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.

The Mighty and the Offal: Humble Pie

Some carried long bows and forked arrows; others harquebusses, muskets and Lochaber axes. They wore thin-soled shoes, tartan hose, knotted handkerchiefs, sky-blue caps, and garters fashioned from wreathes of straw. Thus equipped and adorned, they, the Irish nobility of Braemar, ventured into the Highland countries to hunt deer.

Numbering fourteen or fifteen hundred, these noble hunters would rise with the sun to consult on the particulars of the day’s enterprise. After deciding the best place to herd their quarry, they dispersed in all directions. Sixteenth-century Londoner John Taylor,  ferryman by trade and chronicler by avocation, relates the details of one such hunting party. The participants were intrepid. No obstacle proves too formidable to overcome. They waded “up to their middles through bournes and rivers” in search of cover. Upon a signal from scouts charged with spotting game, the “tinchel,” or circle of sportsmen, would close in, driving the startled ruminants toward other hunters lying in wait, who greeted them with hundreds of snapping Irish greyhounds and scores of “arrows, dirks and daggers.” In less than two hours’ time “fourscore fat deer were slain” for the noble hunters “to make merry withal.”

The choice cuts of venison went to high-born hunters and were baked into a pastry served on the manor lord’s dais. Seated lower because a few rungs down on the social ladder, the master of the hunt and his fellows received their due in the form of a pie containing the heart, liver and other inward parts of the deer. Known colloquially as “humbles,” “umbels” or “numbles,” these ingredients have since come to be associated with acts of mortification and obeisance. An old saying goes, “Whence, as the haunch and neck were for ‘Lordings’ and the umbles … for the yeoman.”

Victorian writer George Augustus Sala insists, however, that humble pie’s reputation is wholly unearned. “He who first decried Humble Pie, and libelled it as a mean and shabby kind of victuals,” he observes in his 1862 tome The Seven Sons of Mammon, “was very probably some envious one who came late to the feast, and of the succulent pasty found only the pie-dish and some brown flakes of crust remaining.”
If you wish to secure yourself a piece of savory humble pie, the recipe below, which also appears in Sala’s work, should, despite its fragmentary character, spare you any unwarranted culinary humiliation.
Humble Pie
“Take the humbles of a deer,” says the recipe, – you see, there is venison for you to begin with, – and then it goes on to enumerate slices of bacon, condiments, buttered crust, and so forth.

Mutton-Loving Mountain Parrots of New Zealand

A parrot that favors mutton? Seems like the stuff of fable. Unfortunately for New Zealand farmers, the kea, or mountain parrot, was all too real. An 1882 edition of Littell’s Living Age reports on a “carnivorous parrot, whose love of animal flesh manifests itself in a very decided predilection for mutton.” Living high in wooded glens and recesses, this avian marauder is nocturnal, striking out only at night to nosh sheeps’ tenderest bits, the fat surrounding their kidneys.

The mountain parrot inflicts wounds of most astonishing cruelty, leaving “the poor animals to linger on or die in excruciating agony.” Yet it once was a peace-loving fructarian. The Maori knew it as “innocent and harmless in its habits, as respects its food.” It was not until higher tracts of country were colonized by early settlers and transformed into pasturage that the once mild-mannered mountain parrot’s tastes began to incline to the ovine. The farmers noticed that “many sheep were suffering from sores or scars, more or less recent, on the back, immediately in front of the hips.” And these winged creatures were in their discernment veritable gourmets, preying only on those animals in the “best condition.”

The factors that made this erstwhile herbivore turn hunter remain one of history’s mysteries. Some speculate that severe winters forced it to search for food among the sheep stations. Whatever the reason, the New Zealand kea evolved into an “altogether a remarkable and curious bird” whose “vegetarian tastes seem almost completely eradicated, for it will not touch bread, though it likes the seed of sow thistle.”

Should harsh conditions saddle you with a hankering for a hunk of ewe, try this recipe for minced mutton and cucumber from the 1865 cookbook What to Do with the Cold Mutton: A Book of Réchauffés.

Minced Mutton with Cucumber

Mince rather small as much cold roast or boiled mutton as you require, freeing it from skin and sinew. Pare a large-sized cucumber, take out the seeds, and cut it up into pieces about half an inch square; stew them in a little savory brown sauce, and, when tender, add the minced mutton and a little thickening if needed; let the mutton heat through, stirring well to mix thoroughly with the cucumber, and serve it piled high on a dish with neatly-cut pieces of fried bread round it.

