For the Birds Radio Program: Swan recipes

Original Air Date: Nov. 15, 1995

Laura unearthed some recipes for swans, which provide food for thought if not for her table. 3:11

Audio missing


Last week when I was standing up at Hawk Ridge, a wedge of 27 whistling swans winged past. Technically, these are now called Tundra Swans, having been lumped with an arctic species formerly known as Bewick’s Swan, but since these birds were making beautiful music in the sky, I feel quite comfortable even as a professional calling them whistlers. In spring, swans and geese are a hopeful sign of warmer days to come. This time of year, balmy days have disappeared even faster than swans can fly, but seeing these beautiful birds in their family groups, young birds migrating with their parents, is a lovely remembrance of the warmth of days gone by and of the abundance of riches that summer has left us with.

Swans are among my absolute favorite birds. Every time I’ve ever seen them I’ve been moved by their sheer loveliness, and that is the precise word to use in referring to swan beauty, for these are the birds that define love itself, with their lasting devotion to mate and family—devotion so huge as to take real physical form in the swan. I could never, ever take aim at a swan with a gun. For a long time swans were completely off limits to hunters, but because Tundra Swans winter in huge numbers on the Chesapeake Bay, hunting has been opened up on them there, and they’ve become a popular and legal game bird in those parts. I’d lose my appetite if swan was on the table but, just in case you ever find yourself in need of a swan recipe, I’ve found one published in 1843 that actually rhymes.

Take three pounds of beef, beat fine in a mortar,
Put it into a Swan—that is, when you’ve caught her;
Some pepper, sauce, mace, some nutmeg, and onion,
Will heighten the flavor in gourmand’s opinion.
Then tie it up tight with a small piece of tape,
That the gravy and other things may not escape.
A meal paste, rather stiff, should be laid on the breast,
And some whited brown paper could cover the rest.
Fifteen minutes at least ere the Swan you take down,
Pull the paste off the bird that the breast may get brown.

And we mustn’t forget the GRAVY

To gravy of beef, good and strong, I opine,
You’ll be right if you add half a pint of port wine; Pour this through the Swan—yes, quite through the belly,
Then serve the whole up with some hot currant-jelly.

Of course, you can’t shoot a swan in these parts without getting into big trouble, so if you see a group of swans flying over, don’t rush out to buy current jelly, or instead of a big fine meal, you’ll be getting a big fine and your meals in jail.