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'The following text on the raising and preparation of pigeons comes from the book -Country Housewife- No date of publication is given but from the spelling and grammar used, this book dates back to at least 1800. Although the raising of pigeons for food is no longer common, here is valuable information from a time when it was.
I Shall in this Month take particular notice of the Pigeon, whose Characteristicks are chiefly to have short Legs, and their Feet of a reddish Colour, to have long Wings, and to be quick of Flight; in which the spreading of their Tail-Feathers greatly contribute, as well as to guide them in the Air. They by for the most part two Eggs for one sitting, and so more; but breed often in the Year. When Pigeons are once paired, it is observed they are very constant to one another, and assist each other in the Incubation or Sitting on the Eggs, as well as in bringing up and feeding the young ones; and moreover it is remarkable, that a Pigeon has no Gall-Bladder.
The sorts are, first, the blue wild Pigeon, which is the most frequent in Dove-Cotes, but is not very large, nor disposed to breed so early in the Spring as some others: they are, however, a hardy kind, and will thrive any where, if there is plenty of Water; for tho' they are not of a watery Race, yet it is observable, that they covet to be where it is, and that they feed frequently upon the Banks of Rivers and Ponds. I have known that where there were two Dove-Cotes, that stood within a Mile of one another, and one of them was near a River, and the other remote from it, the Pigeons of the House distant from the Water, left their Habitation to reside in that next the River, even tho' they had an Allowance of good Feed at home.
Among the tame Pigeons, those which the _Italians_ call'd _Tronfo_, and we Runts, are the largest; but these may be again distinguish'd under the Characters of greater and smaller: those which are commonly call'd the _Spanish_ Runts, are very much esteem'd, being the largest sort of Pigeon, and are sluggish, and more slow of flight, than the smaller sort of Runts; but the smaller Runts are better Breeders, and quick of flight, which is to be esteem'd; because if they were to seek their Food far, they can range much more Ground, or return home much quicker on occasion of stormy or wet Weather. As for the Colours of their Feathers, they are uncertain, so that one cannot judge of the sort by them.
The next, which makes the largest Figure, but is not in reality the largest Bird, is the Cropper; it is so named, because they usually do, by attracting the Air, blow up their Crops to an extraordinary bigness, even so sometimes as to be as large as their Bodies. This sort is esteemed the better, as it can swell its Crop to the largest Size. The Bodies of this sort are about the bigness of the smaller Runt, but somewhat more slender. This sort, like the former, is of various Colours in the Feathers.
The next are those Pigeons call'd Shakers, and are said to be of two sorts, _viz._ the broad-tail'd Shaker, and the narrow-tail'd Shaker: The reason which is assign'd for calling them Shakers, is, because they are almost constant in wagging their Heads and Necks up and down; and the Distinction made between the broad and narrow-tail'd Shaker, is, because the broad tail'd sort abounds with Tail-Feathers, about twenty-six in number, as Mr. _Ray_ observes, and the narrow-tail'd Shakers have fewer in number. These, when they walk, carry their Tail-Feathers erect, and spread abroad like a Turkey-Cock. They likewise have diversity of Feathers.
The next I shall take notice of, are the Jacobines, or Cappers: These are called Cappers from certain Feathers which turn up about the back part of the Head. There are of these that are rough-footed: these are short-bill'd, the Iris of their Eye of a Pearl Colour, and the Head is commonly white.
The next is the _Turbit_, commonly so call'd, but what is the occasion of the Name, is not known, unless _Turbit_, or _Turbeck_, is a Corruption of the Word _Cortbeck_, or _Cortbeke_, which is the Name the _Hollanders_ give them, and seems to be derived from the _French_, where _Court-bec_ would signify a short Bill, which this Pigeon is remarkable for; the Head is flat, and the Feathers on the Breast spread both ways. These are about the bigness of the Jacobines.
