Magazine article The Spectator

Always Around

Magazine article The Spectator

Always Around

Article excerpt

There never seems to be any shortage of pigeons. Whether feeding in a field of corn or rape by day or coming into woodland at dusk, they are always around.

Depending on the weather and the time of day, you may have to wait a while for them, but, as William Douglas-Home once wrote in a memorable article for the Field on pigeon-shooting, 'they always turn up in the end'. They may be shot over decoys in spring and summer or from the shelter of trees on a winter's afternoon; with no close season there should always be a plentiful supply for the table.

These, of course, are wood pigeons. In addition, and especially in France, there are 'farmed' pigeons or squabs raised for meat, rather as they used to be in dovecotes in England, to provide food for the mediaeval lord of the manor when cattle could not be fed through the winter. Many dovecotes are works of art, and not only in Europe. I am thinking of one I have seen in Seringapatam, southern India, and of those exotic structures attached to the walls of palaces in Turkey, because in the pre-Muslim era the Turks believed that a person's soul was carried by pigeons to the gods. Pigeons were used to take messages during the siege of Paris in 1870-1, and a military pigeon-house was built in the French city of Albi during the first world war for those birds employed to carry the 'pigeon post'.

When the French keep pigeons today, they will be for racing or for the pot. If you are offered a whole roast pigeon in France, the chances are it will be a young reared bird, known as un pigeonneau. This is usually a more succulent, more tender bird than a wood pigeon, and with meat on the legs which is worth eating. The wild pigeons are more likely to be casseroled, as in the salmis de palombes which I have eaten in the French Basque country where these migrant birds are shot and netted in large numbers as they pass through the western Pyrenees.

Such a salmis is often made by partcooking the whole bird, then cutting off and reserving the breasts while a sauce is made from the legs and carcase, together with red wine, garlic, juniper berries, thyme and a beurre manié. Redcurrant jelly and port may also be added, while the pigeon's bones are discarded. …

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