Last week a friend of mine (let’s call him Jerry; it’s short) posted a photo of himself on Facebook, holding a wonderfully golden brown round loaf fresh out of the oven. Jerry had captioned the photo “Seemed to have cracked this sourdough baking lark’.
This got me thinking; nobody much seems to bake larks anymore, in sourdough or otherwise. I think the last lark gourmets were the Romans and since the Second Punic War, when Hannibal crossed the Alps with his elephants, intent on stamping-out Roman hegemony in the Mediterranean, menus have progressively lacked the lark option.
However, being something of a dilettante food historian, I happen to have a method for making lark pie, should you wish to revive this ancient Roman delicacy. Or you could ask Jerry for his lark loaf recipe.
First get some larks – you need to go out into the fields early on a midsummer’s day. You will need an air pistol, extraordinarily good eyesight and a rock-steady hand. A shotgun’s no good; the noise just scares the buggers away. After you’ve bagged a dozen or so, it’s back to the kitchen. Prepare the birds in the usual way (plucking, gutting) being sure to reserve the giblets for the gravy. Unless you don’t mind crunchy bits in your lark pie/loaf you’ll probably also want to bone-out the birds – a Swiss army knife has all the implements you will need to accomplish this.
Historians are uncertain whether it was Hannibal who invented the Swiss army knife when he was crossing the alps; of course it would have been a much simpler affair back then, with not much more than a blade and a long spike for taking stones out from between elephants’ toes. It has also been conjectured that Hannibal took a form of sourdough across the alps with him, but this is not a Hannibal Lecture; this is about cooking and consuming unusual foods so, on to the piecrust.
For this to be authentic, you will need to use semolina flour made from 100% durum wheat grown in the Po Valley. If we are to believe Heredotus, Roman chefs would sometimes try to pass-off inferior ingredients as being the real thing. Heredotus tells us that, when questioned about the provenance of their flour, the chefs would be quite po-faced as they solemnly swore by all the gods that the grain had been grown in the lush pastures of the north.
Then comes the baking bit – while the Romans were very clever and invented a lot of things, they never did come up with the fan oven, so the closest you can get to doing as the Romans did is to use a wood-fired pizza oven – did the Romans invent pizza? Probably. Anyway, when your pie looks ready, drench it with plenty of hot rosemary gravy, serve and enjoy! Not really a dish for midsummer though; maybe that’s why it’s popularity has waned. Maybe a terrine would be better – does anyone have a recipe?
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