20 August 2012

Reed and Rail Bird Tidbits - 1884

"The reed bird is a little feathered tramp," said a game dealer to a reporter, "and he flies from the swamps of Louisiana, to the lakes and prairie of Manitoba and back every year. He is as fond of aliases as any tramp, and in Manitoba, Minnesota and the West generally is know as the bobolink, under which name he is eagerly sought after by the white trappers and Indian natives of the Western wilds as a savory addition to their meal. In the Middle and Eastern States he turns up in August and September as the reed bird, fat and juicy, fit to be killed, as the law allows, on after the 1st of September each year. Look at these specimens. They are the first of the season. They are fine and demand is good."

"Where are the principal hunting grounds?"

"The grain field of this State, Connecticut and Vermont, the swamps and fields of Long Island, but above all along the Jersey coast, where with his cousin-german, the rail, the little feathered bon vivant strips the luscious reeds of their mealy grain. But to get him at his fattest and juiciest you want to wait until late in October and November, when he has gorged himself with the pearly seeds of the wild rice swamps in the South. Then he is a fit morsel for the greatest gourmand in the land."

"How about the rail?"

"The rail, as I said, is cousin-german to the reed bird, but is a far gamier fellow. Flushing at the least noise, he is off like a flash, and the 'gun' that shows a 'bag' of rail as a trophy of a day's sport has something to be proud of."

"How do the birds sell and how is the market supplied with them?"

"The reeds and the rail sell about the same, say seventy-five cents per dozen. We buy them by the 500 dozen lot, and of course get a margin below the price. Rail are not coming in very plenty on account of the difficulty met with in shooting them. They can't be trapped like the reed birds, which are caught that way by the thousands. All other game birds in season are plentiful and prices are very low."

"How about the reed birds cooked in restaurants?"

"Well, a good many of them are sparrows. You see there are not enough to go around anyway, but in those cheap restaurants it is a safe thing to view a reed bird with suspicion unless you see it before it is cooked. Of course in a reputable place you can get them if they have them, and if they haven't they will say so. But this year there will not be so many sparrows killed, for reeds birds promise to be twice as plentiful as usual. But the man who wants to enjoy the tempting morsel wants more than a dozen, and the best way is to go and bag them. Then he will have the sport and the birds and the experience. Reed bird shooting doesn't require much preparation. The usual outfit is a double-barreled No. 12 breech-loader, a bag of No. 10 shot and about 100 shells. A good many prominent men shoot their own birds.

The are of cooking the reed bird is of equal importance with the science of shooting it. With the purpose of learning a little about such matters, the reporter called upon the king cook of a cafe. He was a little man, with light fluffy hair and a thick tongue when it came to talking English. He leaned inquiringly in the direction of the reporter, wiped his damp brow with his apron, and said, in reply to a question:

"There are many — fifty, a hundred, a thousand ways of cooking the reed bird. You can get them in any style at the restaurants. Speaking generally, however, there are only two ways of preparing them in favor in this country, broiling and roasting. Each style admits of very many agreeable combinations. You ask me to give you the names of a few popular styles of cooking reed birds and their characteristics. I will. Here, Antelo," and the head waiter approached, "please write for me some ways of cooking reed birds."

"First," said the chief, "there is what is known as en brochette. There they are broiled on toast, first being split in the back. There is a'Espagnole, with rice. They are cooked sautee, that is, what you would say, dry-fried, not fried in an ocean of grease, like the Americans mean by fried. There is added a trimming of Spanish sauce and Madeira. Another way is a la Madrilena, in which the trimming is green pepper and mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, capers, olives, and raisins. This dish gets its name from having been presumably introduced in Madrid, Spain, where they love reed birds greatly. The sautee a l'Italienne introduces the bird dry-fried — sautee you know," and the chief smiled patronizingly at the reporter. "The trimmings to this dish are hashed mushrooms and truffles, and Spanish sauce for a climax, all well seasoned. In a la Venetienne you have another combination of accessories, comprising onions and sherry wine, well seasoned, the bird being fried dry. The style a la Provencal affords an opportunity for the appearance on the dish of small onions, small tomatoes, roasted and well seasoned sauce. By reed bird a la Heina you may imagine mushrooms, tomato and Spanish sauces carefully mixed and truffles. The title a la Chasseur is given to a style in favor with hunters, as its name would imply. The birds are generally dry-fried and trimmed with wine, olives and laurel leaves. When they are fried in fancy paper boxes they are called en caisse and a la Pompadour.

September 27, 1884. Reed and rail. South Jersey Republican 22(39): 2.