Eating Crow

Nov 27, 2017 | 1 comment

Ruthie’s Project

My cousin Ruthie brought a big three-ring binder to me the other day – an ‘ancestry project’ she’s been working on for more than a year.  It is the story of her Grandfather George Maloney (1882-1975) and she thought I might be interested.  Wowie Zowie!  I love it!  Much of it was written by George, himself, when he was in his mid-eighties.  It begins with his memories of growing up in Northold, Middlesex, England.

He called his story ‘George by George’ – and just from the title, I know he was a man I’d have liked, but I never had the opportunity to meet him.  His descriptions of growing up in a family of nine boys and one girl in Victorian England are right up there with Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson!  I was especially taken by his story called “Rook Pie.”


The Maloney home was adjacent to Islip Manor, the Estate of C. E. Innes, Esq.  On the estate was a large wooded area with a fine grove of towering elm trees.  This grove was about a quarter of a mile from the Maloney residence and was the home of a great colony of shiny black crows.  Egg-laying and hatching must have been a colony plan, for the ‘rooks’ – young crows – all seemed to leave their nests on their maiden flight within a few days of each other.  These few days were ‘Rook Shooting’ days for Mr. Innes and his friends.  No retriever dogs were used to gather the fallen birds, but the Maloney boys and others did so and were rewarded with a rook.  Being more than one Maloney boy at the ‘shoot’ we usually ended up with a half dozen rooks – just enough to make a pie according to Mrs. Beaton’s [sic] famous recipe.

Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book and Household Guide

Mrs. Beaton’s Cookbook was ‘the’ book in England at the time and referred to by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as “one of the greatest works of man” in his study of married life entitled A Duet with an Occasional Chorus.  He also was the author of the Sherlock Holmes series.  On the Maloney kitchen shelf was a copy of Mrs. Beaton’s cookbook and on page 708 was the following famous recipe for rook pie:

Ingredients. – 6 young rooks, ¾ lb. of rump steak, ¼ lb. of butter, ½ pint of stock, salt and pepper, pastry.

METHOD: — Skin the birds without plucking them, by cutting into the skin near the thighs, and drawing it over the body and head. Draw the birds in the usual manner, remove the necks and backs, and split the birds down the breast. Arrange them in a deep pie dish, cover each breast with thin strips of steak, season well with salt and pepper, intersperse small pieces of butter and add as much stock as will three-quarters fill the dish.  Cover with paste (see veal pie), and bake for 1½ to 2 hours, for the first ½ hour in a hot oven to make the paste rise, and afterwards more slowly to allow the birds to become thoroughly cooked.  When the pie is almost three-quarters cooked, brush it over with yolk of egg to glaze the crust, and, before serving, pour in, through the holes on the top, the remainder of the stock.

Time. – To bake, from 1½ to 2 hours. Average cost, uncertain, as they are seldom sold.  Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Crows are almost worldwide in their habitat, so Dear Reader. if you can acquire half a dozen ‘rooks,’ make a pie.  Perhaps if you try it, you might like it.

That last line makes me think of dear old James G. Swan who famously said in his 1855 book, The Northwest Coast or Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory:  “I ken eat crow, but hang me if I hanker arter it.”

1 Comment

  1. Nancy Lloyd

    Hi you guys – your entry reminds of a long-ago day when I was working in the Oysterville studio and the young crows in the old pear tree out back were horridly vocal–that voice-that-hasn’t-changed-yet-but-Really-Wants-To-Be-Fed–; I went out and yelled back–no effect–and finally started throwing things at the tree. That worked. What awful noise! Is that why they were on the menu, do you suppose? To quiet them?
    God speed, you two …


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