Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

April 2011

This months News



Nature Notes

Oh to be in England

Now that April’s here

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England – now!


Robert Browning, 1845

Never mind April showers, it is such a joy to have some sunshine at last.  The blossoms are coming out and the magnificent blackthorn flowers this month.  Already the first young crows, rooks and jackdaws are about.  We have a collared dove fledgling on our patio.  The parents visit periodically through the day to feed it; like pigeons they produce a ‘milk’ which they regurgitate to feed their young.  As I write this the fledgling can now just about fly up into the shrubs.  It’s hard to believe that this seventh most common garden bird first bred in Britain in 1952 and its numbers are now well over a quarter of a million.  In Germany it is know as the ‘television dove’ because it always calls from the aerials on the roof.  Its call note, a pleasant coo, coo-coo has more recently, perhaps justifiably, been described as a “mournful, penetrating and monotonous kuk coo ku”.  This call note has given rise to two other rather strange localised names: the Evostik bird, as its call sounds like E-vo-stik and in a similar vein, the United bird, U-ni-ted!

I am sure many of you have heard the pair of Canada gees flying very low over the village most days, usually at first light and again as the sun goes down.  The Canada goose is not a native species, but was introduced from America from the area of New England during the later half of the 17th century.  King Charles II acquired some for his wildfowl collection in St James’ Park and they were at that time known as the Colonial goose.  Later in Scotland they were called the Cravat goose because of the white ‘cravat’ at the top of the neck.  It is interesting to see how the name changed from Colonial to Canada.  During the 17th and 18th centuries, because of its size and fast breeding ability, it became part of the nation’s diet in the form of ‘potted goose’; it was highly nutritious and possessed a good robust flavour.  In 1808 the Swedish inventor Rapol Foil invented the first tin can (he later developed tin foil, which took his name), and one of the first products canned was the Colonial goose and it quickly became known simply as ‘Canned Goose’.  Apparently the Arctic expedition of 1824 took 12 cans of this product.  It remained very popular and the goose was often referred to as the Canning goose, which quickly, because of its North American origin, became the Canada goose.  It fell out of favour at the turn of the 20th century when canned beef started to arrive from South America.

So not all bird and animal names should be taken at face value.  Another example that puzzled me as a child was the Mute swan.  It can hiss, growl, grunt and trumpet, whilst in flight we hear that strange and beautiful whistling from its wing feathers.  It is also interesting that the old Anglo-Saxon ‘swan’ means ‘sounder’.  Unlike any other wild species, Mute swans were once considered to be the property of the crown, which granted rights of ownership to local dignitaries throughout the country.

Historically it became the most expensive and prestigious dish served at the high table.  Roasted swan graced every banquet.  A large individual can yield a roast of anything up to 20 lbs.  There are records of Henry III issuing requests for swans from across the country for the Christmas feast of 1251.  The total placed on the Royal table that holiday season was 351 birds, that’s approximately three tons of swan flesh!

These nature notes definitely seem to have drifted into the subject of food, but of course all food originally comes from nature, so I will continue.  As Easter approaches, thoughts go to holidays and special dinners or lunches, but our celebrations bear no resemblance to what Gervase Markham instructs the lady of the house to prepare in his book of 1683 called ‘The English House-wife’:

The House-wife shall bring to the table …. All her fricases, collops and rashers; after them all, simple broths, stewed broths, and the boylings of sundry Fowles.  Next then, all sorts of rost-meates, as chine beef, or surloyne, the jiget or legs of Mutton, Goose, Swan, Veal, Pig, Capon and such like.  Then bak’d meats, the hot sort, as Fallow-Deer in pastry, chickens or calves foot pye and Douset.  Then cold bak’d meats, Pheasant, Partridges, Turkey, Goose, wood-cock, and such like.  Then lastly, Carbonadoes both simple and compound … which will both give a most comely beauty to the Table, and very great contentment to the Guest …”

That is only the first course!  The second follows on in much the same vein, but includes many types of fish.  I think our ‘feast’ will be far more modest.  Happy Easter.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: May 04, 2011