A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 24, 2008
“Eat crow”

"Eat crow!” means to suffer humiliation; the phrase is probably an American version of the English “to eat humble pie.” “Can you eat crow?” is the title of a story that appeared in the November 2, 1850 Saturday Evening Post and was widely reprinted. At a farm house on Lake Mahopac (Putnam County, NY), one person declared that he could eat anything, while another person challenged him to eat crow. A bet was made. The person who could “eat anything” did eat a bite of crow, but that was enough for him. “I kin eat crow, but I’ll be darned if I hanker arter it,” he said.

The phrase of “eating crow” was widely used and explained in the presidential election of 1880.


Wikipedia: Eating crow
Eating crow (archaically, eatin boiled crow) is an English idiom meaning humiliation by admitting wrongness or having been proven wrong after taking a strong position.

Origin
It is most likely an Americanization of the English “to eat humble pie.” The English phrase is something of a pun—“umbles” were the intestines, offal and other less valued meats of a deer. Pies made of this were known to be served to those of lesser class who did not eat at the king’s/lord’s/governor’s table.

It may also be the American version of “umble,” since the Oxford English Dictionary defines crow (sb3) as meaning ‘intestine or mesentery of an animal’ and cites usages from the 1600s into the 1800s (e.g., Farley, Lond Art of Cookery: “the harslet, which consists of the liver, crow, kidneys, and skirts.”

Another dish likely to be served with humble pie is rook pie (rooks being closely related to crows). This may be another clue as to how humble pie became boiled crow.

In literature
Rudyard Kipling uses this expression, which predates his birth, in his short story “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes” (1885). Morrowbie Jukes falls into a place from which he cannot escape. Another man trapped there catches wild crows and eats them, but Morrowbie in his pride declares, “I shall never eat crow!” After days of nothing to eat, his hunger and desperation finally force him to do what he swore he would never do: literally eat crow.

In Rick Cook’s Wizardry series, his main character is served crow by his wife after admitting that he had been neglecting her. His response is “Now I understand that phrase”.

In Philip Roth’s 2007 novel “Exit Ghost” the character Kliman talks to Nathan Zuckerman over the phone about the reelection of G.W. Bush: “It’s a dark day, Mr. Zuckerman. I’ve been eating crow all morning....”

Note
This idiom is used in the popular quote, “It’s easier to eat crow while it’s still warm.” (Attributed to motivational speaker Dan Heist)

(Oxford English Dictionary)
to eat (boiled) crow (U.S. colloq.): to be forced to do something extremely disagreeable and humiliating.
[1851 San Francisco Picayune 3 Dec. 1/6, I kin eat a crow, but I’ll be darned if I hanker after it.]
1872 Daily News 31 July, Both [are]..in the curious slang of American politics, ‘boiled crow’ to their adherents.
1877 N. & Q. 5th Ser. VIII. 186/1 A newspaper editor, who is obliged..to advocate ‘principles’ different from those which he supported a short time before, is said to ‘eat boiled crow’.
1884 ‘MARK TWAIN’ Lett. (1917) II. 443 Warner and Clark are eating their daily crow in the paper.
1885 Mag. Amer. Hist. XIII. 199 ‘To eat crow’ means to recant, or to humiliate oneself.
1930 ‘E. QUEEN’ French Powder Myst. xxiv. 196, I should merely be making an ass of myself if I accused someone and then had to eat crow.
1970 New Yorker 17 Oct. 39/1, I was going to apologize, eat crow, offer to kiss and make up.

2 November 1850, Saturday Evening Post, pg. 4:
CAN YOU EAT CROW?—Lake Mahopac was so much crowded, the past season, or, rather, the hotels in its immediate vicinity were, that the farm-houses were filled with visitors. One of the worthy farmers residing there, it appears, was especially worried to death by boreders.—They found fault with his table--this thing was bad and wasn’t fit to eat—and at last the old fellow got so tired of trying to please them, that he undertook as the last resource to reason the matter with them.

“Darn it,” said old Isaac, one day, “what a fuss you’re making; I can eat anything.”

“Can you eat crow?” said one of his young boarders.

“Yes, I kin eat crow.”

“Bet you a hat,” said his guest.

The bet was made, a crow caught and nicely roasted, but before serving up, they contrived to season it with a good dose of Scotch snuff.

Isaac sat down to the crow. He took a good bite, and began to chew away. “Yes,” he said, “I kin eat crow (another bite and awful face,_ I kin eat crow, (symptoms of nausea,) I kin eat crow; but I’ll be darned if I hanker arter it.”—Isaac bolted.

8 June 1880, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, pg. 4, col. 5:
EATING CROW
The politics of “eating crow” is in the application of the original story to people who swallow a disagreeable candidate of their own party rather than vote for the candidate of their opponent. (...) The following story explains how that peculiar diet came into vogue:

The first allusion to “eating crow” was made in the Knickerbocker Magazine a little more than a quarter of a century ago. It was a story of a summer boarding-house-keeper on the Hudson and of an indignant patron. Whenever the latter ventured to suggest that the spring chicken was rather tough, or that the roast beef must have been cut from the cow’s beefs, he was directly told that he was entirely “too perticeler,” and that the autocrat of the table and the house could eat anything, even a crow. This settled the matter for the time being, but the boarder convinced against his will was of the same opinion, still, at all events, in regard to the quality of the edibles placed before him. So often was the remark, “I kin eat anything; I kin eat a crow,” brought down on his devoted head that he finally resolved to try the old man.  He went out gunning one day and succeeded in bagging a very fine, fat, old black crow. He went into the kitchen, and, by dint of soft words and filthy lucre, induced the cook to allow him to prepare the crow for the table. He boiled it nicely, and it wasn’t such a bad-looking dish after all. His heart misgave him; the flinty old cuss would eat it after all. The cook was a Scotch woman, and used snuff. He borrowed all she had and sprinkled it liberally over the crow, gave her another simmer, and then, taking it on a salver, brought it before his host, saying as he set it down, “Now, my dear sir, you have said a thousand times, if you have said it once, that you can eat crow.  Here is one very carefully cooked.” It is said the old man turned pale for a moment, but braced himself against the back of his chair, and with “I kin eat crow,” he began, cutting a good mouthful. He swallowed it, and then, preparing for a second onslaught, he looked his boarder straight in the eye, while he ejaculated, “I’ve eaten crow,” and took his second portion. He lifted his hands mechanically, as if for a third onslaught, but dropped tem quickly over the region of his stomach, and, rising hurriedly and unsteadily, retreated for the door, muttering as he went, “but dang me if I hanker arter it.”

Google Books
The Silence of the Lambs
By Thomas Harris
New York, NY:  Macmillan
1989
Pp. 224-225:
(Hannibal Lecter, speaking to Clarice—ed.)
“Dumas tells us that the addition of a crow to boullion in the fall, when the crow has fattened on juniper berries, greatly improves the color and flavor of stock.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Wednesday, December 24, 2008 • Permalink