Preparing the ortolans

Ortolans are tiny, so they need to be trapped, not shot from the sky with a bow, or torn by a falcon. They don’t flock, which makes this even more challenging to collect in numbers.

Trapped orotolans are kept in the dark. This tricks them into thinking it is night, when they eat, or perhaps winter, so they bulk up on millet to give them the energy to migrate.  In Roman times, ortolans had their eyes pricked out with pincers, to make them eat.

They fatten quickly, and can reach four times their normal weight. They are judged ready, according to the London Cookery Book by Frederick Bishop, when they fill the hand. He refers to them as “lumps of celestial fatness.”

The orotlan is not killed by the blade, as other birds. This bruises the flesh and ruins the visual impact of the dish. It The French method of dispatching an orotolan is drowning in armgnac, which is a type of brandy.

Modern authors talk about vats of brandy, but Bishop just uses a glass. He seems to prepare ortolans one at a time. Immersion marinates the bird while killing it, and fills its stomach, and perhaps lungs, with brandy.

There are various methods of cooking, but many emphasize that the bird should be cooked in its own fat. It is roasted or charred only briefly, to warm it and remove the feathers.


Before eating the diner places a towel over his or her head. Some say this is to capture the aroma of the bird. Some say that it is to hide the grinning, drooling, overstuffed face of the diner, particularly if they spit out the head, feet or larger bones,. Others say it is to hide the sin of eating a defenseless songbird from the eyes of God

The bird is placed in the mouth feet first, with the head escaping from between the lips. Bishop suggests cutting the feet off, but that seems

Less common in the modern day, when they are swallowed or spat out as the diner chooses.

The orotlan is crunched down upon with the molars, to create a paste of the fat, small bones, organ meats, and brandy.  Anthony Bourdain also says there’s salt from the diner’s own blood, as the bones prick the inside of the mouth, but I can’t see that mentioned in other sources.

Many describe the experience as meditative, Personal awareness recedes before an overwhelming wave of flavor. Time seems to slow, or pause.

Some people crunch the skull: some sever the neck with their incisors and catch the head in a napkin.

Plot hooks

The heroes of French novels seem to think they are irresistible to women while eating orotolans.  They act as if their Confidence points are through the roof. In Ars Magica, people can gain Confidence point via sin.  This open up all of the love potion plot hooks.

Alternatively, men eating ortolans might really be terribly attractive. Who could tell?  They have towels over their heads. Maybe it’s to stop those who have midrange scores on the Kinsey Scale from changing a dining experience into an erotic one?  There are blackmail stories here.

Pickled ortolans were one exported, by the case, from Cyprus. Why does Cyprus have all the really cool stuff? The name Cyprus comes from the copper that was vital during the Bronze Age.  In 1220, they are the centre of the saffron trade: literally the most expensive bulk commercial good in Mythic Europe. Apparently they also have heaps of celestial fat balls. What’s going on in Cyprus?  Is it faeries?  Is it magi?

A covenant might have ortolan export as its source of income. The birds can be called together by magic, kept in the dark using Circle spells, and brandy is easy to make with the smokeless heat provided by Ignem spells. Setting this up would be a story.

The ritual of dining seems to evoke the sin of gluttony deliberately: particularly the nullifcation of the self through taste. The demonic chef given on page XX of Realms of Power: the Infernal might be behind its spread.

I can’t see notes about the method of trapping these birds, but I imagine it uses birdlime. Birdlime is a latex glue made by boiling the sap of various plants. British birdlime is made from holly: Italian from mistletoe. A magus skilled in Herbam might create this substance for non-lethal combat. It’s also used to fireproof wood.

As a songbird that tastes delicious, the ortolan seems perfect as an Imagem vis source. If contested, then gourmad noblemen, poachers, gluttony demons and faeries may try to steal them away.

History note

Most of these traditions post-date the 1220 start date for Ars Magica sagas.

I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.

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