First Catch your Blackbird, Thrush, or………..Corncrake!

By Bernie Bell

Reading Dream Angus’ article in TON, about his father’s recipe for what looks like an exceptionally yummy fruit cake, and about how folk used to write down, or cut out recipes and squirrel them away ( do people still do that, or do they just read recipes from their Smartphone?) – sent me to my 1915 edition of ‘Mrs. Beeton’s All-About Cookery’.

Mrs Beeton All About Cookery Bell

I started looking through the book, and came across some recipes which include ingredients which would be very much frowned on today.

Blackbird Pie…

Blackbird pie Mrs Beeton Bell

“Average cost, uncertain, Blackbirds being seldom sold”!!!

Roasted Thrush…….

Roast thrush Mrs Beeton Bell

“Allow two to each person”

And, almost unbelievable these days – Corncrake , or, as they were also known, Landrail.  A recipe for Corncrake!!!

Mrs Beeton Bell

The idea of eating Blackbird, or Thrush, makes us wince now, but …Corncrake – rare – getting rarer, as described here…………..

Mrs Beeton’s All About Cookery from 1915 – different times, but not really that long ago, for a whole species to reduce so drastically, or even, as with some…..disappear.

I don’t think the Corncrake were reduced much by folk eating them – it’s more to do with habitat loss and farming methods – the modern world.

It’s an example of how something so readily available that it’s seen as a common enough foodstuff, not even a luxury item, can, through our carelessness, become endangered.

A recipe for Corncrake – a very strange idea, to us, now – and rightly so.

We’re fortunate, here on Orkney, to still provide a place for some of these rarer species to live, in a world where the habitat available to them is shrinking and shrinking.

And then, of course, there are the fish stocks. Cod used to be – cheap as chips. Now?

And back to Mrs Beeton’s book – an ad. near the end of the book, includes a mention of “Smoothing Irons”.

Mrs Beeton Bell

Does anyone remember smoothing irons? Heated at the fire – no temperature control – you had to know what you were doing, and use your senses, to make them work right.

And, does anyone remember the song about smoothing irons?

I remember my Mum doing washing in a ‘Dolly’ tub, using  ‘Dolly Blue’  My lord – ain’t I old!!!

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5 replies »

  1. Think you might have The Boys/Girls in Blue knocking at your door if you tried these recipes nowadays??? As for iron, I seem to remember a quick spit was the test???

  2. You’re right Charlie! I’d forgotten that – yes – when you thought it was ready, you spat on it. If it sizzled in a satisfactory manner – you were ready to start smoothin’.
    This is going to sound odd, but …the spit had to be right, too – not too slobbery, a nice, clean, straight – spit!
    Same with dropping a tiny bit of batter on a griddle.

    • Bernie, the old Scots word for your ‘griddle’ is called a ‘girdle’. Ah, the pancake test.

  3. From a purely gastronomic viewpoint, there’s no reason at all not to eat Blackbirds, thrushes, Corncrakes or Skylarks. It’s really no different from Golden Plover, Snipe or Woodcock all of which can be legally shot in the UK. In fact, Blackbirds in particular are far more numerous than these legal quarry species. Here’s a list of legal quarry (in season); Gadwall, Goldeneye, Mallard, Pintail, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Golden Plover, Snipe, Woodcock, Coot, Moorhen and four species of geese.

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