I'm back. And itching to write about all things rook. Yup, the good old Corvus frugilegus. I've always had a thing about that very particular sound rooks make; it's very English: a croaking, cawing noise so typical of a raw morning in February or March. Thinking about it, it's up there with other comforting sounds: the peal of church bells on a Sunday morning, the thwack of a tennis racket on a hot June day, children playing on an echoing tarmac ground, the buzz of a light aircraft on a lazy Saturday afternoon, the distinctive grumble of a London Taxi on a wet, foggy evening in November.
In English folklore, rooks build their nests- the rookery- near places where money is to be found, which is why I am very keen indeed for Mr and Mrs Rook to come and build their nest in the tiny back garden of our London hovel.
Did you know that the glorious 12th of May is traditionally, rook shooting day? According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Cookbook:
In Victorian times, this used to be considered a suitable sport for boys and young ladies, who would traditionally gather on 12th May, with their specially made rook rifles, for a little genteel sport.
Shades of Gormenghast. Now my wife, Mrs Aitch, claims to have been fed Rook Pie on a regular basis as a child by her grandmother's cook. Does this fill you with horror? Four and Twenty Black Birds, baked in the Pie? No reason why it should, as I gather that the breast of young rooks ("the branchers") tastes very similar- if not better- than pigeon, and, apparently, has a "delicate gamey flavour". Mr Conran, if rumours are to be believed, has even put it on the menu at one of his "fashionable London restaurants".
Here's Mrs Beeton's recipe for Rook Pie, taken from the 1936 edition:
6 young rooks
¾ lb. of rump steak
¼ lb. of butter or good dripping
½ pint of stock
salt and pepper
Skin the birds, without plucking them by cutting 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 strips of steak, season well with salt and pepper, intersperse small pieces of stock as will three-quarter fill the dish.
Cover with pastry and bake from ½ to 2 hours, for the first ½ hour in a hot oven to make the pastry rise, and afterwards more slowly to allow the birds, etc., to become thoroughly cooked.
When the pie is three-quarters baked, brush it over with yolk of egg to glaze the crust, and before serving, pour in throught the hold on the top, the remainder of the stock.
Time- To bake, from 1½ to 2 hours. Sufficient for 5 or 6 people.