In a post several years ago I gave the list of the top ten forgotten British foods, as decided by a competition run in 2006 by the Guild of Fine Food Retailers. Top of the list were ‘Bath Chaps’ (Pigs’ Cheeks), so naturally I included a recipe for this delicacy in the post. At the time, I intended to work my way through the list, and find a recipe for every dish. I was one ahead - Robert May's Grand Sallet had already appeared here, so there were eight to go. Here I am, however, three years later, having made no additions to date. Today I want to redress the balance a little by sharing some Rook Pie with you – but first, to refresh your memory, here is the list:
1.‘Eadles’ Bath Chaps
2. Mrs Grieve’s Fish Custard
3. Mrs Langland’s Faggots
4. Grey Squirrel Casserole
5. Rook Pie
6. Rabbit with Prunes
7. Fife Brooth
8. Roman Pie
9. 16th C Pancakes
10. A GrandSallet (from Robert Mays’ cookbook of the 17th C)
Rook pie seems like an unlikely addition to this list, because a dish has to be popular or noteworthy at some point in time in order to be noteworthy when it is forgotten, doesn’t it? As far as I can make out, rook pie was a dish of necessity, eaten by the industrious poor who had to bag their birds first - the idle rich filling their crusts with pigeon or venison. The only time that rook pie perhaps took on a more important role was during wartime, when other meat was scarce, and even then there was some prejudice to be overcome on account of the confusion of rooks with crows. Unlike rooks, crows eat carrion, and there is a widespread taboo amongst humans including carrion-eaters in their own diets.
The temporary interest in rook pie (which some correspondents insisted was ‘as good if not better than pigeon pie’) during wartime rationing led to a flurry of letters on the topic to newspapers. The following letter from a correspondent to The Times in April 1940 was in response to a request for the recipe.
May I answer Mrs. Jessop-Hulton? “My mother used to make rook pie in the following manner, and it was very good:- Use only the breast and legs of the bird, as the other parts are very bitter and unsuitable for eating. Fill the piedish with layers of breast and legs with hard-boiled eggs and a little fat bacon. Well season with pepper and salt. Cover with a good crust of pastry, and cook well in a moderate oven.
Miss H. Brown, 27, Peppard Road, Caversham, Reading.
Quotation for the Day.
Hunting is now to most of us a game, whose relish seems based upon some mystic remembrance, in the blood, of ancient days when to hunter as well as hunted it was a matter of life and death.
Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage (1935)