This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Such of our small fowl as the Blackbird, Lark, Robin, Snipe, Sparrow, Thrush, and Woodcock, whilst good for the table, exercise severally certain medicinal effects which are available for curative uses. The Blackbird (Merula nigretta) is said to increase melancholy if its flesh be eaten at all freely. Against depression of the spirits it was prescribed for occasional use by the Salernitan school of physicians. Cardinal Fesch at Lyons had blackbirds sent from Corsica, and used to say that to eat them was like swallowing Paradise: also, that the smell alone of his blackbirds was enough to revivify half the defunct in his diocese. As a great devourer of snails, this bird possesses properties beneficial for consumptive persons. The Lark is so adored by English folk for its sweet song, trilled forth as it soars high in the blue heavens, that to talk of eating this melodious bird seems at first a sacrilege. But in the south of Europe larks are such a nuisance at certain times that they have to be killed in numbers, so as to reduce the damage which they inflict on agriculture. Some persons have alleged that it is not the skylark which is served for eating - particularly in France - when on spits, or stuffed with foie qras, since the word alnuette (a skylark) never appears on a French menu.
So far as Paris is concerned, these little birds, which are offered by thousands in the markets, being almost always displayed for sale on wooden skewers, and already plucked, are commonly called mauviettes by both vendors, and buyers. But in the French language the lark remains an alouette until it is plucked, trussed, and ready to be spitted, when it becomes a mauviette. Moreover, in La Cuisiniere Bourgeoise, or general French Cookery Book, recipes are given for alouettes, roties, or en salmis, or aux fines herbes. "The flesh," said former physicians, "helps the cholick, and is good against the falling sickness; larks breed thrice in the year, and are themselves much troubled with the epilepsie".
"The lark,"tells old Fuller, "is wholesome when dead, then filling the stomack with meat as formerly the ear with musick. If men would imitate the early rising of this bird it would conduce much unto their healthfulness."The great Dr. Johnson often spoke roughly to Mrs. Thrale, and others. One day when she was lamenting the loss of a first cousin killed in America, he said, "Madam, it would give you very little concern if all your relations were spitted like these larks (which they were then eating) and roasted for Presto's supper"(the lapdog, who lay under the table at the time).
For broiled larks, pick, and clean a dozen larks, cut off their heads and legs, truss them firmly, rub them over with beaten egg, and strew bread-crumbs about them, with a pinch of salt; broil them over a clear fire, and serve them on toasted bread.
Again, with respect to the Robin Redbreast, we do our best in this country to protect him from harm, and to regard him with an esteem which is well-nigh religious. But abroad the brave, homely little bird fails to meet with any such appreciation. La rouge gorge est la triste preuve de cette.verite; que le gourmand est par essence un etre inhumain, et cruel. Car il n'a aucune pitie de le charmant petit oiseau de passage que sa gentilesse, et sa familiarite confiante devraient mettre u l'abri de nos alteintes; mais s'il fallait avoir compassion de tout le. monde on ne manger ait personne; et, commiseration a part, il faut convenir que le rouge gorge, qui tient un rang distingue"dans la classe de becs figues, est un rati tres succulent. Cet aimable oiseau se manga a la broehe, et en salmi. It is remarkable for a delicate bitter flavour. In Lousiana, likewise, no scruples are known about eating the Robin; after he has gorged on holly-berries, and become half-tipsy on those of the China tree, which grows there around the dwelling-houses, he is easily shot from the "galleries "(as the verandahs are called), and then he is broiled like a quail, or put into a savoury pie.
A French Abbe writes about the Rouge Gorge as "presque meprisie dans toutes les contries qu'elle habite "; even its popular name "La Gadille" adds to the ridicule attached to its sad existence.
•• Who killed Cook Robin? "
"I,"said the Sparrow, "with my bow and arrow, I killed Cook Robin".
"Who saw him die? "
"I,"said the Fly, "with my little eye, I saw him die".
"Who caught his blood? "
"I,"said the Fish, "with my little dish, J caught his blood".
"Qui a tue Rouge-Gorge? "
"Moi, dit le Moineau, "aveo mon arc, et ma fleche, J'ai tue Rouge-Gorge".
"Qui l'a vu mourir? "
"Moi,"dit la Mouche, "avec mon petit oeil, Je I'ai vu mourir".
"Qui a recueilli son sang? "
"Moi,"dit le Poisson, avec mon petit plat, J'ai recueilli son sang".
It is a bird most easily snared, and has been eaten by scores, though a noted Englishman declared in Italy that he would as soon devour a baby as a Robin. Being a brave, fearless, and highly sociable little creature, it may possibly confer this same estimable character when eaten habitually, even though under protest.
The Snipe (Scolopax Gallinago), And The Woodcock (Scolopax Rustica), live chiefly by suction, and therefore contain within themselves, when killed, nothing corruptible; so that they may be eaten, trail and all, their flavour being delicate, whilst rich. (See "Game.") An old French quatrain runs thus: -
"Le becasseau est de fort bon manger, Duquel la chair resueille l'appetet: II est oyseau passager, et petit, Et par sou goust fait des vins bien juger".
The Starling is "one of the worst birds to be eaten that is, for she will eat bitter; but, only keep them alive, one of the best birds that is to talk, or whistle."There are the Field Starling, and the House Starling (which breeds in churches, and houses).
The Thrush (Turdus Musicus) has a flesh excellent for the invalid. Horace, the Latin Poet, formerly declared "Nil melius turdo "; and, later on, in the London Pharmacoposia, it is said: "The Thrush is of good nourishment, hotter in its flesh than the Blackbird, and preferred by many. Roasted with myrtle berries it helps the dysentery, and other fluxes of the belly".
Thrushes are best for eating towards the end of November, because their meat is then aromatic through the juniper berries on which these birds have been feeding. Moreover, the Missel Thrush affords anti-epileptic food, because of living chiefly on mistletoe berries, which are of singular virtue against the falling sickness; it also eats ivy berries; but the Song Thrush devours insects for the most part, being thus carnivorous. "Soul comme une grive "is a well-known French proverb, "Drunk as a Thrush," because the greedy, fat birds fill their crops with ripe juniper berries until they are too lazy to fly.
As related in the British Medical Journal (1880), "No less exalted a personage than the Princess Bismarck lately reported the Magpie, by its flesh dried, and powdered, to be an infallible cure for epilepsy, insomuch that Her Highness issued a circular to the members of the Eckenfoerd Shooting Association desiring them to furnish before a certain day as many Magpies as possible, from the burnt remains of which an anti-epileptic powder might be manufactured. "In the London Pharmacopoeia (1696) it was stated: "The flesh eaten helps dimness of sight, vertigo, epilepsies, melancholy, and madness".