Horse-Meat Sauerbraten for Fun and Profit

Serve an American horse-meat and you’ll be ushered out of the kitchen and into a psychiatric institution, no doubt. But serve it to some Central Europeans or Asians and you’ll find yourself praised for your culinary discernment. In his 1859 compendium The Curiosities of Food, Peter Lund Simmonds writes that the “ancient Germans and Scandinavians had a marked liking for horse-flesh. The nomadic tribes of Northern Asia make horse-flesh their favoritie food. It has long been authorized and publicly sold in Copenhagen.”

Simmonds numbers himself among the admirers of horse flesh. He finds the consumption of this purportedly tender, succulent meat quite sensible, even economical. “With the high ruling prices of butcher’s meat, what think you, gentlemen and housekeepers, of horse-flesh as a substitute for beef and mutton?” Horse-bone soups provide more nutrition than their more humdrum bovine equivalent. And if nutritional value weren’t persuasive enough, there’s always monetary value. National consumption of horse flesh, Simmonds opines, would allow more materially-minded folk the chance to make a profit off of old, worn-out nags otherwise sold cheaply as material for glue and grease. He goes so far as to agree with an economically-minded Parisian correspondent who wrote that “8,000 horses die, it is said, in New York annually, or about 22 per day … but instead of fetching 17 or 18 dollars to press the carcass for grease, and to feed the hogs on to make pork for export, the price will be greatly enhanced for meat for home consumption.”

These unusual merits notwithstanding, peddling horse meat to the English housewife proves a tough sell. “These facts are at all events curious,” Simmonds writes. “Think of the prejudices to be overcome, and think how unreasoning is the stomach!”

If  the idea of noshing a tender bit of the old bob-tailed nag intrigues you, try this recipe for horse-meat sauerbraten from the 1906 Kochbuch für Haushaltungsschulen (Cookbook for Domestic Science Schools). It makes a main course that’s sure to have you and your dinner guests chomping at the bit.

Sauerbraten von Pferdefleisch (Horse-Meat Sauerbraten)

1 kg horse meat
15 grams flour
40 grams onions, 1 bay leaf
80 grams fat
3/8 liter beer vinegar [can substitute wine vinegar]
3/8 liter water

Wash the meat and place in a heavy stoneware pot with the bay leaf and 8-10 peppercorns. In a seperate pot, heat the vinegar and water and, once hot, pour over the meat. Cover the pot with a towel and place in an airy, cool spot [or the refrigerator]. If the meat isn’t covered by the vinegar water, you must turn the meat every day to ensure all surfaces remain moist. In summer the meat can stand for 3-4 days, in winter 7-8 days. When the meat is ready, heat the fat in a deep, cast iron pot; place the meat in it and brown on all sides. Then sprinkle the meat with flour, brown a little, add some salt and the chopped onion. Then add so much water so that the meat is half submerged and cover the pot, letting it stew for 2-3 hours. After half the time has passed, turn the meat and add more water if necessary. When the meat is ready, take out of the broth, add cold water in which flour has been dissolved to the broth and cook the sauce until thick. Serve it with the sliced meat.

Ham Sandwiches for Homebound Hilarity

In his 1912 essay “The Wildness of Domesticity” G.K. Chesterton lauds the humble home as “the only place of liberty.” “It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements, suddenly make an experiment or indulge in a whim,” he writes.

For its part, the wider world suffers neither experiment nor whim gladly. Indeed, everywhere else a man ventures “he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter.” In his own home, on the other hand, he “can eat his meals on the floor … if he likes.”

Chesterton admits to being quite a fan of eating on the floor, a caprice which gives him “a curious, childish, poetic, picnic feeling.” Doing so in an A.B.C. teashop, he remarks, would cause “considerable trouble.”

But eating on the floor is not the only pleasure afforded by simple domesticity. Chesterton writes that for the impoverished innumerable are the pleasures of home. The man who refuses to stay home cannot caper about in”dressing-gown and slipper.” And though he claims to live an exciting, “irregular life,” he spends “every night staggering from bar to bar or from music-hall to music-hall.” Such habits, Chesterton continues, bespeak rather of  “a highly regular life, under the dull, often oppressive, laws of such places,” because the domestically disinclined man cannot sing in the music halls and “sometimes … is not allowed even to sit down in the bars.” Hotels are places where he is “forced to dress” and theaters sites where he is “forbidden to smoke.” When dining out he feel obliged “to drink some of the wines on the wine list” no matter how reluctant he might be to tipple.

