I seem to have always known the term ‘Aylesbury duck’ but without having given the bird itself a great deal of thought. It seemed fairly self-explanatory. A duck, which originated from Aylesbury. It was only when I was invited to a dinner of Aylesbury duck, that I got more interested.
Aylesbury ducks are large birds with white plumage, orange legs and feet, and a recognisable pink bill. They have a big breast and a wide bottom. If an Aylesbury duck was human, it would be called brassy. It is the Diana Dors of duck breeds.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire was a major centre for duck rearing, and the meat of the Aylesbury duck was prized for its succulence and flavour. Recipes for Aylesbury duck appeared in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861, and it seemed that the duck’s position as a national favourite was secure. However, it was about to meet a challenge from a surprising quarter: China.
The Pekin duck was introduced to Britain in 1873. Despite its flavour being considered inferior to the Aylesbury duck, the Pekin duck had the advantages of being easier to breed, quicker to fatten, and less prone to disease. It was not long before Aylesbury duck farms were on the decline. Perhaps, here in microcosm, a snapshot of Britain and China’s relative trading positions in the modern world?
Today, there is only one farm breeding and selling genuine Aylesbury ducks remaining in the whole of the UK. And it is not in Aylesbury. Waller’s farm in Chartridge is a family business, which has reared Aylesbury ducks since 1775. It was in the nearby The Bell pub, where I had been invited to a duck dinner.
The meal was delicious. The duck fully lived up to all expectations, and it felt a genuine privilege to taste a slice of history.
© The Mudskipper