The Carrier Pigeon is the next I shall take notice of; it is so call'd from the Use which is sometimes made of them in carrying of Letters to and fro: It is very sure that they are nimble Messengers, for by experience it is found, that one of these Pigeons will fly three Miles in a Minute, or from _St. Albans_ to _London_ in seven Minutes, which has been try'd; and I am inform'd, that they have been sent of a much longer Message: however, they might certainly be made very useful in Dispatches, which required speed, if we were to train them regularly between one House and another. We have an account of them passing and repassing with Advices between _Hirtius_ and _Brutus_, at the Siege of _Modena_, who had, by laying Meat for them in some high Places, instructed their Pigeons to fly from place to place for their Meat, having before kept them hungry, and shut up in a dark Place. These are about the size of common Pigeons, and of a dark blue or blackish Colour, which is one way of distinguishing them from other sorts: they are also remarkable for having their Eyes compass'd about with a broad Circle of naked spungy Skin, and for having the upper Chap of their Beak cover'd more than half from the Head with a double Crust of the like naked fungous Body. The Bill, or Beak, is moderately long, and black. These Birds are of that Nature, that tho' they are carried many Miles from the place where they were bred, or brought up, or have themselves hatch'd, or bred up any young ones, they will immediately return home as soon as we let them fly. Perhaps this may, in some measure, depend upon the Affection the Male or Female bear to one another. When they are to be used as Carriers, two Friends must agree to keep them, one in _London_, and the other at _Guilford_, or elsewhere; the Person that lives at _Guilford_ must take two or three Cocks or Hens that were bred at his Friend's at _London_, and the other two or three that were bred at _Guilford_; when the Person at _London_ has occasion to send an Express, he must roll up a little piece of Paper, and tie it gently with a small String pass'd thro'it about the Pigeon's Neck. But it must be observ'd before, that the Pigeons you design to send with a Message, be kept pretty much in the dark, and without Meat, for eight or ten Hours before you turn them out, and they will then rise and turn round till they have found their way, and continue their Flight till they have got home. With two or three of these Pigeon's on each side, a Correspondence might be carried on in a very expeditious manner, especially in Matters of Curiosity, or those things which tend to publick Good. I know a Gentleman that has set out on a Journey early in the Morning, where it was judged to be dangerous travelling, that has taken one of this sort of Pigeons in his Pocket, and at his Journey's End, which he tells me was near thirty Miles distant from his House, has turn'd off the Pigeon, and it has been at its feeding Place in nine or ten Minutes, with an Account of his safety. In _Turkey_ it is very customary for these Pigeons to be taken on board a Ship that sails, by the Captain, and if any thing extraordinary happens within the distance of six or eight Leagues, the Pigeon is sent back with Advice, which sometimes may be a means of saving a Ship from being taken by the Pyrates, or other Enemies, and expedite Trade.
The _Barbary_ Pigeon, or _Barb_, is another sort, whose Bill is like that of the _Turbit_, i.e. short and thick, and a broad and naked Circle of a spungy white Substance round about the Eye, like that in the Carrier Pigeon. The Iris of the Eye is white, if the Feathers of the Pigeon are inclining to a darkish Colour; but is red, if the Feathers are white, as we find in other white Birds.
Smiters are another sort of Pigeon, suppos'd to be the same that the _Hollanders_ call _Draijers._ This sort shake their Wings as they fly, and rise commonly in a circular manner in their flight; the Males for the most part rising higher than the Females, and frequently falling and flapping them with their Wings, which produces a noise that one may hear a great way; from whence it happens that their Quill-Feathers are commonly broken or shatter'd. These are almost like the Pigeon call'd the Tumbler; the difference chiefly is, that the Tumbler is something smaller, and in its flight will turn itself backward over its Head. The diversity of colours in the Feathers makes no difference.
The Helmet is another kind of Pigeon distinguish'd from the others, because it has the Head, the Quill-Feathers, and the Tail-Feathers always of one colour: Sometimes black, sometimes white, or red, or blue, or yellow; but the other Feathers of the Body are of a different colour.
