • to garnish – 4 oz walnuts and 4 oranges, segmented with all skin and pith removed
  1. coat the meat with the flour and brown, transferring to a large oven-proof pot as it’s done
  2. fry the onion and celery in the same pan and add to the meat
  3. mix the dried fruit,herbs, spices,  and add to the pot
  4. add the juice, zest, cider, honey
  5. cover and cook in a slow oven for 3 hours, 300ºF, 150ºC, gas mark 2 (or if you have a slow setting on your oven cook it overnight)
  6. just before you are ready to serve, quickly toss the walnuts in a little butter in a pan over a high heat
  7. arrange the orange segments over the pork and scatter on the sizzling walnuts
  8. serve with rice or jacket potatoes

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