Birds Encased

This dish was referred to in a sixteenth-century description of a London feast and there is also a seventeenth-century recipe from the Cotswolds. The birds used were plovers, wheatears, young pigeons or young partridges. Today, young pigeons or quails are usually obtainable.

Serve with whole french beans or young peas, and with half a blanched tomato, topped with a black olive, between each pastry-encased bird.


  • 6 young pigeons, cleaned and trussed, or 12 plump quails, prepared
  • lb (¾ kg) puff pastry
  • 1 stick (120 g) butter
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • Salt and pepper

For the Pigeons

  • ¼ lb (120 g) mushrooms, sliced
  • cup (1.5 dl) well-seasoned, thickened brown gravy with a tablespoon of red wine or sherry in it
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme

For the Quails

  • 24 white grapes, peeled and pitted
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine


Roll out the pastry to about inch (0.25 cm) thick (in two sections if more convenient) and leave to rest in a cool place.

Fry the pigeons or the quails in the butter on all sides. Allow the birds to cool a little. If using pigeons, lightly fry the mushrooms in the same pan.

Roll the pastry out again to a little less than inch (0.25 cm) thick. Place one of the birds on the pastry and cut a rough circle around it, leaving enough to be raised over the bird so that it will be in a little sealed bag of pastry. Remove the bird and cut the remaining pastry according to this pattern.

Place a bird in the centre of each piece of pastry.

Put 2 grapes with each quail, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and moisten with the wine. For pigeons, put a few mushroom slices with each, sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper and put a spoonful of gravy over each.

Pull up the pastry and pinch well together at the top. Brush over with the beaten egg.

Bake the pigeons at 450°F (230°C, Gas Mark 8) near the top of the oven for 10 minutes. Then move the birds to a lower part of the oven. Place a sheet of foil lightly over them, reduce the heat to 350°F (180°C, Gas Mark 4) and bake for a further 35 minutes.

Bake the quails in the same way, but give them only a further 10 minutes at the lower temperature.

Lift the encased birds very carefully on to a flat serving dish and serve immediately.