4 and 20 Blackbirds Baked in a Pie A recipe to crow about

Text: John Newton

A crow landed in the huge camphor laurel tree behind our house while I was reading in the courtyard. I looked up as it started its vaguely obscene call. We haven’t had crows in the inner west for long. I remember calling Reverend Ted Noffs at the Wayside Chapel when we were (briefly) exiled to Greenwich on what my father used to call ‘the dark side’.

“Are you calling from the north shore?” he asked. “Sort of,” I said, “but how did you know?”

“The crows cawing in the background.”

They only began crossing the bridge recently. Actually they’re not really crows, they’re ravens but you can’t buck usage.

As I listened to this blackbird, into my head came the old nursery rhyme ‘four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie’. It made me wonder: can you eat crows (not crow, that’s a different matter altogether)? So I went looking.

Firstly, those blackbirds were baked alive in a pie with a heavy crust so they’d fly out when the crust was broken. They were served during the course known as the entremets, the course for elaborately surprising dishes. Imagine the mirth when the birds flew out of the pie. And they weren’t the only live things trapped in a pre-baked pie crust: pigs and frogs were others, and once a dwarf, Jeffrey Hudson, popped out of a pie served to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta. Alive, of course.

We have our own four and twenty pies – actually Four‘n Twenty – a brand of the good ol’ Aussie meat pie. Our country-classic pie, originally called the Dad and Dave Pie, comes from Bendigo, Victoria dating back to 1947. Mostly mutton and beef shoulder meat in a spice gravy with carrots and peas. No blackbirds. The brand, still going, celebrated its 70th anniversary last year with a cheese and Vegemite version.

But back to eating crows. Apparently you can and, according to one website, the flavours and textures of the blackbird pie are ‘nothing short of scrumptious’. You can find the recipe on a blog by Cast Iron Chef at OutdoorLife.com.

Good luck in hunting crows for your pie. I remember driving through the bush with my father. He hated crows and every time we saw one, he’d pull over to the side of the road, carefully and quietly pull out the loaded .22 he kept under the seat – he was a crack shot. He’d take aim but just as his finger curled around the trigger, the big black bird would take off. He reckoned they had a sixth sense.

According to NSW Parks & Wildlife: “crows and ravens (corvids) are protected only in Greater Sydney Local Land Services region (and national parks and conservation areas), because they are blamed for the deaths of lambs in other areas.”

If you want a good pie recipe and don’t care for killing and cooking crows, The Great Australian Baking Book (Echo) has a cracker one for a beef-and-mushroom pie I’ll be making come cooler weather. And when I serve it to the family, I hope they crow over it. Loudly.


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