A Surfeit of Snipes

12 August, the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, when Victorian high society would leave London for moors, marshes and hills and the grouse-shooting season. It was the Game Act of 1831 that had introduced closed seasons, defined periods when the shooting of certain wildfowl species was strictly prohibited. The popularity of game within Georgian households had threatened the survival of many wild bird species in the British Isles, and government legislation was considered essential to protect economic interests in game bird populations.

The common snipe was not included in the 1831 Game Act. Perhaps their effective camouflage and erratic flight patterns helped to keep snipe populations buoyant for much longer than those of grouse, pheasants and partridges. Despite snipe being notoriously difficult to catch, our 18th century cookbook compilers clearly knew someone skilled in hunting these elusive animals, for here is a recipe for a ‘surfeit’ of them.

It’s a rich, meaty dish, perfectly suited for the onset of chilly autumnal evenings. So while the summer is still with us, maybe just make a mental note of it for a later month, when you have an appetite for something hearty and comforting. Indeed, snipes are considered at their best between December and January.

Recipe for a "surfuit" of snipes, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for a “surfuit” of snipes, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A  Surfuit of Snipes

Take a fillit of veal. Cut it small with a pd of sewit, half a pd of good fat bacon, some thyme & pepper, a little shred lemon. Let these be minc’d extraordinary small, & made in forc’d meat wth an egg. Put a layer at ye bottom of yr dish & cut yr snipes in halves & lay a thin rashure of bacon on them, every one. After you have place’d ym handsomly in yr dish, strow a good deal of crumbs of bread & shred parsley & a very little pepper over all. Put some forc’d meat on ye edge of yr dish, & yr forc’d meat yt is left put as a lid over ym. Bake it an hour at least. When it coms out, cut a whole in ye top & pour in some very good greavy. So serve it up for first course.

It’s all but impossible to get hold of snipe at the supermarket, but a butcher with a specialism in game may be able to get hold of some for you. There are some handy tips on preparing snipe on the BBC Food website. Or why not consider adapting the recipe for quails, which are generally far easier to source…