Friday, February 10, 2012

Blackbird Pie

Cooks do not necessarily have the reputation as humorists. Rather, they are Generals in the kitchen, preparing meals as if engaging in battle. After all, it is no laughing matter if something goes wrong.

History is littered nevertheless with the jolly japes thought up by chefs (perhaps at their master’s behest) with which to entertain guests. These mostly involved the element of surprise — the more improbable and technically difficult to accomplish the better. Notable among these was the sudden flight of birds from a pie, a trick that conjures up black magic, the ability to defy death against all odds.

In 1744, this was celebrated in a folk song we still sing today, delighting children by pinching their noses at the end. Try actually serving a pie filled with live birds however, and you’re likely to run afoul (or afowl) of many things — chief among them your guests and good taste.

The traditional pie bird echoes this song. It is placed in a pie, poking its ceramic head up through the crust in order to let steam escape through the hole in its mouth.

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlor,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.

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