Thursday, July 20, 2006

The proper appreciation of sparrows.

Today, July 20th …

The New York Times ran an article on this day about the proper appreciation of sparrows:

English Sparrows are being properly appreciated. Hundreds of them are now caught by enterprising people for sale to certain restaurants where reed birds are in demand. A German woman on Third Avenue has three traps set every day, and she catches probably seventy five a week. They are cooked and served to her boarders the same as reed birds and are declared quite as great a delicacy. This German woman bastes them, leaving the little wooden skewer in the bird when served. They are cooked with a bit of bacon. She tempts them with oats, and after the catch they are fed a while with boiled oaten meal. She sprinkles oaten meal in the back yard also, and thereby fattens the free birds. … So soon as it becomes known that the Sparrow is a table bird their number will rapidly grow less.
People don't like to experiment, but when it is discovered that the Sparrow has been declared good by those upon whom they have been tried, no boarding house meal will be deemed in good form unless a dish of fat Sparrows adorns it. Sparrow pie is a delicacy fit to set before a king.

Sparrow pie has a reputation for making the eater sharp-witted, so perhaps the writer of this tongue-in-cheek article had partaken of it himself. In reality, sparrows have always been the survival choice in times of hardship and war, or the alternative bird when you have no reed-birds, or larks, or pigeons, as these historic recipes show:

Tourte of young pigeons.
Make a fine past, and let it reste, then take your young pigeons, cleanse them, and whiten them. If they are too big, cut them, and take gaudiveaux, sparagus, mushrums, bottomes of hartichocks, beef marrow, yolks of eggs, cardes, pallats of beef, troufles, verjuice of grapes, or goose-berries, garnish your tourte with whatever you have, not forgetting the seasoning, then serve. (The French Cook, 1653)


There is no mention of substitutes at this point, but suddenly, after a recipe for Tourte of Beatilles, the same author adds:

The tourte of sparrows is served like that of young pigeons with a white sauce.

Lark, or Sparrow Pye.
You must have five dozen at least; lay betwixt every one a Bit of Bacon as you do when you roast them, and a Leaf of Sage and a little Force-meat at the Bottom of your Crust; put on some Butter a top and lid it; when bak’d for one Hour, which will be sufficient, make a little thicken’d Gravy, put in the Juice of a Lemon; season with Pepper and Salt, so serve it hot and quick. (Charles Carter’s “City and Country Cook … “ 1736)

Tomorrow: Feasting with Hemingway.

Quotation for the Day …

I went to a restaurant that serves "breakfast at anytime". So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance. Steven Wright.

9 comments:

Sally said...

Sparrows?! Can you imagine having to pluck 5 doz. sparrows?! Sheesh.

The Old Foodie said...

Naturally, Sally, ones servants would do that job :-).

Sally said...

yes, and *I* would probably be that servant!

Beyond Bizzare said...

I can't imagine eating little bits of meat off the tiny frames of a sparrow. Seems to me the effort would outweigh the the consumption.
Thanks, but no thanks, let the little cridders live their lives
on the wing as intended.

halfadime7 said...

I've recently heard of an old Russian dish that puts a sparrow inside a potato prior to cooking (baked, I think). Would you happen to have a recipe for this?

Also, the sparrows aren't "plucked", but skinned.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello halfadime7. I dont know the russian idea, but it sounds interesting. There is this, which is a similar concept.

Larks in Shells.
Boil twelve Hen or Duck Eggs soft; take out all the Inside, making a handsome Round at the Top; then fill half the Shells with passed Crumbs, and roast your Larks; put one in every Shell, and fill your Plate with passed Crumbs brown; so serve as Eggs in Shells.

From: The lady's companion: or, an infallible guide to the fair sex. Containing, rules, directions, and observations, for their conduct and behaviour ... The second edition. London, 1740

Anonymous said...

In Portugal it happens that sparrows are very apreciated for centuries, and mostly by poor people, who can benefit from the abundance of these gratuit winged food.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello 'Anonymous' - have you ever eaten sparrows? I can appreciate that they would be useful food for poor people, but it must be an awful lot of work for a small amount of meat!

Kurt said...

They eat sparrow in Spain as well, or did back in the late 60's when I lived there. I've seen people trap them in empty urban lots in Madrid. Once I saw a plate of them piled in a pyramid in the window of a restaurant, looking all the world like toy thanksgiving turkeys.