What better way to start than:
Hail to thee, blithe spirit
|Skylark with a caterpillar in its beak|
(By Daniel Pettersson - CC A-S A 2.5 Sweden License)
In Britain the skylark numbers have fallen dramatically and I can’t remember seeing or hearing one in the last twenty years. It seems unbelievable that once they were considered a delicacy and appeared in Christmas feasts. Larks, commonly consumed with bones intact, historically were considered as wholesome, delicate, and light game. They were used in a number of dishes, for example, they were stewed, broiled, or used as filling in meat pies. Lark's tongues were particularly highly valued. Shrinking habitats made lark meat rare and hard to come by, though it can still be found in restaurants in Italy and elsewhere in Southern Europe.
For the cooks among you there is an ancient recipe for larks:
· Pound the flesh of two larks in a mortar; add some butter, some chopped samphire, some breadcrumbs soaked in milk, some Malaga raisins, and some crushed juniper berries.
· Stuff a third lark with the mixture and roast it on a spit covered with samphire leaves and a strip of fat bacon.
· Serve on a crouton soaked in gin, and then toasted and buttered
(Samphire is the name given to a number of edible plants that grow in coastal areas. It is mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear: Half-way down Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade! [Act IV, Scene VI]. This refers to the dangers involved in collecting rock samphire on sea cliffs.)
In the 18th and 19th centuries, 'lark women' were a common sight in the streets of Leipzig, Germany. They sold finger food to the people from baskets hanging from their arms. Larks or skylarks were the major ingredient of the food. Larks were said to have an aphrodisiac effect – even Casanova ordered them from Leipzig.
The big lark business in Leipzig came to a sudden end, when the Saxon King prohibited the killing of skylarks in 1876, due to public protests. A Leipzig baker then invented a sweet alternative, now known as the "Leipziger Lerche" (Leipzig Lark). This short pastry cake contains marzipan, almonds and strawberry jam, its appearance resembling that of the original lark pies. The Leipzig Lark is now a favorite Leipzig souvenir. And lark women are only seen as guides for guest in the streets of Leipzig...
|Lark women in front of Gohlis Palace, Leipzig|
(Photo: LTM - Keuhne)
Should you be one of those who likes birds for a Christmas feast then perhaps you would like the pie sent to King George III by James, Earl of Lonsdale. It contained contained 9 geese, 2 tame ducks, 2 turkeys, 4 fowls, 6 pigeons, 6 wild ducks, 3 teals, 2 starlings, 12 partridges, 15 woodcocks, 2 Guinea fowls, 3 snipes, 6 plovers, 3 water-hens, 1 wild goose, 1 curlew, 46 yellow-hammers, 15 sparrows, 15 chaffinches, 2 larks, 4 thrushes, 12 fieldfares, 6 blackbirds, 20 rabbits, 1 leg of veal, half a ham, 3 bushels flour, and 2 stones of butter. It weighed 22 stones, was carried to London in a two horse wagon, and if it was not as dainty as the celebrated pie containing four-and-twenty blackbirds, which, when the pie was opened, began to sing, it was, at all events, a ‘dish to set before the king.’
George III became King in 1760, around 100 years after the poet and politician Edmund Waller had written.
The lark, that shuns on lofty boughs to build
Her annual nest, lies silent in the field.
But if the promise of a cloudy day,
Aurora smiling, bids her rise and play,
Then straight she shews, ‘twas not for want of voice,
Or power to climb, she made so low a choice:
Singing she mounts, her airy wings are stretch’d
T’wards heav’n, as if from heav’n her notes she fetch’d
I’ve larked around long enough with only two photos to show, it’s time for you to fly off and check other festive fare at Sepia Saturday