Posts Tagged ‘The Food & Cooking of Ireland Cookbook’

Feral pigeon (Columba livia).

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Have you heard the one about the Irishman hunting and grilling pigeons in order to survive the recession?

No…this isn’t a joke. It is a true story that was covered by reporter Liz Alderman for The New York Times in December.

The article entitled “Hardships Linger for a Mending Ireland” was presumably written as a piece of hard-hitting journalism but, from the very start, it read more like a fluff-piece for a less reputable rag.

The first bit of shoddy journalism reared its ugly head when Ms. Alderman referred to Ireland’s capital city as “downtown Dublin”. {For the record, the correct terminology is “City Centre” or “Town”. It’s never, ever, known as “downtown”}. But that wasn’t what irked people. Even her grossly misstated data attributed to the Irish Central Bank wasn’t enough to cause public outrage.

No, what really got up the Irish nose was Ms. Alderman’s story about how one Irishman was surviving the economic crisis by shooting pigeons for food and grilling them outdoors to reduce his gas and grocery bills.

To make matters worse, the man at the centre of the story, 55-year-old John Donovan, wasn’t just any Irishman. He was and is an educated man. A man with degrees in law and business. A man who went from owning a five-bedroom home, and boats, and cars {note the “plural”} to living with his mum after his hardware supply business buckled. He is a man who sent out 1,583 resumes and only got for 4 interviews. A man who lives a short 10 minutes away from Bono (a point Ms. Alderman makes in her story).

But I don’t know…I read this story…and with a wee bit of time and distance to reflect on it…I am more than a little skeptical about the whole thing.

It’s not that I doubt John Donovan has struggled in the last few years or that before our economic meltdown he used to live a life that included more big-boy-toys and a big fancy home. I don’t even doubt that he holds advanced degrees. No, what I find hard to believe is that he’s been walking around one of Dublin’s suburbs with a gun shooting pigeons for his supper.

If you know Shankill, Mr. Donovan’s village, you know this story seems all the more outrageous. I’ve driven through it many times over the years and can’t, for one second, ever imagine anyone firing a gun at anything without it causing a stir. And by that, I mean “quite a stir”. The kind of stir that involves irate neighbors and the Guardi {police} racing in with their sirens blaring. This is, after all, Ireland…not America…we’re talking about.

Getting a gun is not easily done. Even if you can get one, you wouldn’t walk around leafy neighbourhoods firing at birds…not even if you are starving! And if, by some very rare-one-in-a-million-chance, you lost the plot altogether and did so, you can surely bet the incident wouldn’t be reported first in The New York Times. It would first be told in Ireland, by Irish people, many times over. It would be discussed on the radio, on television, and in our newspapers.

So, upon mature reflection, here’s what I think about the whole wretched story…”Good on you, John Donovan!”

Somehow the angels above smiled down on this man and a reporter at The New York Times appeared in his life at a time when he most needed help. He gave an interview that was read around the world and hopefully it has helped him get back on his feet, get a job, move out of his mammy’s home, or, at the very least, given him a good story to tell his friends at the pub on a Friday night. Whatever the case, I wish him the very best going forward.

To Ms. Alderman and The New York Times, I’d like to add…shame on you for writing and publishing such a badly researched, shoddy, article. You both should know better.

Now, with that off my chest, I’d like to end this post on an upbeat note. I phoned my local food emporium, Cavistons {of course}, and inquired about pigeon breast. Mark Caviston was only too happy to say that it is readily available at €3.99 each. Sure, at that price, why would you shoot your own?!

The recipe that follows is from Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell’s new book, The Food & Cooking of Ireland: Classic Dishes from the Emerald Isle. I haven’t made the dish myself {personally, I’m not mad about gamey meats.} but I’m sure it’s wonderful. Enjoy!

Pigeons in Stout

Serves 6


175/6oz thick streaky (fatty) bacon

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 or 3 garlic cloves, crushed

seasoned flour, for coating

50g/2oz/1/4 cup butter

15ml/1 tablespoon olive oil

6 pigeon breasts

30ml/2 tablespoons Irish whiskey (optional)

600ml/1 pint/2 1/2 cups chicken stock

300ml/1/2 pint/1 1/4 cups stout

175g/6oz button (white) mushrooms

beurre manié, if needed (see Cook’s Tip below)

15-30ml/1-2 tablespoons rowan jelly

sea salt and ground black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2. Trim the streaky bacon and cut it into strips. Cook gently in a large, flameproof casserole until the fat runs out, then add the two chopped onions and crushed garlic and continue cooking until they are soft. Remove from the casserole and set aside.

2. Coast the breast portions thickly with seasoned flour. Add the butter and oil to the pan, heat until the butter is foaming, then add the meat and brown well on all sides. Pour in the Irish Whiskey, if using. Carefully set it alight and shake the pan until the flames go out – this improves the flavor.

3. Stir in the stock, stout and the mushrooms, and bring slowly to the boil. Cover closely and cook in the preheated oven for 11/2 -2 hours, or until the pigeons are tender.

4. Remove from the oven and lift the pigeons on to a serving dish. Thicken the gravy, if necessary, by adding small pieces of beurre manié, stirring until the sauce thickens. Stir in the rowan jelly to taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the pigeons with the gravy while hot.

Cooks Tip: To make the beurre manié mix together 15g/1/2oz/1 tablespoon of butter with 15ml/1 tablespoon flour. Add small pieces of the mixture to the boiling gravy or sauce and stick until thickened.

Related Articles

*Cavistons Food Emporium Facebook Page

* Speaking of Pigeons over at Irish Language Blog

*How the Irish Really Cook Pigeon over at Newsvine

* A Recipe for Pigeon with Pommes Mousseline and Pancetta Peas over at Georgina Campbell’s Ireland website

* A Recipe for Pigeon Breast with Elderberry Sauce by Biddy White Lennon over at Irish Food Writer’s Guild

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