4 and 20 Blackbirds Baked in a Pie? Really? Really!

Remember this Mother Goose 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;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king.

I was always struck by the image of a big pie with live birds in it. What was that all about? Guess what — they really did make a big pie with live birds in it!

“Blackbirds could be bought by the dozen in Paris: four and twenty baked in a pie would have served about six, which was a rather standard size for a medieval pie. Live birds were served in pies. The pie was cooked with a filling of bran to prevent caving in; just before presenting the dish, the cook let the bran out through a hole in the bottom of the pie and slipped the birds in through the hole. Obviously, it would have been prudent to alert the carver before trying this trick. The sources neglect to mention how the birds were removed from the hall after the feast.” (From Darice’s book Savoring the Past, The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789, by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Scribner 1983.)

If I had any drawing talent at all, I would love to draw the king cutting into the pie and being amazed, startled, frightened at live blackbirds flying up into his face. Better than a whoopee cushion.

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About glcraig

Gretchen Craig’s lush, sweeping tales deliver edgy, compelling characters who test the boundaries of integrity, strength, and love. Told with sensitivity, the novels realistically portray the raw suffering of people in times of great upheaval. Gretchen was born and raised in Florida. She’s lived in climates and terrain as diverse as the white beaches of the Gulf Coast, the rocky shores of Maine, and the dusty plains of Texas. Her awareness of place imbues every page with the smell of the bayous of Louisiana, the taste of gumbo in New Orleans, or the grit of a desert storm. Rich in compelling characters and historical detail, Always and Forever is a sweeping saga of Josie and Cleo, mistress and slave. Amid Cajuns and Creoles, the bonds between these two remarkable women are tested by prejudice, tragedy, and passion for one extraordinary man. Gretchen’s first novel won the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence for Mainstream with Romantic Elements and was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in the Historical Novel Society reviews. Ever My Love, winner of the Booksellers Best Award from the Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America, continues the story of Cleo and Josie’s families, of their struggle for principle, justice, and love in a world where the underpinnings of the plantation culture are crumbling. Crimson Sky, inspired by the pueblos, mountains, and deserts of New Mexico, evokes the lives of people facing neighboring marauders and drought. Now the march of Spanish Conquistadors up the Rio Grande threatens their homeland, their culture, and their entire belief system.
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