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.
Our English Partridge was pronounced in the new London Dispensatory, "Excellent food for a weak stomach: its liver dried and drunk helps the epilepsie; its marrow and brain cure the jaundice; its gall is one of the most eminent things for defects of the eyes in the world, helping suffusions, and dimness of sight; its broth is of use against the French venereal disease".
The Pheasant, originally from the banks of the Grecian river Phasis, is nowhere met with in a wild state, but requires the continued assistance of man for its preservation, and breeding. This bird has the faculty, when properly matured for cooking, or, as the French say, when properly mortified, of proving tender, short, and easily digested: for which reasons it is liked by aged, and delicate persons.
"The pheasant," tells Brillat Savarin, "is a riddle of which the solution is revealed only to adepts! Every substance has its apogee of excellence, which the pheasant attains only when it begins to decompose. This state it does not reach in less than three days after its death, requiring sometimes several more. If eaten within three days it has no distinguishing flavour. Just when it begins to decompose, the aroma develops, and is the result of an oil which needs a little fermentation to bring out its perfume, just as the oil of coffee is obtained only by roasting. The bird should not be plucked till such a moment, and then larded carefully with the freshest and firmest bacon. When the proper time for this has arrived it will be indicated by a slight odour, and by a change of colour in the breast of the bird. It is a matter of importance not to pluck the pheasant too soon. Experience has shown that birds kept in the feather are much more highly flavoured than those which have been plucked, and then hung for some time; whether it be that contact of the flesh with the air neutralises some portion of the aroma, or that a part of the juices which nourish the feathers becomes absorbed by the flesh. When the bird has been duly prepared it must be properly stuffed.
Then cut a slice of bread four inches longer than the pheasant, and toast it. Next take the liver and entrails, grind them up with two big truffles, in anchovy, with a little chopped bacon, and a suitably-sized piece of good fresh butter. Spread this equally on the toast, and place the pheasant in the middle. When it is sufficiently cooked serve it on the toast, surrounding it there with bitter oranges; and be tranquil as to the result. These highly-flavoured dishes should be accompanied preferably with a first-class Burgundy." "A pheasant prepared after the above fashion is worthy of being set before angels, if they are still travelling about the earth as in the time of Lot." "For sweetnesse and pleasantnesse of taste the pheasant excelleth all other fowle: verily for goodness, and pleasantnesse of flesh it may of all sylvestriall fowle well challenge the first place at tables, for it giveth a most perfect and temperate nourishment to them that be healthy. And to the weak, sickly, or that be upon a recovery unto health, there is not so profitable a flesh, for it is very delightsome to a weak stomache; and quickly by reason of the pure and restorative nourishment which it giveth it repaireth weake, and feeble strengths." Thus declared "Tobias Venner (1620), doctor of physicke, at Bathe in the Spring and Fall; and at other times in the Burrough of North Petherton, neare to the ancient hauen towne of Bridgwater in Somerset".
Sydney Smith (1836) wrote: "If there is a pure and elevated pleasure in this world, it is that of roast pheasant, and bread sauce; but, "Mange trop frais (writes M. Sausanne), sa chair est fade, et moins delicat que celle du poulet." There was a certain Duke of Rutland, who would never allow a Leicester partridge to be dressed for his table, since, as he said, "partridges are worth nothing in a grass district." But the same may be told much more emphatically about pheasants: bred between the maggots, and the buckwheat, these birds may run to bulk, but they lose in flavour, and wholesomeness of flesh. "Per contra," pheasants from the Welsh woods, and their natural succulent shrubberies, are unimpeachable. The merits of a well roasted pheasant with browned bread crumbs, and potato chips, or surrounded with bitter oranges, are to be enthusiastically extolled. Again, a plump, young hen pheasant boiled with unbroken skin, and bedded on celery, whilst served with celery sauce, containing the faintest dash of lemon, is a "dish for the gods." "But I'll have no pheasant, cock, or hen," exclaims the shepherd, in the Winter's Tale. According to Lemery (1674), "the use of the pheasant (which is a wholesome bird) prevails against epilepsies and convulsions." French cooks make the bodies of pheasants into pies, whilst the plumage is profitably sold.
Game should not be too fat, because in cooking, the oily, yellow, fatty tissues become rank; being less digestible than other animal fats, they leave a reproachful flavour for some time after the meal through retarded digestion. "An old fowl, likewise," says Dr. Chambers, "has a rank taste, as of a close hen house, because of the absorption into its flesh of the oil furnished by nature to lubricate the feathers".
Whilst shooting at Sandringham in November, 1902, as our King's favoured guest, the Kaiser killed a golden pheasant, and asked that it might be cooked for his own special eating. The Chinese are said to make a great use of pheasants' eggs as a cosmetic to give their hair lustre and brilliancy. "Describe the adventures of the Duke of Monmouth after the Battle of Sedgemoor," was a question propounded to a class under examination; when a brilliant youngster replied, "He changed his clothes with a pheasant, and was found dead in the gutter".
A French saying (translated) runs that "In October de Englishman do shoot de pheasant; in November he do shoot himself".
Pheasants brains were among the ingredients of the dish which Vitellius named the "Shield of Minerva" in old Roman days.
The Romans diverted themselves with fights between the male birds pitted one against another; and it was with quails of the same species the Israelites were fed of old in the wilderness, and became plague-stricken for their greed. " And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails, and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague ; and he called the name of that place Kibroth-hattaavah (the graves of the greedy), because there they buried the people that lusted." The ancient Romans feared quails because supposed to cause epileptic fits; but these birds are said to have cured Hercules of epilepsy.