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.
The early Romans set a high value on Pigeons, which were known long since, even three thousand years before Christ. Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, forbids them as food. "Though these be fair in feathers, and pleasant in taste, and have a good outside (like hypocrites), white in plumes, and soft, their flesh is hard, black, unwholesome, dangerous, melancholy meat." "Gravant et putrefaciunt stomachum." Jeremy Taylor refers to a former custom which prevailed widely of applying Pigeons cut into halves against the soles of the feet in the extremity of a sick person's illness: "We cut living Pigeons in halves, and apply them to the feet of men in fevers".
"Spirante columba Suppositu pedibus revocantur ad ima vapores".
Pepys, in his Diary, quotes repeated instances of the same practice during the seventeenth century; he also tells that (September 26th, 1668) "Mr. Beale, of the King's Guards, sat with him while he had two quilted Pigeons, very handsome, and good meat." "A corrected Pigeon," quoth Fuller, "that is, with blood let under both wings, is both pleasant, and wholesome nourishment; they are generally reported without gall; but their bills can peck as well as kiss, and if their crops be not clearly drawn their flesh is bitter." Split Pigeons have been laid also on the breast for giving relief in asthma, either by a natural cessation of the paroxysm, or merely as the effect of warmth. "Pigeons are good for old men, and verie wholesome for them that bee phlegmaticke; being boyled they are wholesome enough for all hot, and cholericke bodies, because the heat of them is tempered by the moysture of the water; they are most convenient for cold seasons. It is very good when you eat them rosted to stuffe them with sour grapes, or unripe gooseberries, and to eat with them the soure grapes, or berries, in the manner of a sauce, with butter, and a little vinegar also.
The eating of Pigeons in the time of the Plague is much commended because they are thought to make men safe from infection; which thing verily is not repugnant to reason, for they breed a strong, hot, and somewhat thicke bloud" (Dr. T. Venner). When Pigeons are fresh they have their full flavour, but it disappears entirely if they are kept after being killed for the table, and the slightest haut gout makes them useless for food. They should therefore be roasted as soon as they are received; and, if not used immediately, they should be kept in the roasted state cold, and be heated again when wanted. Stewed Pigeon is a useful dish for a delicate sick person; it admits of many variations, and is supreme with stewed young green peas. Tennyson tells of a certain toothsome, and tempting Pigeon pie, served at Audrey Court, during a pic-nic gathering:-
"There on a slope of orchard Francis laid,
A damask napkin, wrought with horse, and hound: Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home,
Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks Imbedded, and injellied; last, with these,
A flask of cider from his father's vats, Prime, which I knew; and some sat, and eat.
And talked old matters over".
Pigeon's blood has long been thought good for complaints of the eyes; some drops of blood withdrawn from under a Pigeon's wing, if let fall on a wounded eye, would cure the sore.