The man free enough to own a house and garden, no matter how modest, can drink what he wishes. Surrounded by comfort only domesticity affords, he “can try to make hollyhock tea or convolvulus wine,” and he can drink both, dressed in nothing but his dressing gown and slippers, sitting on the floor in complete, blissful abandon.

Should you also confess to having a homebody’s humor, this recipe for ham sandwiches tartare from the 1915 cookbook One Hundred Picnic Suggestions will make the perfect complement to a kitchen-floor caprice. Serve them with homemade hollyhock tea — or convolvulus wine if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.

Ham Sandwiches Tartare

Add to 1/2 cup of mayonnaise or boiled dressing 1 tbsp. of tarragon vinegar, teasp. mustard and 1 tbsp. each of minced parsley, capers, gherkins, olives, and chives or onion, and 2 tbsps. of chopped fresh tomato, squeezed dry. Add finely minced ham and spread on buttered bread. Cover with nasturtium blossoms or watercress, cover with the bread, and wrap in waxed paper.

A Finnish Meal on the Go: The Meat Rooster

Written at the suggestion of an English bookseller in St. Petersburg, Harry De Windt’s 1901 travel guide Finland as It Is relates tales of adventure and peril in the titular country’s vast, wild expanses. Tired of shopworn travel guides, the St. Petersburg bookseller asked De Windt to write something that would do justice to the mystique of the land of a thousand lakes. “During the summer season,” the bookseller lamented, “I am pestered every day for books upon Finland. But what am I to do? There are none in the market…. Why don’t you write your experiences? Tell people in England and America how to get to Finland, and how to travel through it as pleasantly and as cheaply as possible, and I will answer for the sale of the book — at any rate in Petersburg.”

De Windt accepted the bookseller’s proposition and wrote an entertaining and unorthodox account of Finland for the enterprising traveler. The land is untamed and at times proves daunting for the uninitiated, he writes. But, he adds, a tour of Finland “can easily be accomplished by the most delicate invalid of either sex.” De Windt offers himself as the trusty guide for souls weak and strong. He lays out the train tables, details the best inns and dedicates an entire chapter to Finland’s dairy industry, which supplies Russia, England and Germany with butter.

Though De Windt spends little time discussing Finnish cuisine in detail, he does mention his more memorable meals and offers a few words of warning. He recounts enjoying a delightful repast of “freshly caught trout” and “wild strawberries and iced junket” at a Finnish dairy. He advises travelers to avoid some of the smaller villages, where the diet consists of “seal-meat, salt fish, bread and milk,” and especially warns against a special delicacy eaten with gusto in Southern Finland, an odoriferous mixture “composed of seal-oil and the entrails of sea birds.”

De Windt details many a charming and unique Finnish repast, but nowhere does he mention the delightful Finnish meat rooster, an interesting bread packet of meat and vegetables left overnight to mellow (or “hatch,” as Finns say).

In her 1974 cookbook Natural Cooking the Finnish Way Ulla Kèakèonen presents recipes for meat, fish and turnip roosters, which are a speciality of the Middle Finland province of Savo. Roosters are “hearty food,” she writes, “an early form of canned food, and as that are very practical from an ecological point of view. The can — the thick rye crust — is eaten along with the filling.” These tasty containers of meat and fish “were often taken as provisions for long journeys, especially when one went to work in the woods or on faraway fields.” Today the rooster is eaten mainly for its robust and savory piquancy, but its durable and edible shell and nourishing contents make it the perfect meal for a camping or hiking trip.

Finnish Meat Rooster

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
4 1/2-5 cups rye flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1 lb beef, sliced (meat used for stews is fine)
1/2-3/4 lb pork, sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add 2 cups rye flour, beat well. Cover, and put the bowl in a warm place; let stand overnight to ferment.

Next day, add the salt and the rest of the rye flour, to make a firm but pliable dough. Knead on a floured board. With wet hands, form a ball, and flatten it out to an oval that’s about 1 inch thick. Sprinkle the center with some rye flour, leaving about 6 inches empty at the sides.

In the middle, arrange a layer of beef, sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with pork, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and repeat. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Fold the edges over the filling, to make an oval, football-shaped pie. Seal the seams well with water, so that the juices cannot escape. Brush with a mixture of butter and water. (If the edges aren’t sealed properly and the juices do escape, the rooster is said “to sing.”) Put the rooster on a greased baking pan, and bake 1 1/2 hours.

