Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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canvasback Aythya valisineria, a wild duck of N. America, known especially from the saltwater marshes and bays of the eastern seaboard, but also present on the Pacific coast, is the largest of what Americans refer to as ‘bay ducks’. De Voe (1866) observes that up to the early part of the 19th century there was little or no distinction made in the markets between this duck and relations such as red-heads and broad-bills; but that from the 1820s onwards the superiority of this species (if taken from suitable feeding grounds) was widely recognized. In the two paragraphs quoted below de Voe explains how the canvasback received its common name and dilates upon its merits.

Canvas-back duck received its name from the fact that a portion of the back of the drake resembles a piece of canvas. The bill of this duck is black, and higher at the base than the red-heads, and nearly in a straight line with the head, about 3" long.

This, no doubt, is the finest and choicest wild-duck known for the table, when in season, which generally appears to be in the latter part of November and through December; and then, provided they have been killed in the Susquehanna, Chesapeake, Potomac, and Delaware Rivers, feeding on what is commonly called wild celery, they are very fat, fine, tender, and with that delicious flavours much admired. If taken at any other season and place they are but little better than some of the common sea-ducks.