The next Pigeon I shall take notice of, is that which is call'd the light Horseman; this is supposed to be a cross strain between a Cock Cropper and a Hen of the Carrier Breed, because they seem to partake of both, as appears from the exerescent Flesh on their Bills, and the swelling of their Crops; but I am not determin'd concerning that point, nor can give any good Judgment about it, till I have seen whether the Cropper be the Male or Female, upon which depends a Debate in Natural Philosophy, which has not been yet decided; this sort however is reckon'd the best Breeder, and are not inclin'd to leave the place of their Birth, or the House where they have been accustom'd.
The _Bastard-bill Pigeon_ is another sort, which is somewhat bigger than the _Barbary_ Pigeon; they have short Bills, and are generally said to have red Eyes, but I suppose those colour'd Eyes are belonging only to those which have white Feathers.
There is also a Pigeon call'd the _Turner_, which is said to have a Tuft of Feathers hanging backward on the Head, which parts, as Mr. _Ray_ says, like a Horse's Main.
There is a smaller sort than the former call'd the _Finikin_, but in other respects like the former. There is a sort of Pigeon call'd the _Spot_, suppos'd, and with good Judgment, to take its Name from the Spot on its Forehead just above its Bill, and the Feathers of its Tail always of the same colour with the Spots, and all the other Feathers are white.
Lastly, I shall take notice of the Pigeon call'd the _Mawmet_, or _Mahomet_, supposed to be brought from _Turkey_; however, it is singular for its large black Eyes; the other parts are like those of the _Barbary_ Pigeon.
These are the sorts of Pigeons generally known, for the large _Italian_ Pigeons are only the larger Runts; and I am of opinion, that the diversity of colours in Pigeons only proceeds from the diversity of kinds of Pigeons, that couple with one another; for I have known Swine that have been whole-footed, that have coupled with those that were clovenfooted, and the Pigs that were produced, were partaking of whole and cloven Hoofs, some one, some two cloven Hoofs, and the rest whole Hoofs.
Concerning the Life of a Pigeon, _Aristotle_ says, that a Pigeon will live forty Years, but _Albertus_ finishes the Life of a Pigeon at twenty Years; however, _Aldrovandus_ tells us of a Pigeon, which continued alive two and twenty Years, and bred all that time except the last six Months, during which space it had lost its Mate, and lived in Widowhood. There is a remarkable Particular mention'd by _Aldrovandus_ relating to the Pigeon, which is, that the young Pigeons always bill the Hens as often as they tread them, but the elder Pigeons only bill the Hens the first time before coupling. _Pliny_ and _Athenaeus_, from _Aristotle_, tell us, that it is peculiar to Pigeons not to hold up their Heads when they drink as other Birds and Fowls do, but to drink like Cattle by sucking without intermission; it is easily observed, and worth Observation.
To distinguish which are the Males and Females among Pigeons, it is chiefly known by the Voice and Cooing; the Female has a small weak Voice, and the Male a loud and deep Voice.
The Flesh of Pigeons is hard of Digestion, and therefore is not judged a proper Supper-meat; it is said to yield a melancholy Juice, but if boil'd are very tender, or roasted while they are called Squabs, _viz._ Pigeons about four days old, they are much better for the stomach, and then commonly yield, among the Curious in eating, about eighteen Pence, or two Shillings a piece. The Food which is generally given to Pigeons is Tares; but if we were to mix Spurry-Seeds with it, or Buckwheat, those Grains would forward their breeding, as has been try'd: however, if Pigeons are fed only with Tares, and are of a good kind, we may expect them to breed nine or ten times in a Year; but sometimes, perhaps, not hatch above one at a time, tho' if they were in full Vigour, they would breed up a Pair at one sitting.
