The pecking order in Egypt: Are Cairo’s inhabitants pigeon fanciers?

QUESTION Are Cairo’s residents pigeon lovers?

Egyptians are ‘pigeon lovers’, but not in the sense that the term is understood in Britain.

While on vacation in Egypt recently, we stayed in Giza, which is technically separate from Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile River. Traveling to Cairo to visit the archaeological museum, our guide pointed out the pigeon lofts built on the roofs of apartment blocks and explained their purpose.

Pigeon counting is a commercial enterprise in Giza and Cairo, as pigeon is considered a culinary delicacy. The roofs of apartment buildings are used for pigeon lofts, with large numbers of birds kept in a single location.

The eating of pigeons predates modern times, with records of them providing a staple food going all the way back to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (Iraq) over 5,000 years ago.

Dove flowers used to serve the same purpose in Britain. There are an estimated 400 historic dovecots left in England.

Pigeons flying in Giza.  Pigeon counting is a commercial enterprise in Giza and Cairo, as pigeon is considered a culinary delicacy.  The eating of pigeons predates modern times, with records of them providing a staple food dating back to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (Iraq).

Pigeons flying in Giza. Pigeon counting is a commercial enterprise in Giza and Cairo, as pigeon is considered a culinary delicacy. The eating of pigeons predates modern times, with records of them providing a staple food dating back to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (Iraq).

The interior of the pigeon loft consists of nest boxes (the origin of the term ‘pigeon hole’). A few pigeons will choose one in which to lay their eggs. When the baby pigeon (called a squab) hatched, the pigeon loft keeper ‘walled’ the squab in the box with a plaster barrier, leaving only a small gap through which the adult pigeons could feed the squab.

This prevented the squab from learning to fly, so its pectoral muscles never hardened, making the bird more tender when cooked. This also ensured that the squab did not eat any food that could contaminate the meat. The adult pigeons were provided with grain to feed the squab.

Most pigeons served in British restaurants are wild, although commercial pigeons are still practiced in France.

Bob Cubitt, Northampton.

QUESTION What common foods we buy in the shops are cheaper and easier to make for ourselves?

I have to vote for baked beans! Prices for the most popular brand of what used to be an inexpensive part of many a meal have skyrocketed in recent years. Where we live, Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, they’ve always been a bit more expensive than the UK, but the euro equivalent of around 60p a can rose to £1.80 by the middle of last year.

I found a recipe for ‘copycat’ baked beans and started with some skepticism. The result was a revelation! I now produce about eight cans worth per batch in my slow cooker, all readily available ingredients, for the equivalent of about 30p a can. I love the top brand but this is better – try it!

Alan Sibbet, Fuerteventura, Spain.

A tin of baked beans in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands costs £1.80.  A copycat recipe can be cooked in the slow cooker for just 30p

A tin of baked beans in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands costs £1.80. A copycat recipe can be cooked in the slow cooker for just 30p

Prepared soups are high in salt and preservatives. By making homemade soup, you can control the ingredients, flavors and seasonings.

Similarly, pre-made tomato sauces often taste fake and contain large amounts of salt and sugar. All you need to do is boil some fresh vegetables, chopped tomatoes, herbs and maybe a little wine and you can make large quantities of beautiful healthy food.

Homemade natural yogurt can be made in bulk by heating up a few pints of milk and stirring in a tablespoon of live organic yogurt and letting it sit for 24 hours. Once you’re done, you can use your yogurt as a starter for the next batch.

Mary Short, Lancaster.

QUESTION How were Archbishops of Canterbury originally chosen?

In medieval England and in most of Europe at that time, the only form of Christianity was the Church of Rome, led by the Pope. It had a strict hierarchical structure with two separate paths: the secular clergy and the monastery. Most archbishops came from the secular clergy and in theory a man had to have progressed along that path, stage by stage, to be considered for the post of archbishop.

At the bottom of the ladder were doorkeepers, effectively caretakers for parish churches. After that came acolytes, who can be compared to young apprentices; they observed and assisted in services and were schooled in Latin. Above them were lectors and deacons, who played a more important role in assisting priests performing Mass and other services.

Ordained priests and chaplains formed the middle ranks and mainstay of Church Hierarchy; priests were appointed to parish churches while chaplains were privately funded by wealthy patrons and could not perform weddings, funerals or baptisms. Archdeacons formed the next level and their role was mainly the administration of separate divisions of a diocese.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby.  Most archbishops came from the secular clergy and in theory a man had to have advanced along that path, stage by stage, to be considered for the post of archbishop

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby. Most archbishops came from the secular clergy and in theory a man had to have advanced along that path, stage by stage, to be considered for the post of archbishop

They were subordinate to bishops, each of whom held a diocese and was associated with cathedrals (the word comes from the cathedra or ‘seat’ of a bishop) and had considerable power and influence within the Church and in state affairs. They could occupy a palace and hold large areas of land.

Tomorrow’s questions

Q: What is meant by a ‘Rose Mary rack’ in America?

Diane Kenyon, Leigh, Lancs.

Q: What happened to Wolfgang Kapp who attempted a Right-Wing coup in Germany before the rise of Hitler?

Mick Stuart, Dunfermline, Fife.

Q: Was plastic invented to replace ivory in billiard balls?

Chrisine Waters, Redruth, Cornwall.

Only two archbishops were appointed in England, at York and Canterbury, with Canterbury considered the senior of the two, although this was disputed for much of the medieval period. To be nominated as archbishop, a man had to progress through all these stages and prove his worth to a council of his spiritual peers.

From the late 11th century, bishops and archbishops were often nominated by wealthy nobles or the king himself rather than being chosen by church officials, leading to the ‘Investiture Controversy’, a 45-year struggle which, when favors of the Church were dissolved, strengthened the papacy at the expense of local monarchies and gave bishops freedom from secular political authorities.

The case of Thomas Becket represents an excellent example of secular interference in church affairs, as he had previously been Lord Chancellor to Henry II and had not even been ordained as a priest when the king named him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.

His appointment was confirmed by a joint council of bishops and noblemen before he was hastily ordained on 2 June that year and consecrated as archbishop the following day. Most people will be aware of the unfortunate and deadly outcome of that appointment.

David Rayner, Canterbury, Kent.