The Owl and the Pussycat
by Edward Lear
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’
Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
This poem raises a number a questions, some of which I will now address.
1. “Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl! / How charmingly sweet you sing!” – is an owl fowl?
No and yes.
In modern usage fowl refers only to domestic birds, or as the oxford dictionary calls them, gallinaceous birds. Wikipedia says: Gallinaceous birds are arboreal or terrestrial animals; many prefer not to fly, but instead walk and run for locomotion. I like the sound of these galliforms: they could fly if they absolutely needed to, but really find all that flapping to be somewhat vulgar. They confine themselves instead to more dignified methods of propulsion like running. And I have yet to see a more dignified sight than that of a jogging grouse.
Formerly fowl referred to all birds. In Old English the word was fugel from the german vogel.
2. Can I put my runcible spoon in the dishwasher?
3. The owl and the pussycat were wed by a turkey who lived on a hill. As such, was the marriage legally binding?
No. In my interpretation of the poem, the turkey was an adherent of aesthetic bohemianism. The secular ceremony he performed was most likely not considered legally binding in the jurisdiction of the land where the Bong-Tree grows. Below is an impression of how the avian officiant might have looked:
4. “They dined on mince, and slices of quince” – how can I make this wedding feast vegetarian?
I’m glad you asked. I got a present of a huge bag of quinces last weekend from a garden in Spandau, west Berlin.
Quince was something of a sacred fruit to the ancient Greeks so I was worried about letting them sit around too long, lest they go bad, angering the gods. I baked the quince slices with cardamon, cinnamon, cloves and some sugar.
I put the rest in jars for some future, quinceless day.
The above photo is in black and white because the colour version looks like something you’d find in the basement of a natural history museum. Just to round off the country housewife themed morning, I made a winter tea type beverage by simmering the quince skins.
You can find the recipe for the tea in my new book “A Thrifty Country Christmas”, which has yet to be commissioned or indeed written.
I hope the above will provide some ideas on how to enjoy slices of quince, minus the mince. This is sure to be useful to anyone planning a vegetarian Edward Lear themed wedding.
5. I don’t like mince or quince, what should I do?
A lot of people don’t know that Lear’s body of work includes a number of recipes. He was essentially the english speaking world’s first food blogger. Below is his recipe for Amblongus Pie.
TO MAKE AN AMBLONGUS PIE
by Edward Lear
Take 4 pounds (say 4 1/2 pounds) of fresh Amblongusses, and put them in a small pipkin.Cover them with water and boil them for 8 hours incessantly, after which add 2 pints of new milk, and proceed to boil for 4 hours more.
When you have ascertained that the Amblongusses are quite soft, take them out and place them in a wide pan, taking care to shake them well previously.Grate some nutmeg over the surface, and cover them carefully with powdered gingerbread, curry-powder, and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper.Remove the pan into the next room, and place it on the floor. Bring it back again, and let it simmer for three-quarters of an hour. Shake the pan violently till all the Amblongusses have become a pale purple colour.
Then, having prepared a paste, insert the whole carefully, adding at the same time a small pigeon, 2 slices of beef, 4 cauliflowers, and any number of oysters.Watch patiently till the crust begins to rise, and add a pinch of salt from time to time.Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of the window as fast as possible.
More of Lear’s inspiring recipes can be found here.