ONE of the joys of an English autumn is the game and we are lucky in the Wessex area with the number of excellent independent butchers and game specialists from whom we can buy local pheasants, partridge and venison.
If you don’t have a good local specialist, ask at Somerset or Dorset Farmers Markets (see the list of local farmers and producers markets on this website).
Some names to look out for in Dorset and Somerset include Dorset Game Larder, at Shapwick near Wimborne (and their Dorset Larder shop in Blandford Market Place), L&C Game (at several Dorset Farmers Markets), Bonners the Butchers at Ilminster, Framptons at Bridport, Blackmore Vale Butchery near Henstridge on the Dorset-Somerset border, Else Family Butchers at Stalbridge and foraging experts including Lee Moreton of the Dorset Charcuterie Company at Lytchett Matravers.
Ask your butcher and find out where the game comes from. This ought to be some of the healthiest meat you eat, and the food miles ought to be minimal.
Travelling chef Philippa Davis, whose family live in Shaftesbury, has been up in Scotland again recently, cooking for a stalking party in the Scottish Highlands.
She calls her postcard “The week of the hunter” and begins with a description of her fellow travellers: “There is a secret dress code for the flight to Inverness. For those in the know you will see them wrapped in yards of tweed and snuggling quietly in plush cashmere. The outfit is generally finished off with a Barbour jacket, looking a little shabby and expected to be around half the age of the wearer, a shiny stiff new one would never do. These tweedy sporting folk are on their way for a week of shooting, fishing or stalking in and among one of the stunning Scottish highland sporting estates.
“To get to the fabulous lodge they had taken for the week my sat nav and I braved the single track that ran through woodlands and along the mysterious loch for absolutely miles. Actually my sat nav freaked out half way along the track and pleaded we turned back. Ignoring its lack of adventure I drove on and finally arrived at the lodge with its welcoming open fires, wood-paneled walls and impressive collection of mounted stags heads.
“Catering for these sporting weeks is a huge amount of fun for a chef as client’s calorie counting is invariably suspended. The day starts with full on cooked breakfasts including a pre course of porridge giving me the chance to try out the spurtle I found in the kitchen dresser (if you don’t know what one is you are making your porridge all wrong)! (You will see a picture of one when you visit Philippa’s website – address at the end of the article).
“Once breakfast is over, a table groaning with sustenance for the stalkers’ day on the hill must be laid out with delights such as honey-baked ham, cold roast beef, soft rolls, crisps, cheeses and high energy treats like chocolate fridge cake and flapjack.
“The stalkers (creeping after red deer in this case), having spent the entire day walking, crawling and lying in heather, rocks and scrub, return ravenous from their day. Therefore pots of loose leaf tea, freshly baked gingerbread or my trade mark coffee, cardamom and cinnamon cake and savoury treats like home-made sausage rolls or cheese straws were always appreciated.
“Come evening, with the fires briskly burning and the sun firmly set beyond the loch, the hunters were ready to feast. They dined upon wonderful traditional food that could have come straight out of a Dickens novel: roast ribs of beef with Yorkshire pudding, haunches of venison with parsnip chips and goose fat roast potatoes, cinnamon duck breasts with bacon and pearl barley and roast chicken with creamed spinach and honey carrots — no one was left wanting more!
“Then there were the puddings: steamed golden treacle with custard, classic creme brulee, apple tart tatin, pressed chocolate cake, lemon tarts… I won’t let on how many packets of butter that is but I am now thinking of buying shares in the local dairy.
“I am intrigued about stalking. Every time I go to cook for such an event I learn a little bit more and am deeply impressed by the amount of work that goes into running a sporting estate. The ghillie (assistant, advisor and guide to the stalker) has to know the terrain extremely well. Sudden mists may fall which can be treacherous for those unaware of their surroundings, they also have to be super fit as the day will consist of a marathon trek. They must know their deer herd intimately. It is their livelihood and the wild herd must be managed properly with only certain beasts allowed to be harvested by the stalkers to leave a healthy herd of a size that the hill can sustain throughout the lean winter months. It is not unusual to be stalking a stag for hours to eventually get close enough to examine it properly, only to realise that it is too fine a beast to take.”
The recipes with Philippa’s stalking postcard are both excellent accompaniments to venison – parsnip chips, and celeriac, beetroot and swede gratin with nutmeg and gruyere.
“So get excited about the thought of eating venison – it is an extremely delicious, low fat, sustainable, native, free-range, mostly organic meat that gives even good roast beef stiff competition In fact I am so smitten with deer at the moment I am in the throws of persuading the family to make it this year’s Christmas dinner!”
Pictured is some of the spectacular scenery were Philippa spent her week catering for a stalking party.
For more on her travels and for full details of the recipes, visit www.philippadavis.com