Lower the heat to 300 degrees F. Wrap the rooster in foil, and bake 1 1/2 more hours. Turn the oven off. Wrap the foil package in a thick layer of newspapers, and put back in the oven. Let hatch several hours, preferably overnight. This hatching will soften the crust.

If served for dinner, the rooster is placed on a plate. A lid is cut off. Scoop the insides onto your plate, and cut a wedge of the crust to be eaten as bread. As a snack, or if you want to save part of the rooster, cut into slices like bread. This is a robust meal; accompany it with a cucumber salad, nothing more.

Servings: 6 to 8 as a main course.

Bettina’s Spanish Lamb and Cottage Pie

  “Making the Most of the Meat,” a chapter in Louise Bennett Weaver’s and Helen Cowles Le Cron’s whimsical 1922 tome A Thousand Ways to Please a Family with Bettina’s Best Recipes, begins with a complaint one housewife, Ruth, makes to another, Bettina:

“Oh, dear,” sighed Ruth, taking off her hat and leaning back against Bettina’s cushioned armchair, “I’ve just paid my meat-bill for last month, and it certainly did bite a chunk out of my housekeeping allowance! But I don’t know what to do about it. Fred is like most men and wants meat for one meal at least six days of the week. And that costs money!”

What to make of a man for whom meat is a most serious matter? Weaver and Le Cron present Ruth’s remarks as exemplifying an all-too-common household quandary. Fortunately, ever resourceful Bettina has the answer.

Indeed, Bettina has the answer to nearly every quandary faced by the harried housewife. From the pitfalls of the “October dinner table” to the dangers of “Canning Day,” Bettina comes to the rescue with grace and aplomb. The book’s dedication sings the praises of its quick-witted heroine:

To busy mothers everywhere
With families to please, —
With countless joys and griefs to share,
And little time for ease, —
We offer, as a truce to care,
Bettina’s Recipes!

Not even a meat-hungry husband can stymie the unflappable Bettina. She asks her disheartened friend, “Do you always make the most of every bit of meat you buy?” Ruth replies that her fickle Fred is tired of her “crisp brown hash” and laments, “I wish I knew some other ways of using up the Sunday roast.”

Bettina suggests a “meat and vegetable stew” as a break from routine. “We like that very much,” she adds. “I just reheat the left-over gravy, or if necessary, make new brown-sauce. Then when it’s boiling hot, I add bits of my left-over meat — beef, lamb or veal … and the same quantity of pared and sliced potatoes, and of course a little onion for flavoring. If I happen to have them. I sometimes add carrots or turnips and let everything cook together.” Bettina assures Ruth that “such a stew if really delicious — nothing better in cold weather when you have a good appetite.”

Ruth warms to the idea of vegetable stew. It sounds to her like something her husband would enjoy. Bettina once again defeats another devilishly difficult domestic dilemma. She advises her readers that “where there’s a single scrap left there is always a use for it, so don’t ever discard it.”

With that helpful advice in mind, you might try this recipe for Bettina’s Spanish Lamb. If you have any leftovers, you can use them to make Bettina’s Cottage Pie. Both recipes are sure to satisfy even the most carnivorous hankerings of hungry husbands.

Bettina’s Spanish Lamb

Three tablespoons butter
Two tablespoons chopped onion
Two tablespoons chopped green pepper
One cup cooked rice
One and one-half cups canned tomatoes
Two teaspoons salt
One-half teaspoon paprika
One-fourth teaspoon celery salt
One and one-half cups chopped cooked lamb

Place the butter in a frying pan. When hot, add the onion and green pepper and cook until well browned. Add the rice and allow to brown. Stir constantly with a spoon. Add the tomatoes, salt, paprika, celery salt and lamb. Cook slowly until the mixture is thick and well mixed. Serve.

Bettina’s Cottage Pie

Two cups chopped cooked meat
One cup gravy
One-half cup milk
One teaspoon salt
Two cups mashed potatoes
Two tablespoons melted butter or meat drippings

Line a buttered baking-dish with the mashed potatoes, leaving one-third of the potatoes for the top. Mix the lmeat, gravy, milk, and salt, and place on the potatoes in the lined dish. Flatten out the rest of the potatoes and place on top. Pour the melted butter over the top, and bake in a moderate oven for thirty minutes. (Have the meat cut in one-inch pieces, no smaller. The potatoes may be left-over ones. If they are too hard to handle, add a little milk and place in a double boiler over the fire until warm. Then they will be soft enough to mash down easily.)