Being a slightly silly person at heart, I recently bought myself some socks featuring Australian Bush Turkeys.
The designs not quite right – while admittedly I have what J once described as ‘short fat feet’ – the bush turkeys look well, a little too turkey like.
Bush turkeys are megapodes, and related (distantly) to jungle fowl. They are also both protected and a pest, with their habit of scratching up large incubation mounds of rotting vegetation, often these days in someone’s vegetable garden.
They are reasonably common down the east coast of Australia, but in the 1930’s they had been hunted almost to extinction, in part because they are pests.
Now it’s known that the first peoples of Australia enjoyed Bush Turkey – NITV’s food page still features a recipe for Bush Turkey and Mussel stew – albeit made with standard turkey these days, so did the early European settlers also try bush turkey?
In a word, yes.
Hannah Maclurcan, who published an Australian cookery book at the end of the nineteenth century, includes a recipe for bush turkey with that Victorian classic, bread sauce, so clearly people ate them.
Probably, since I’ve never tried eating one, the birds would be scrawny and tough and would ideally need to be hung first, or else chopped up and marinaded.
While it’s been said ‘when you cook a bush turkey in a pot, throw away the bush turkey and eat the pot’, I suspect that refers to a tough old bird put straight into the pot with no preparation.
So how did Hannah Maclurcan’s bush turkey taste?
‘a small bird, not much larger than a wild duck, with a breast like a pheasant and flesh as white. I have often served it as pheasant and people have not known the difference’
and that I think is the clue – treat it like a pheasant – hang it well,which would probably make it taste too strong for the twentyfirst century palate and smother it in a fairly well flavoured sauce, and that will render it edible – to a hungry nineteenth century traveller at least …