This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The reed birds of the North are the rice birds of the South. They swarm on the rice plantations to an extent that becomes serious through their depredations upon the grain, and at times all available hands have to be kept on the watch with guns and scare crows on that account. In this way the birds acquire the fatness which makes them equal to the ortolans and fig-peckers of Italy.
The following, except perhaps the oyster, was Henry Ward Beecher's favorite way: "One of the dishes was 'reed bird,' and the novel way in which these were served will interest some readers. They were prepared by the cook taking a raw potato, cutting it in two and scooping out enough of the inside to make a hole big enough to hold a reed bird, an oyster and a little butter. These were boxed inside the potato, the whole tied up and baked".
Among the most acceptable of entrees is a dish of birds with mushrooms. Truss 2 doz. reed birds, or other small birds, as for roasting; put into each a button mushroom, of which have a heaping pint after all the stalks are removed; put the birds and the remaining mushrooms into a stewpan, season them with a very little salt and pepper, and add either 1/4 lb. of fresh butter (divided into four and slightly rolled in flour) or 1 pt of rich cream. Cover the stewpan closely, set it over a moderate fire to stew gently till the birds and mushrooms are thoroughly dry and tender. Do not open the lid to stir the stew, but occasionally give the pan a vigorous shake. When the birds are ready to serve, lay them on toast with the mushrooms placed around.
Trussed with the head left on and tucked under the wing, their own liver and bit of butter put inside, run side by side on a skewer with a very thin slice of parboiled bacon between each, and broiled on the skewers over clear coals. Served on toast-garnish with lemon and parsley.
"The reed bird, like terrapin and canvas-back duck, is an exclusively American luxury. Our Philadelphia contemporary, Progress, avers that the cook who cuts off the head of this feathered dainty 'throws away the most delicious bit of a delicious morsel.
In France the small bird is esteemed an epicure's morsel, and is dressed in a variety of fashions, e.g., wrapped in calf's udder and roasted, broiled in cases lined with quenelle forcemeat, or cooked in beef marrow sprinkled with chopped mixed herbs, lemon juice, and grated crusts of bread. For salmis they are cooked in precisely the same way as any ordinary game-would be. For a vol-au-vent the reed bird would be boned, stuffed with a rich forcemeat, and served in vol-au-vent cases, with mushrooms and a well-made white sauce. A la Parisienne they would be boned, stuffed with a game forcemeat and small truffles, then braised, and sent to table arranged on a dish in a Crown shape, with veal quenelles in the center, and a game sauce. These fanciful ways of dressing are generally employed for entrees.
In some towns and villages of Northern Italy small birds are treated with the same appreciative kindness. They are roasted on a spit before a sharp fire, and then laid in pickle for a day or two, and then served cold. (See Alouettes, Mauvi-ettes. Ortolans).