Cynthia D. Bertelsen's Gherkins & Tomatoes

A Murder of Crows, An Unkindness of Ravens


They’re not visible to the naked eye, but I hear their raucous cawing every day, the very second I open the door.  Crows, maybe ravens. No matter where I live, these glossy black birds congregate. The only place on earth to escape these intelligent creatures lies far south, in Antarctica.

Crows and ravens eat whatever they find at the end of their beaks. Ravens often herd together to hunt animals too large for one bird to tackle. Like catfish and pigs, these birds also scavenge for food. And therein lies the reason that cooks generally avoid these so-called bottom feeders. Many farmers consider them pests and most states place no limit on how many a hunter can shoot.

“Four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie”* notwithstanding, the average cookbook author tends not to include recipes for crow and raven. But hunters know better. In researching crows/ravens for an ongoing project, I found 26 recipes for crow in Tommy Greene’s Florida Cookin’ Wild Style (2006). The average number of crows needed for most of the recipes runs around 10-12, crows not being overly meaty. Greene writes, “The crow has dark meat, and it is delicious, tasting much like chicken.” Bagging enough crows or ravens challenges even the most accomplished of hunters.

Many a legend or tall tale envelops these birds, stories dating back centuries. One in particular fascinates me. That’s the the lore surrounding the six ravens that must remain at the Tower of London, or else the kingdom will fall!

A murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens. Old ways of describing a flock. Isn’t the English language wonderful?


10 crows
Salt and pepper
Salt pork
3 green onions, minced
1 t. dried tarragon leaves
4 T. butter
1 1/4 cups orange juice
Grated rind from 3 oranges
1/2 cup currant
1/2 t. dry mustard
2 cans mandarin oranges, drained

Dress crows. Rinse, pat dry inside and out. Tie legs and wings close to body. Season with salt and pepper. Cover breasts with salt pork and tie in place. Roast at 425 F for 30 minutes. In a large skillet, sauté onions and tarragon leaves in butter for 3-4 minutes. Add orange juice, rind, currant jelly, mustard, and 1/4 t. salt, blend well. Bring to a boil. Remove crows from oven and place in skillet. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until crows are well done. Remove crows to serving platter, add mandarin oranges to sauce. Heat and serve with crows.

*The phrase comes from an old English nursery rhyme, “Sing a Song of Six Pence.” Note that blackbirds here refers to “a species of black thrush, the male having a bright yellow beak: Turdus merula. In the kitchen the blackbird comes second to the song thrush (Turdus philomelos) giving rise to the french saying: “faute de grives on mange des merles”: “when song thrushes fail, one eats blackbirds,” meaning that you’ll have to do with what’s available (thanks to Nick Trachet for setting me right on this):

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king.
The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.

© 2017 C. Bertelsen