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I have several “game” cookbooks in my collection, which I inherited as part of a large lot of cookbooks I purchased some time ago, however, I must admit that I don’t really gravitate to them, with their often brutal and lurid descriptions of butchering techniques. One of these is “The Master Book of Poultry & Game” by Henry Smith, published by Spring Books in London. The book is not dated, but research suggests it was published around 1950.
Now, on the frontispiece, Mr. Smith has a number of impressive credentials after his name: F.H.C.I., F.I.B.B., F.A.H.C.I., F.A.C.I and G.C.F.A. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate any explanations for these designations that might coincide with Mr. Smith’s publications. For example, F.A.C.I. could be either Fellow of the American Concrete Institute, or Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance, but I suspect that Mr. Smith was not affiliated with either of these organizations. That is, however, pure speculation on my part.
Mr. Smith, unfortunately, goes on at some length about starving, killing, hanging and how to determine if a bird is “home killed“. Suffice it to say, this book is not high on my list of admirable cookbooks. What startled (not “starling“) me was the incredible list of birds and other game the English were eating at the time the book was published (and, perhaps, still are).
Some of the names were completely unfamiliar to me: I had never heard of a Capercailzie or a Corncrake, nor have I ever discussed the merits of Fig-Birds or Landrails with my colleagues.
I cannot even picture a Lapwing, a Rail or a Wheatear, and I can only guess that a Widgeon must be a distant relative of the Widget.
Recipes in the book include: Badger Pie, Fried Blackbird, Wood Pigeon Casserole, Roast Cormorant and Roasted Cygnet (swan).
Not to mention Brochette of Fig-pecker, Heron Pudding, Roast Peacock, Snipe a la Minute, and Fried Squirrel.
Now, if none of these tickles your fancy (that might be a bird, as well!), there is always Roast Thrush, Haunch of Veal, Devilled Woodcock or Ortolan Perigourdine.
Even at the time this book was written, the author has described the Ortolan as “…almost extinct in these islands“. He further points out that they were netted in large numbers in some European countries, “….then kept alive in darkened rooms and fattened on oats and millet”.
Current information suggests that although being declared an endangered species for some time now, many individuals continue to capture them and subject them to horrible cruelties before devouring them. Typically, they are drowned in a vat of Armagnac and eaten whole, bones, beak and all. The diner puts a large napkin over his head, allegedly to “…keep in all the aromas of the dish”, but it is more likely to avoid being caught eating the endangered ortolan. This does not sit well with me at all. A pox be on these tormentors!