Parrot Pie for Paranormal Picnics

Only the pause of a train in their sleepy station lured the inhabitants of Woodend, Australia from their homes to consider the faces of passengers en route to larger cities. Not that Woodend lacked attractions; quite the contrary. Standing some 1,850 feet above sea level, the town enjoyed a climate moderate enough to recommend it as an attractive summer destination. Its eucalyptus forests hid within them health resorts and mineral springs. Its rich volcanic soil, the color of chocolate, made it a thriving agricultural district that trafficked in root vegetables, raspberries and currants. Its winds, which blew wholesome and tranquil, cooled those travelers disembarking at Woodend to eat, rest and recover their nerves.

Many also came to see an unusual prehistoric landmark, Hanging Rock. It sits five miles outside of town and rises 400 feet above the surrounding countryside. Narrow paths winding along slanted sides bring intrepid climbers to a flat summit strewn with huge boulders bearing such names as Whale’s Mouth and Alligator’s Jaw.  The summit affords an excellent view of the rich farmsteads stretching toward distant towns, which no doubt explains why picnicking among the megaliths remains a favorite way of beguiling a lazy summer Sunday.

One such outing serves as the subject of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, The Picnic at Hanging Rock. A group of girls from exclusive Appleyard College take a trip to this famous formation on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day, 1900. There they nibble sandwiches and sunbathe. After lunch, four of the girls ask to go exploring. Granted permission, they wander off. A few hours later, only one of them returns. Hysterical and dumbstruck, she cannot recall what befell her friends, who have seemingly vanished without a trace. And so the mystery begins….

To discover what happened to those inquisitive young ladies that bright February afternoon, you’ll have to read Lindsay’s book – which you can enjoy with a slice of parrot pie prepared according to a recipe  in The Book of Household Management (1888). This Australian picnic dish does equally well without its main ingredient.

Australian Parrot Pie

Ingredients.—1 dozen paraqueets, a few slices of beef (underdone, cold
beef is best for this purpose), 4 rashers of bacon, 3 hard-boiled eggs, minced parsley and lemon-peel, pepper and salt, stock, puff-paste.

Mode.—Line a pie-dish with the beef cut into slices, over them place 6 of the paraqueets, dredge with flour, fill up the spaces with the egg cut in slices and scatter over the seasoning. Next put the bacon, cut in small strips, then the beef, seasoning all well. Pour in 6 paraqueets and fill up with stock or water to nearly fill the dish, cover with puff-paste, and bake for 1 hour.

Time.—1 hour.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Seasonable at any time.

Lobster à la Robinson

Kinsmen shipwrecked in the East Indies become means by which to impart the virtues of proper husbandry, self-reliance and thorough knowledge of the natural world – such is the conceit of the pastor Johann David Wyss’s 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson. As much a child of the Enlightenment as a man of the cloth, Wyss presents his subjects’ exploits as a series of lessons in morality, natural history and the physical sciences. An ostrich tamed is transformed into transport, soil into earthen vessels. The heteroclite character of the island – elephants cavort with kangaroos, tapirs with giraffes; coconut palms grow side-by-side with fir trees – perplexes not the resourceful Swiss family; they draw from it nourishment, entertainment and comfort, as well as valuable insight.

Even a contretemps with a cantankerous crustacean proves instructive. While wading in a pool, the third eldest Robinson son Jack, a spirited boy, steps on a lobster, who retaliates in the only way available to it. Caught in its “terrible powerful claws,” Jack suffers a “terrible fright.” The ensuing commotion draws to the scene Jack’s father, who frees his son from the lobster’s grip and brings the offending creature to shore. Jack angrily grips the creature, who, by now exasperated, again retaliates with a sharp blow with its tail. Its reward is to be flung down and crushed with a stone.

Robinson père looks on with anything but approval. “You are acting in a very childish way,” he tells Jack, adding that to “strike an enemy in a revengeful spirit” is unwise policy. His reproof falls on deaf ears, however. Too caught up with his triumph, Jack rushes his shattered adversary home to his mother, who in a spirit of strict domestic economy tosses it into a soup kettle simmering nearby.

The absence of an enemy to vanquish need not mean an empty stock pot. In her delightful volume, The Storybook Cookbook (1967), Carol MacGregor assures her readers that you “don’t need to catch your own lobster, but you can make this delicious seaside soup” using the eminently sensible canned kind.

Lobster Soup

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
A dash of pepper
1 1/2 cups light cream
1/2 cup milk
10 oz. of canned lobster
Red coloring (optional)

1. Put a medium-sized saucepan on the stove and turn the heat on low. Melt the butter in the pan, but do not let it burn.

2. Add the flour, salt, and pepper to the butter. Stir over low heat until you have a paste.

3. Gradually add the cream and milk, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. You may have to turn up the heat a little to thicken the sauce.

4. Open the can of lobster meat and drain off all the liquid. Break the lobster into pieces, and be sure there are no little scales in it. Add it to the cream sauce and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Place a sieve over a medium-sized bowl and pour the lobster bisque into the sieve. With a spoon, press as much of the sauce and lobster meat as you can through the sieve. Discard the remaining lobster meat or feed it to your cat.

6. If you want to, add 2 drops of red coloring to give the soup a nice pink color.

7. Pour the bisque back into the saucepan and reheat it, as it will have cooled off. Serve it hot. Makes 4 servings.