In the feeding of Pigeons, it is adviseable not to let them have more Meat at one time than they can eat, for they are apt to toss it about, and lose a great deal of it; so that the contrivance of filling a stone Bottle with their Meat, and putting the Mouth downwards, so that it may come within an Inch of a Plain or Table, and will give a supply as they feed, is much the best way. And their drinking-water should be dispensed to them in the same way out of a Bottle revers'd with the Mouth into a narrow shallow Cistern; but at the same time they should not want the conveniency of a Pan of Water, if there can be no better had, to wash themselves in, for they are of themselves a Bird subject to contract Dirt and Fleas. This is what I shall say of the breeding of tame Pigeons at present.
As to the preparing of Pigeons for the Table, they are commonly either roasted, boiled, baked, or broiled; these are so generally understood, that I need not mention them, nor that Parsley is almost become necessary with them either to be roasted or boiled in the Body of the Pigeon, or put in the Sauces for them: this every one knows, but that the Liver of the Pigeon should be always left in the Body of it, is not known every where, otherwise it would not be so generally taken out and lost, as it is in many places remote from _London_; but this may be, perhaps, because every one does not know that a Pigeon has no Gall. As to particular ways of Dressing of Pigeons, there are two or three which I think are excellent. The first I had from a Lady in _Essex_, whom I have had occasion to mention in this and other Works, and that is in respect to broiling of Pigeons whole. When the Pigeon is prepared for the Kitchen, tye the Skin of the Neck very tight with Packthread, and put into the Body a little Pepper, Salt, Butter, and a little Water at the Vent, and tie it up close at the Neck, broil this upon a gentle Fire, flowring it very well, and basting it with Butter. When this is brought to Table, it brings its Sauce in itself. To those who are not lovers of Spice or Salt, the Butter and Water will be sufficient to draw the Gravy in the Pigeon: but a Pigeon that is split and broiled is of a very different Taste from this, and not worthy, in my opinion, to be reckon'd with it.
Another way of ordering Pigeons, which I met with by accident, and pleased me as well as several Gentlemen in my Company, was the boiling of Pigeons in Paste: The Receipt the People gave me for it, was, to fill the Belly of the Pigeon with Butter, a little Water, some Pepper and Salt, and cover it with a thin light Paste, and then to put it in a fine Linen Cloth, and boil it for a time in proportion to its bigness, and serve it up. When this is cut open, it will yield Sauce enough of a very agreeable Relish.
Stewing of Pigeons, from Mons. _La Fountaine,_ an excellent Cook in _Paris._
Pick and wash half a dozen Pigeons, and lay them into a Stew-Pan, with a Pint or more of good Gravy, an Onion cut small, or three or four large Shalots, a little Bunch of sweet Herbs, some Pepper and Salt, a Pint of Mushrooms that have been well clean'd, and cut into small Pieces, and a little Mace; let these stew gently till they are tender, and add to them about half a Pint of White-Wine just before you take them off the Fire; then lay your Pigeons in your Dish, and brown your Sauce after 'tis discharged of the Bunch of sweet Herbs and the Spice, which should be tied in a little Linen Cloth; pour then your Sauce with the Mushrooms over the Pigeons, and strew the whole over with grated Bread, giving it a browning with a red-hot Iron; or the grated Bread may be omitted.
Another Way of dressing Pigeons, from the same.
Take young Pigeons and par-boil them, then chop some raw Bacon very small, with a little Parsley, a little sweet Marjoram, or sweet Basil, and a small Onion; season this with Salt, and Pepper, and fill the Bodys of the Pigeons with it. When this is done, stew the Pigeons in Gravy, or strong Broth, with an Onion stuck with Cloves, a little Verjuice and Salt; when they are enough, take them out of the Liquor, and dip them in Eggs that have been well beaten, and after that roll them in grated Bread, that they may be cover'd with it. Then make some Lard very hot, and fry them in it till they are brown, and serve them up with some of the Liquor they were stew'd in, and fry'd Parsley.