1836 Parrot pie for Christmas

Parrot pie from Mrs Beeton's household management

One of the first settlers to arrive in Adelaide in 1836, Mary Thomas, wrote that she had celebrated Christmas according to custom with plum pudding. But the main dish had a more colonial flavour – ham and parrot pie. The colony of South Australia was proclaimed three days after Christmas.

While the colonists clung to English eating habits, necessity often obliged them to supplement their diet with Australian game.  Parrot pie apparently became a well-recognised dish, with a recipe making its way back to England to be included in later editions of Mrs Beeton’s cookbooks.

Eating the local wildlife persisted well into the 20th century. In 1907, Thomas Ward wrote in Rambles of an Australian Naturalist:

Parrot-shooting is a favourite sport in Australia, and takes the place of rook-shooting in England. It was, I think, a more prevalent pastime in my youthful days than at present. Parrots were then more abundant than they are now; and on public holidays, especially at Christmas time, people went out of the towns by hundreds, often for a week at a time, to shoot parrots. Parrot pie is as much esteemed in Australia as rook pie in England; and if the birds are young, is quite as palatable. But an old parrot is one of the toughest birds that fly, and one of the hardest to kill.

In 1931, the Truth in Sydney published the following recipe from Mrs Knight, of Stanhope:

I took six breasts of parrots – or the whole body, really, minus wings; I rubbed them all over with flour, salt and pepper, and put them in casserole, then I nearly covered them with water and cut up a fair-sized onion, a small carrot, a rasher of bacon, cut small, some thyme and parsley, and added these to the water, put the casserole top on and let it cook steadily for quite four hours, then I removed the top and put a good pie crust on top. Really, it was just beautiful.

Parrots weren’t just used in pies – they could also be made into soup, with the boiled parrots served separately. It was a lengthy process.  Queensland cookbook author Wilhelmina Rawson, in her 1878 book, suggested the following:

 Pluck and clean ten or twelve parrots, put them into a pot and just cover them with water; let them simmer for three or four hours; strain off the liquor and thicken it with a little cornflour or arrowroot, and flavour with a little pepper, salt, and spice to taste. The parrots can be sent to table either served as they are or with melted butter over them.

The Birds and Animals Protection Act 1918 specifically allowed the shooting of several species of cockatoo, parrot and lorikeet. All native species are now protected by law with some exceptions where they are causing damage to crops.

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