From rosella pie to the ‘delicate’ flesh of baby emus, the 19th century ornithologist relished the taste of the creatures he so meticulously studied
Sat 30 Dec ‘17 03.16 GMTLast modified on Sat 30 Dec ‘17 03.18 GMT
Of all the changes to the study of ornithology in the past 200 years, the most striking, when reading John Gould’s seven-volume 1848 treatise The Birds of Australia, is the apparent lack of interest among modern scientists in what their subjects taste like.
Gould left no such questions unanswered. The prototype of his beautifully illustrated guide, digitised and made available online by the State Library of New South Wales, contains many tips for the keen sportsman on how best to shoot each of the featured birds and, where Gould had opportunity to sample them, what they tasted like.
Parrots, he wrote, were so good he never turned them down.
Of particular note was the Tasmanian rosella or Platycercus caledonicus, which is listed in volume five as the yellow-bellied parakeet.
“Most of my readers are doubtless aware that Parrots are frequently eaten by man, but few of them are, perhaps, prepared to hear that many species of the family constitute at certain seasons a staple portion of the food of the settlers,” Gould writes.
The Tasmanian rosella had the dubious honour of being the tastiest of the parrots Gould sampled
“Soon after the establishment of the colonies of Van Diemen’s Land, pies made of the bird here represented were commonly eaten at every table, and even at the present time are not of unfrequent occurrence. It was not long after my arrival in the country before I tested the goodness of the flesh of this bird as a viand, and I found it so excellent that I partook of it whenever an opportunity for my doing so presented itself. It is delicate, tender, and well-flavoured.”