Food Fit for a King
14 March, 2013
Linlithgow Loch, next to Linlithgow Palace and Peel, is a nationally important haven for waterbirds. As part of the international effort to conserve and monitor these birds they are counted twice a year with the help of Historic Scotland’s rangers, based at the Peel.
This is part of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), a monitoring scheme for non-breeding waterbirds in the UK, which aims to provide the principal data for the conservation of their populations and wetland habitats. The recent count for Linlithgow Loch was:
|Great Crested Grebe||17||Pochard||23|
|Little Grebe||9||Tufted Duck||183|
|Hybrid Mallard||1||Grey Heron||1|
Most wild birds are now protected, but in the 1500s and 1600s hunting waterbirds was very popular. Using peregrine falcons to hunt herons was high sport and kings identified ‘their’ birds by means of metal leg rings.
The popularity of hunting and eating waterbirds led to a substantial reduction in numbers. In 1552, when Mary Queen of Scots was in France and Regent Arran was governing Scotland, an act of parliament was introduced to reduce ‘… the great and exorbitant dearth rising in this realm upon wild and tame fowl …’. The statute set a minimum price for game birds. It became illegal to sell swans and herons for less than five shillings a bird.
The types of game birds eaten included the heron, crow, swan, duck, cormorant and coot. Heron and swan were regarded as fit for royalty, and were viewed as delicacies.Swan was not as tasty as most other birds eaten in medieval times, but was still a status symbol. After cooking it would be decorated by replacing its plumage and gilding the beak. A cook book dating from the 1300s includes a recipe for heron sauce: ‘The heron shall be prepared as is the swan and it comes quickly to the kitchen. The sauce shall be made of him as a chaudon of ginger & of galingale, & that it be coloured with the blood and bread crusts that are toasted.’ Other birds made popular dishes and no impressive spread was complete without duck and coot.
The coot has a featherless white patch just above the beak, this gave rise to a favourite saying ‘Bald as a Coot’ in medieval times. The bird was also believed to represent a man who lives according to God’s will and remains within the Church – rather than straying down the path of heresy or following worldly pleasures. This tradition may have arisen because in the wild coots remain within a relatively small territory.
Linlithgow Peel is one of the sites included in a new website – Scotland’s Protected Places – a ‘hub’ for Scotland’s natural and historic protected sites. This resource is ideal for planning a day out, clearly describing what these places are, what they are for and where they are.