Huh? Boned Larks in a pie? What’s that?
It’s a recipe. And not a recipe for the faint of heart. A recipe for which you will need 36 larks. Dead larks to be precise. From which you will remove all the feathers, offal, and bones. Why 36? Because a lark, feathers, bones and all, only weighs about two ounces and this is a meal for a full-grown human.
Patrick O’Brian wrote about the dish in one of his Aubrey/Maturin novels about the Royal Navy. (The Surgeon’s Mate, p-319) Two authors have written a cookbook in which they compile many of the meals that the characters in the novels consumed. The characters are fictional, but the recipes are real and historically accurate.
We should note that as the two main characters travel the world, they see and report on a great number of bird species. O’Brian knew his birds as well as he knew his food and his rigging on a ship. More about the birds in another post. Right now we’re after boned-larks-in a-pie.
But don’t even think about collecting the larks until you first get the other ingredients together. You will first need to prepare the “godiveau” and for that you will need one-half pound of real suet.
You will mix this half-pound of pure beef fat with six ounces of veal. That’s right, six ounces of baby cow. Throw in some scallions, parsley, ginger, a shallot, a raw egg, and salt and pepper to taste and it’s finished. Yes, that’s right. It’s finished. No cooking necessary yet.
Now you have about a pound of godiveau, so it’s time to start on the main dish.
Because this is going to be a pie, you now must make the hot water paste which will be the crust. For that you need one-half pound of butter and one-half pound of lard. And nine cups of flour and two cups of water. Lard, in case you’ve forgotten, is pig fat and the best grade of lard consists of the fat around the kidneys. You need lard for this recipe because of its high saturated fat content.
Now mix the butter, flour, and lard together. Keep it warm because you’re going to use it to make – and we kid you not – the “coffin” for the larks.
Now you can go find 36 larks, kill them somehow, and get to work plucking, cleaning, and deboning them.
But given that you’ve used a pound and half of pure fat and you’re going to mix a quarter of a pound of bacon into the lark meat, maybe you should just skip the whole thing and let the larks live. They are such pretty birds and they sing so well. Just ask Shakespeare (Sonnet 29) or Shelley (“To a Sky-Lark“).
If this meal just has too much fat for you, you could prepare a “pig’s fry.” It’s much lower in fat. For that dish you’ll need an onion, a lemon, an egg, parsley, sage, breadcrumbs and a pig’s harslet. What’s a pig’s harslet? Trust us, you don’t want to know.
The recipes come from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog by Anne Grossman (No groans please) and Lisa Thomas. If you read the O’Brien novels their cookbook is a pleasant accessory, because the characters eat many dishes no longer familiar to most of us.
The photo of the lark is by Daniel Pettersson