Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie
Here's the thing. You rally can bake live birds into pies. What a hoot. So-called animated pies or pyes were the most popular banquet entertainment back in the 13th and 14th century. The nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence . . . four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie," refers to such a pie. According to the rhyme, "When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing. Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King." True story. Not only did the birds sing but they probably flew happily and with a beak of relief, out into the banquet hall. But that's not all, my pretties, rabbits, frogs, turtles, other small animals, and even small people (dwarfs) as we learned yesterday were also placed into pies. Sometimes pies had birds and a dwarf to be released when the crust was cut. The dwarf would emerge and walk down the length of the table, reciting poetry, sketching the guests, or doing tricks. Now how politically correct is that? Yikes. Anyhoo, just in case you want to bake a pye with blackbirds, here's the recipe.
It comes from the Epulario (The Italian Banquet), published in 1598.
"To Make Pie That the Birds May Be Alive In them and Flie Out When It Is Cut Up - Make the coffin of a great pie or pastry, in the bottome thereof make a hole as big as your fist, or bigger if you will, let the sides of the coffin bee somwhat higher then ordinary pies, which done put it full of flower and bake it, and being baked, open the hole in the bottome, and take out the flower. Then having a pie of the bigness of the hole in the bottome of the coffin aforesaid, you shal put it into the coffin, withall put into the said coffin round about the aforesaid pie as many small live birds as the empty coffin will hold, besides the pie aforesaid. And this is to be at such time as you send the pie to the table, and set before the guests: where uncovering or cutting up the lid of the great pie, all the birds will flie out, which is to delight and pleasure shew to the company. And because they shall not bee altogether mocked, you shall cut open the small pie, and in this sort you may make many others, the like you may do with a tart."
By the way, I should note that I am getting all this from a book called Pie: A Global History by Janet Clarkson