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Eating Crow

Fatty’s new bar is very accommodating and it is difficult to leave. Nonetheless, I remind my companions, we have to go as we have a huge, urgent, task to complete, but the longer we stay in the bar, the longer we don’t go anywhere, but we aren’t going anywhere, we are in hostile territory and we are glaschandishly behind schedule. Ordering another six bottles of Vintage Glencadam Private Reserve, Juan says that we should stay a little longer as Fatty’s new bar is very good, it reminds him, he says, of a pub called the Crow and Hoop. On hearing the word ‘crow’, Rory MaCullum twitches. I tell Rory to ignore Juan, while it is true Fatty’s new bar is very good, with a wonderful selection of Fine Vintage Malts, but, I tell Rory, Juan is only mentioning crows to be irritating. Juan, however, won’t shut up, and says that that when he is on watch at sea, he spends many happy hours in the crow’s nest, watching the sea, or sleeping, and dreaming about the Crow and Hoop.

For Juan to deliberately annoy Rory is ignorant and unfair, Rory is a brilliant, dedicated, hard working surgeon, operating in difficult and dangerous circumstances, and he became a doctor of medicine in order to heal people, to save people’s lives. However, rather than acknowledging Rory’s inspiring commitment, Juan, who is brutish, lazy and who only joined the medical profession in order to more closely examine women, childishly insists on bringing up the one subject guaranteed to make Rory nervous and upset. I think about shutting Juan up by hitting him on the head with a crowbar, but decide against it in the interests of common courtesy.

Juan ordinarily behaves like a delinquent, but I expect better of George, so I am shocked when George produces a painting of a carrion crow. However, I have to admit that it is a very fine crow, Juan, boorishly, tells George that if he can’t paint a picture of a woman he is just wasting paint and spoiling a good canvas. I tell Juan that the canvas isn’t spoiled because the paint will make the canvas waterproof, which is a good thing, and, I point out, George did not waste much coloured paint, as the crow is mostly black. Fatty says that the painting inspires him to serve minced crow with stuffed pig’s feet. I remind Fatty that pork is not a favourite food in this area and Albert says that, historically, people do not want to eat crow either. Rory shouts that people talking about crows all the time is sending him crazy.

Albert, ignoring Rory, remarks that, at least, George did paint the crow black, which is the proper colour for a crow. George tells Albert that crows come in different colours and, in fact, some people say that the crow’s feathers contain spots of blue. Fatty says that it looks tasty, which is always a good sign. Rory bangs his fists on the bars and yells that we are talking about eating crows again, I say that, strictly speaking, we could be talking about swallowtails, which are often confused with crows, but Rory yells that it doesn’t matter if they are swallowtails or crows, or blue crows or spotted crows or spotted blue crows, he can’t bear to hear about crows or eating crows, or anything about crows at all. With that, Rory slumps onto the bar and starts weeping.

Fatty asks why the subject of crows upsets Rory so much. I explain that when Rory was an internationally recognised lepidopterist, he was asked to identify a particular species of butterfly. However, as Rory had just returned from a vicious drinking session with Juan and Mahalath, his vision was so badly askew that the butterfly was too blurred to identify, sadly, rather than admit that he was too sozzled to see straight, he guessed, and said that the butterfly was a swallowtail, the Great Blue Mime, Papilio paradoxus, but, tragically, he guessed wrong, actually, the butterfly was the Blue Spotted Crow, the deadly Danaid, Euploea midamus.

Needing a snack, and, seeing that Rory is visibly distressed, I change the subject from eating crows to eating chicken by asking Fatty for half a chicken. Fatty says that half chickens are a rare breed, and he doesn’t have any, he was thinking about baking a lark and wren pie, but he is short of wrens; on the other hand, he says, roast swallowtail sounds nice, but he is not sure what kind of bird a swallowtail is, so he doesn’t know how to cook it, however, he adds, if it would be of any help, he would be happy to serve a cold collation dish, such as larks farcie, instead, especially as pigs are off the menu, and Rory doesn’t like crows. I tell Fatty that that is a good idea, but Rory moans, puts his head in his hands, and rocks backwards and forwards in distress.

Seeing that Rory is so disturbed, George says that he is sure that Rory guessing the species of butterfly might have been a tad unprofessional but, ultimately, it cannot be too serious. I tell George that, unfortunately, it was criminally irresponsible. Juan says that Rory is an idiot, everybody knows that the difference between the Great Blue Mime and the Blue Spotted Crow is that you can spend all day stuffing Blue Mimes into your mouth and the only thing that will happen is your tongue will turn blue and your throat will get a bit tickly, but eating the Blue Crow will probably kill you, because it’s poisonous. And this, I explain, was the problem; a picture of Rory’s misidentified butterfly was published in a survival manual; trusting the guide, a Special Services chef inadvertently cooked up a Euploea midamus stew, an entire company of soldiers became too incapacitated to function, failed to stop a local uprising and a massacre ensued. To make matters worse, when the blame for the slaughter fell on Rory, rather than admit he had made a grievous error, he claimed that the butterfly was a Papilio paradoxus, Euploea midamus hybrid; the entire entomological community turned against Rory and, in entomological magazines, there appeared ludicrous pictures of supposed hybrids with names such as Papilio Leuconoe MaCullum. The shame was too much to bear and Rory, his reputation destroyed and his career in ruins, was forced to abandon his studies, leave Scotland, and hide out in the desert for ten years.

Juan, to take Rory’s mind off his problems with crows, orders Vintage Lochside, Glen Spey, Tamnavulin, and Dailluaine Special Reserve, Fatty knocks up a plate of lark farcie, we offer toast after toast to Rory and wish him better luck in the future, I inflate my bagpipes and play a wild rendition of the air, ‘Chough and Crow’, Juan bellows a bawdy version of James Macdonald’s ‘The Lark and the Wren’, then, singing and cheering and shouting with excitement, we tumble around in befuddled circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary

Stuffed Pig’s Feet, (Pieds de Porc, Farcis)

Ingredients – 4 pig’s feet, 1 tablespoonful of four, 1 egg, breadcrumbs.

For the stuffing: 2 tablespoonfuls of cooked and finely-chopped onion. 1 small tablespoonful of breadcrumbs, half a teaspoonful of powdered sage, 1 tablespoonful of oiled butter, half a teaspoonful of made mustard, half a teaspoonful of salt, quarter of a teaspoonful of pepper.

Method, - Put the feet into a stewpan with a teaspoonful of salt, cover with cold water, and boil gently for about 3 hours. When done, split the feet, remove the bones, and press the forcemeat made of the above ingredients into the cavities. Replace the halves together, and press between 2 dishes, with a heavy weight on top, until cold. When read to use, cut the feet into slices about 1 inch in thickness, roll each piece in flour, brush over with egg, coat with breadcrumbs, and fry until nicely browned in hot fat. Or, if preferred, fry them in a little hot butter in a sauté-pan. Garnish with fried parsley before serving.

Time; 5 or 6 hours. Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Recipe by Isabella Beeton, 1861