We have all heard the nursery rhyme:
Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh 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 parlour eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
So I decided to actually do it! I mean – who wouldn’t?
Supposedly, “baking” live birds into a pie is supposed to be one way of honoring a guest while at the same time showing off a cook’s skill.
And, of course, my EGO just had to do it.
First, I needed to get some blackbirds but how to catch them. They can be kind of tricky.
You thought I was kidding? Hell, no! I was going to make a blackbird pie to startle and amaze.
You would be surprised at what birdseed will let you attract. It only took about 30 minutes to corral a chirping, tweeting mess of avian goodness.
And, six or seven squirrels.
And, a couple of cats.
And what appeared to be a constipated poodle.
The actual catching of the birds was another process entirely, however. I am many things but graceful is not one of them. Jumping out from behind a bush, I immediately wrapped the weighted net around my own knees and tripped – startling all of the birds into flying off and lovingly frosting me with bird shit at the same time.
The trapping took three days but I finally ended up with a cage full of cawing, angry birds whom no amount of seed or water seemed to settle down.
Next, was the crust. As the pie needed to be about four feet across and 18 inches tall, a normal crust would not do. I tried a heavy pastry mix and managed to created something reminiscent of a frisbee. A nice tasting frisbee but a frisbee none the less.
Salt flour crust it was going to have to be. While inedible, it did have the advantage of being able to stand up to an earthquake if needed. Therefore, I made the crust of what amounted to homemade PlayDough. About ten gallons of it.
The real problem was that the crust seemed to dry and crack very easily. I tried olive oil but it just didn’t work to prevent the cracking. Shortening wasn’t much better.
I tried melted sugar but that only seemed to attract bees. A lot of them. Hornets, too.
You know what did work?
Maple syrup, that’s what! About a gallon. Just on the outside.
It proved impossible to bake but the warm sun on a weekend was just the ticket. Using a toboggan to shape the lid, I was ready to begin testing.
Damn it! Those fucking birds bit and they refused to cooperate. They didn’t seem to want to go into the darn hole in the funny smelling flour shell.
I finally started getting some of them in the hole when a funny noise started. A low humming started coming from the pie and the birds started to go wild.
I leaned to peer into the pie when a maelstrom erupted. Out poured the birds in an enormous cloud of grackle shit and they were off into the woods spraying bird crap in my eyes. And the humming got louder.
I did mention hornets, right?
That is when the hornets emerged from the pie. I guess they were attracted by my earlier work with the sugar. And, boy, were they mad!
The bird poop had started to clear from my eyes when I started to run. Swatting hornets and screaming I ran for the back forty and somehow managed to get tangled up in the net and go DOWN! And the poodle was constipated no more.
I had plenty of time cleaning bird poop off myself and icing hornet stings to consider how to actually make this work.
I am nothing is not persistent…
THREE WEEKS LATER
Cue the children’s choir singing “Sing a Song of Sixpence” as I roll out a huge pie on a cart. It smelled amazing and looked great. I had used the salt flour dough to make a decorated crust about four feet across and about 18 inches tall. The top crust was beautiful and had airholes sliced in through which you could hear chirping and scratching.
“Are those real birds?” asked the guest of honor.
“Don’t you hear them?” I asked.
The hall steward grabbed my sleeve and whispered in my ear.
“You can’t set them free in here. They’ll never rent to us again!” he hissed.
“Just watch me and you better make sure those windows are open!”
The look on his face was priceless while he scrambled off to open the doors and windows as fast as he could.
Grabbing a large knife, I approached the head table.
“Would you like to help me slice the pie?” I asked the princess.
Then, swallowing, she slowly walked to my side and we approached the pie. The birds seemed especially agitated. I grabbed her trembling hand and we both put the knife on the crust and pressed —
There was a tremendous shout as the pie crust dropped in and a child popped out!
Laughing, the young girl climbed out of the pie and started handing pies out of hidden compartments to the servers to feed the hall. While she did that, I turned off the speakers that were hidden in the cart.
Those pies were delicious!
NOW LET’S DO IT RIGHT:
Chicken, 4 lbs, with bones and skin.
Cheese, 3/4 lbs. (gruyere is best but any strong cheese will work)
Almonds 3/4 lbs.
Butter, 1/2 cup
Dates, 1/2 lb.
Pepper, whole (white pepper is best)
First, place the chicken in a large stock pot and cover with approximately 2 gallons of water. Add, salt to taste and slow cook for several hours until reduced by 1/2.
Next, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and allow the pieces to cool. Remove the meat from the skin and bones and return to the pot.
Grate the whole nutmeg and add it as well. One nut usually suffices but add more to your taste.
Crush the mace and add it. Most recipes call for 2 tbsp. but this may be too much for many palates.
Repeat with the other spices.
Grind the almonds and dates and add as well.
Add the egg and more salt if needed and allow to thicken.
Grate the cheese and set aside.
Melt the butter in a small pan.
Create your favorite pie crust and line a large pie tin with it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill the pie tin with the chicken mixture. If you wish, mix in the cheese and cover with a crust. Some like to omit the upper crust and simply top with cheese.
Brush with melted butter and bake until golden brown.
COPYRIGHT 2016 Micheal J. Hobbs