Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Joys of old recipes. I happened across the most delightful old cookbook at a library book sale. Charmingly, it has recipes on each contributor's letterhead, with their signature after the recipe, and sometimes a drawing of their stately home on the opposite page. Since it's an Irish cookbook, the 'stately old homes' appear more like castles than anything else.

Although published as late as 1974, I found a number of items that were either not recognizable, or I suspected hard to find. Snipes (for snipe pudding), partridges, and pigeons as well as gulls' eggs were among the more interesting ingredients.

I thought perhaps I stood a fair shot at making Gulls' Eggs, since I have ferreted out sources for quail eggs for Japanese dishes. And how could I mess up such as simple recipe? Boiled gulls' eggs with celery salt? Sounded like a unique and interesting appetizer to get dinner conversation rolling! I've found that Chowhounders have a wealth of information to share about where to find unique ingredients, so I posted a query there. I quickly received the following responses:

"Yes, that would be "sea"gulls (my bird-nerd friends will tell you there's no such thing as a "seagull"). I don't think the eggs are commercially available. Gull eggs were used in the Gold Rush days only because hens' eggs weren't available -- there were more gulls than chickens in the Bay Area. A couple of species of seabirds on the Farallons were virtually wiped out because of the demand for eggs. I think the only way to get gull eggs is to go out and raid the nests yourself, which I don't recommend (gulls being large birds with nasty tempers)."


"Given what they eat I would advise using chicken eggs instead."

Thus down went my enthusiasm for obtaining gulls' eggs for an authentic experience. And I don't think providing celery salt for hens eggs as an appetizer would have quite the same effect with my guests.

I then investigated snipes as I had no idea what they were -- birds it seems. Cute ones. Likely unobtainable, as Wikipedia says that these birds have a reputation for being so elusive that the word "sniper" is derived from them. The photo above is from Irish Field Sports, where it states that this bird is the smallest wild game bird in Ireland, and quite plentiful. Even if I could locate six of these for the Snipe Pudding, I just don't think I could eat anything this cute, much less cook it myself.

On to something more common, the hare. Now here's something I know I can get, and I learned from my French host mother for a week in the north of France how to cook these French style, starting with skinning! So I delved further into the recipe for "Glaslough Hare". Hmmm.. choose a 'well hung' hare, and reserve the blood. Oh, the blood gets added to the sauce during the last 10 minutes of cooking... well, maybe not this one.

I think I'd better be content with trying "Orange Fool"! Oranges - check, lemons - check, cream - check, sugar - check, sponge cakes - check! Yes, this one is definitely doable in my kitchen!


Elle said...

Yes, the Orange Fool sound much more likely that gull eggs, snipes, or hare's blood. Foraging for wild menu items must have been normal in Ireland when people there were without computers. Today I suspect that most would not know how to obtain those ingredients, although the hare with hare's blood is probably available from a good butcher in Ireland.

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

Looks great! The gulls eggs are for sure an old delicacy.

Anonymous said...

Anna, sorry you didn't get to experiment with the snipe recipe. Yes they are cute but the shooting of them is quite a task. So much so that I rank getting them up there with abalone. It can be done as I have 9 in my refrigerator right now. I was hoping for a recipe that the whole family could enjoy. I would be interested in how they fix them in Ireland.

Anna Haight said...

Hello Anonymous,

If you are interested in Irish cooking in general, you can easily find used ones for sale on the web, and they have other game recipes as well. If you are only interested in the snipe recipe, e-mail me at anna AT annalou DOT com and I'll run it down and send you a PDF of it.