Monday, December 12, 2005

First catch your cockatoo.

Today, December 12 …

An Australian Christmas theme today, by popular request. We have met Ludwig Leichhardt before, on his overland expedition across the continent. Ludwig was very mindful of maintaining morale amongst his men, and always attempted to mark special days, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

On this day in 1844 he wrote:

Our meat was all consumed; but we wished to reserve our bullocks for Christmas, which was, in every one of us, so intimately associated with recollections of happy days and merriment, that I was determined to make the coming season as merry as our circumstances permitted.

A few days later, he decided to take advantage of the good weather and killed the beast early. While the flesh was drying, he and several of his party went off on a reconnoitering expedition. When they returned on Christmas Day his companions were just sitting down to their Christmas dinner of “suet pudding and stewed cockatoos”.

Parrots and cockatoos were a common bush food for early explorers and settlers, with varying degrees of enthusiasm: “Parrot-pie is as much esteemed in Australia as rook-pie in England” – which gives you some idea of the esteem level. More likely it was felt that “Parrot pie is pretty good; at least, it may be so when other animal food is scarce”. Parrot stew became a bush joke, with many variations of the recipe “take a parrot and an axe-head, boil them until the axe-head is tender, throw the parrot away and eat the axe-head.”

Very oddly, later editions of Mrs. Beeton (after her death in 1869) had chapters on “General Observations on Australian Cookery”, no doubt on the assumption that copies would be taken to the colonies, which they were.

Parrot Pie
Ingredients: 1 doz. paraqueets, a few slices of beef (underdone cold beef is best for this purpose), 4 rashers of bacon, 3 hard-boiled eggs, minced parsley and lemon peel, pepper and salt, stock, puff-paste.
Mode: Line a pie-dish with the beef cut into slices, over them place 6 of the paraqueets, dredge with flour, fill up the spaces with the egg cut in slices and scatter over the seasoning. Next put in the bacon, cut in small strips, then 6 paraqueets and fill up with the beef, seasoning all well. Pour in stock or water to nearly fill the dish, cover with puff-paste and bake for one hour.

Tomorrow: Minding the belly.

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