November 2012
Your Next Meal From the Wildside

Five and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie...

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocketful of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie …." For many people, that verse is just a reminder of the fun and simplicity of their childhood. But for others, the nursery rhyme about blackbird pie brings them delicious memories of actual pies made of blackbirds.

Blackbirds are often considered nuisance birds because they typically arrive in a huge horde and sometimes stay for extended lengths of time. The noise and droppings can cause much irritation to homeowners and businesses. In recent years, cities throughout Alabama have had trouble with thousands of birds taking up residence in inconvenient locations and have resorted to different solutions such as setting off air cannons. But for those of you who enjoy eating blackbirds, a swarm of them sitting in rows is just what you want to see.

Because a gunshot will spook the birds, you will want to hit as many as possible with one shot. Blackbirds are about the size of doves; so for one pie, two dozen birds’ breasts would be needed to fill an 8-inch pie crust. There is no set season for blackbirds and no bag limit. If you are a good shot, you can have plenty to eat throughout the year. Just be sure to check your local laws about where you are allowed to shoot firearms.

Teaching your children how to hunt blackbirds will give them the skills of marksmanship and patience. Cleaning and preparing the birds for a meal will help your children learn how to follow directions and have pride in being able to put food on the table for their family.

Another bird you may want to try hunting is the American Coot, sometimes called a black duck. Coot season in Alabama is the same as duck season. Family friend Tumpsie Trione is from the Mobile Delta and hunted coots growing up. He and his family made stews and gumbos from the meat. Recipes were never set and depended on what ingredients were on hand. Tumpsie said they never breasted-out any wild birds they killed. Their parents always had them pluck and pick the birds so no meat was lost. Neighbors would often help them clean the birds in return for part of the catch.

Hunting coot during Tumpsie’s time meant there would be six or seven rowboats spread out across the sloughs in the Mobile Bay inlets. The boats, usually manned with two hunters each, would push the birds up into the inlet until they would finally fly up and over the little boats. Then the hunters could easily shoot their limit.

To prepare the birds, old-timers had a special way of cleaning the coots and other feathered birds. After pine sap was harvested and processed from a pine tree, there were two parts: turpentine and pine tar which was ground into a fine powder. The birds were dipped in boiling water, and then coated with the crushed pine tar powder that would melt onto the bird. The process was similar to modern-day cosmetic waxing. When the tar was pulled from the birds, the feathers came off clean. Once cleaned, coots can be cooked in a variety of ways including stews, gumbos and soups. The meat can also be frozen for later use throughout the year.

Although most hunters don’t regularly eat blackbirds or coot, they are plentiful and make a good meal. Why not try something old-fashioned and delicious at your next family meal? And if you make a blackbird pie, your children will love actually eating something from one of their nursery rhymes.

Blackbird Pie

This version is more like blackbird dumplings, but you can adjust it to your taste.

3½ cups self-rising flour
1 cup very warm water (almost hot)

Mix into a biscuit dough and knead until dry. Roll with rolling pin until thin and cut into 2-inch strips.

25 blackbirds (cleaned with meat removed)
¾ pound link sausage (mild or hot to your taste)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cover birds with water in a large pot. Cook birds until tender (at least 2 hours). Add salt and pepper. When blackbirds are tender, keep broth at a rolling boil and drop in dough a piece at a time shaking pot constantly to keep pastry pieces separated. Cover and let cook for approximately 10 minutes. Let it cool for about ten minutes before serving.

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.