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.