During banquets starting from the Middle Ages, many royals and upper-class individuals used animated pies as entertainment. In these animated pies were living rabbits, frogs, turtles, birds, and other small animals that would escape the pie’s encasing to the guests’ amusement.
In a well-recognized English nursery rhyme entitled Sing a Song of Sixpence, the song references how people put small, living songbirds in pies to amuse the upper classes and nobility in celebrations when they were cut open.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Pies are undeniably well-loved by many people across the world. And although pies are only for consumption, the baked dish served another purpose back in medieval times, which is reflected in Sing a Song of Sixpence, an English nursery rhyme. (Source: Kerry)
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.(Source: Interesting Literature)
Many people have tried to interpret the nursery rhyme in different contexts, but the Four and twenty blackbirds / Baked in a Pie verse directly references a specific dish served between meals going back to the Middle Ages.
In French Cuisine during the 16th century, the nobility and upper classes received an entremet in between courses, a dish that primarily aimed to entertain upper-class individuals. The mentioned four and twenty blackbirds verse was an essential ingredient in the served pie, and most might think these affluent individuals ate the cooked meat from the blackbirds, but in reality, the birds were still bustling with life, rather than being baked.
In addition to that, the blackbirds stated in the rhyme generally meant small songbirds instead of the common blackbirds found in the United Kingdom.
For royal banquets, cooks produced a massive pie with a collection of living songbirds beneath the outer crust. After they set the pie on the table, the baked dish’s outer crust would then be sliced, revealing birds that immediately flew out of the pie’s casing, amusing the guests. (Source: Kerry)
Are Only Birds Used in Animated Pies?
The Blackbird Pie is one of the more famous examples of animated pies, which became one of the most prominent forms of entertainment. Birds weren’t the only things encased in pies as people also used other small animals in this baked food, including turtles, rabbits, frogs. Some animated pies even included little people that would recite poetry and do tricks on the table after their reveal.
Another example of the usage of animated pies is the 17th-century dwarf named Jeffrey Hudson, who would continue to be a court favorite and the Queen’s Dwarf after revealing himself in a cold pie served to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria in a banquet. (Source: What’s Cooking America)