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Birds, but no Hitchcock


Friday has come round again, and I feel no pressing need to write about correct English usage. Instead, allow me to share one of my favourite recipes. I hope that Suzy, out there on the beautiful Mariquita, won’t think that I’m trespassing on her blogging territory, but this one really deserves a wider audience. As, incidentally, does Suzy, whose glorious blog is entered for the 2012 Cosmopolitan Blog Awards; and if you want to regard that as a heavy hint, you might not be wrong.

Furthermore, given Suzy’s life at sea, her access to the raw materials is likely to be greater than mine, or yours. The recipe comes from Countryman’s Cooking by W.M.W. Fowler, first published in 1965 (and mercifully rescued from oblivion and republished in 2006, by David Burnett’s Excellent Press, complete with Thomas Bewick engravings).

One anecdote will give you a flavour of the man. Fowler had been a Lancaster pilot during WW2. His plane was shot down and, while kicking his heels in Stalag Luft 3 – yes, the Great Escape camp – when “food was literally more valuable than gold”, he killed and cooked the Kommandant’s cat with a single black-market onion.

How to cook a cormorant

“Having shot your cormorant, hold it well away from you as you carry it home; these birds are exceedingly verminous and the lice are said to be not entirely host-specific. Hang up by the feet with a piece of wire, soak in petrol and set on fire. This treatment both removes most of the feathers and kills the lice.

“When the smoke has cleared away, take the cormorant down and cut off its beak. Send this to the local Conservancy Board who, if you are in the right area, will give you 3/6d or sometimes 5/- for it. Bury the carcase, preferably in light sandy soil, and leave it there for a fortnight. This is said to improve the flavour by, in part at least, removing the taste of rotting fish. Dig up and skin the bird. Place in a strong salt-water solution and soak for 48 hours. Remove, dry and stuff with whole, unpeeled onions: the onion skins are supposed to bleach the meat to a small extent, so that it is very dark brown as opposed to entirely black.

“Simmer gently in seawater, to which two tablespoons of chloride of lime have been added, for a further 6 hours. This has a further tenderising effect. Take out of the water and allow to dry, meanwhile mixing up a stiff paste of methylated spirit and curry powder. Spread this mixture liberally over the breast of the bird. Finally, roast in a very hot oven for 3 hours. The result is unbelievable. Throw it away. Not even a starving vulture would eat it.”

There are few witty quotations about cormorants. Over to Christopher Isherwood, therefore, for a poem with limited ornithological or ursine veracity:

The common cormorant, or shag,
Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
The reason you will see, no doubt.
It is to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds
Have never thought of is that herds
Of wandering bears might come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.


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One Comment
  1. Martin permalink

    It may not be witty, but it is unquestionably true:
    “Law is a Bottomless-Pit, it is a Cormorant, a Harpy, that devours every thing”
    (John Arbuthnot. The History of John Bull. 1712)

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