Eating Pigeons by the Forkful!

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This week we're thrilled to have guest blogger Courtney Humphries posting with us. Courtney is the author of Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan...And the World and today she's riffing on pigeons as a meal. We'll let her take it from here:

pigeon1.pngPigeons are edible, I swear! Since pigeons tend to poke around for food on sidewalks and in gutters, it might not occur to you that the birds are actually pretty appetizing. These days, we're too used to seeing them as dirty urban pests instead of the mouthwatering treats they once were.

Truth be told, these birds have been enjoyed by people for thousands of years; in fact, they may have been the first bird to be domesticated for food in ancient Egypt and the Middle East. Pigeon dishes feature in traditional cuisines in Africa, Asia, and Europe, and Latin America and the poultry is typically served as a delicacy-- prized for its dark, rich meat.

As for how to go about eating a pigeon (plating and chewing aside) here are a few tips. Pigeons are generally eaten just before they leave the nest, when they're about four weeks old. As young birds, called squabs, they have a tender, dark meat that's full of flavor. Because pigeons take a fair amount of time and labor to raise, they often fetch a high price at restaurants.

More than Meat

Oddly enough, their meat isn't the only strangely valuable thing about the birds.

Ancient Egyptians built large pigeon-houses, or dovecotes, which could house hundreds of birds, partially because pigeons were also highly valued for their dung. Egyptians collected and used it to fertilize the Nile valley.

Romans, who loved poultry of all sorts, also kept pigeons and brought them all over Europe. The birds were kept in lofts at the tops of houses or in large stone buildings called dovecotes.

How the Pigeon Came to America

Pigeons were so popular that they were carried on European ships to serve as food for settlers in North America. The street pigeons we see here are all descendants of these domesticated birds. In the U.S., pigeons were kept mostly on estates, but some entrepreneurs tried to launch large-scale pigeon farms beginning in the early 1900s. They developed special large breeds of pigeons with names like Silver King, Carneau, and Swiss Mondaine. Although many pinned their financial hopes on pigeons, a lot of these ventures eventually went bust. Today, there are still several pigeon farms around the country supplying birds to restaurants and specialty food stores. In Boston, it's easy to find pigeon dishes at French restaurants and in Chinatown, where crispy fried squab is a traditional dish.

Of course, a much more inexpensive way to eat pigeon would be to catch one off the sidewalk. But since all urban birds can carry high levels of lead and other toxins, I'd recommend sticking to a country pigeon raised safely on a farm.
superdove.pngWant more stories about pigeons? Click here to purchase Courtney's wonderful book Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan...And the World. And be sure to check out Wednesday's post on Pigeon Guided Missiles.

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February 12, 2009 - 5:51am
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