Saturday, 8 January 2005

The Family Phasianidae

Included in this family of birds is the grouse species, among its subspecies being Lagopus lagopus scoticus, the red grouse of Britain, and Lagopus lagopus lagopus, the willow grouse, known in North America as the willow ptarmigan.

This piece of information might have made the next in my series of Not Very Interesting Facts, but is actually from another entry in the mighty Oxford Companion to Food. I have already noted one of the editor’s occasional tongue-in-cheek comments which enliven this immensely serious work, and under GROUSE there is another example:
Grouse, plump and chicken-like, are chiefly ground-dwelling birds. However, at least in Britain, ‘sport’ requires that they be not shot on the ground. Thus grouse-shooting calls for beaters, whose task is to advance through the terrain where the grouse lurk, beating the heather or bushes, and making a commotion sufficient to frighten the birds into the air, where they present a legitimate target for the shooting party. The subspecies of the human race which is the chief predator of the grouse used to be readily recognizable, whether male or female, by its raiment of heathery tweed; but in the course of the 20th century increasing numbers of foreign predators came on the scene, often of a different and less appropriate coloration, yet still to be identified by the tell-tale guns which all carry.

This entry also quotes from an 1855 Eliza Acton recipe for roasting grouse, recommending that during the roasting “a buttered toast should be introduced under the bird in the dripping pan….” Nowadays, of course ,we do not refer to a toast but always a piece of toast, but the French have as an irritating Anglicism un toast.

No comments: