The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #42119   Message #2905660
Posted By: Jim Dixon
12-May-10 - 07:54 PM
Thread Name: WHY 4 & 20 Blackbirds baked in a pie?
Subject: RE: WHY 4 & 20 Blackbirds baked in a pie?
From an article "Culinary Curiosities" in The Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review (London: No. 123, Saturday, Sept. 22, 1821), page 596:

Another favourite dish at the tables of our forefathers was a pye of stupendous magnitude, out of which, on its being opened, a flock of living birds flew forth, to the no small surprise and amusement of the guests.

Four-and-twenty blackbirds bak'd in a pye;
When the pye was open'd the birds began to sing—
Oh! what a dainty dish—'tis fit for any king.

This was a common joke at an old English feast. These animated pies were often introduced 'to set on,' as Hamlet says, 'a quantity of barren spectators to laugh,'—there is an instance of a dwarf undergoing such an incrustation.—About the year 1630, King Charles and his Queen were entertained by the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham, at Burleigh on the Hill, on which occasion, Jeffrey Hudson, the Dwarf, was served up in a cold pye.—See Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting, vol. ii, p. 14.