Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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blackbird Turdus merula, a familiar European songbird, which ranges from the southern parts of Norway and Sweden down to the Mediterranean.

The English nursery rhyme about four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie might suggest that large blackbird pies were once common fare; but since ‘when the pie was open’d, the birds began to sing,’ the allusion must be to the medieval conceits known as subtleties, which often featured such surprises. However, blackbirds were eaten in the Middle Ages and the 17th century and even later (see, for example, a recipe for Blackbird pie given by Mrs beeton, 1861). In a few regions of continental Europe blackbirds are still used in pies or to make terrines.