Category Archives: Food

Shoot day

A Red Kite (Milvus milvus).
Image via Wikipedia


Saturday dawned clear and cool on the first shoot of the partridge season. Hurriedly making sandwiches and coffee to take for the day and gathering gear I realise that all those things I meant to do over the summer have been left undone. 

Wax cotton leggings are still hanging in the shed, bearing the mud of last season like a badge of honour. The Barbour jacket still needs a waxing, sticks and flags are unmade and wellies could do with a clean. No time to worry about that now – it’s time to get going. 

Arriving in good time the teams of beaters and pickers up wait for the brief on the days drives from the gamekeeper. Mates catch up on the gossip since last January and beaters’ day . 

The hedgerows are laden with fruit – sloes, blackberries, hips, haws and cob nuts ripening in the sun. Conversation turns to the weather. The warmth of the morning could turn chilly later. What to wear? Mostly we settle for shirts and jumpers. The abundance of fruit suggests a hard winter to come though. And rumours of snow by end of September abound – an unlikely prospect as the sun stirs up the air above the fields into heat waves.  

Standing now on Denton Hill and looking out across fields rolling down to the fen – the lowest point in the UK – with the drone of the traffic on the Great North Road in the background it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful spot. In the distance over the birch woods of Holme Fen wind turbines revolve lazily in the stiffening breeze. Smoke rises into the distant haze from the  chimneys of London Brick at King’s Dyke. 

Four juvenile buzzards and a red kite slowly circle on the thermals above the shimmering stubble. Cotton cumulus ranks advance south eastwards through the pale blue sky, a sign of rain to come.  But for now the late summer sun shines and warms us as we wait in line for the gamekeeper to call us up to the maize covers. 

With a wave the line of beaters is called forward and we begin to walk slowly through the maize, pushing any birds in the cover forward. Steadily coveys of partridges burst from the tall maize, over the hedgerow and the waiting line of guns beyond. Shots ring out intermittently until we reach the end of the maize cover and the gamekeeper blows his whistle, signalling the end of the drive. 

Emerging from the maize and through the hedgerow we can see the pickers up working their dogs. Spaniels and labradors quarter the stubble, collecting up the shot partridges and take them to their handlers. The beaters move on to the next drive. 

After five more similar drives around the countryside punctuated by lunch, the day is over. The bag is around 200 birds. A game dealer arrives to take the shot birds away to sell to butchers. They will appear on the seasonal menus of various restaurants in the area. I’m with Valentine Warner when he says in What to Eat Now:  “Partridge is a plump and tasty bird and, when hung properly, meltingly tender. Whether simply roasted with butter or braised with lentils, partridges are eye-rollingly delicious…” 

At the end of the day I and the other beaters will take home a brace of birds for the pot. 

These scenes will be repeated up and down the country throughout the winter, from now until the end of February, contributing millions of pounds to the rural economy and ensuring the conservation of valuable wildlife habitats. But above all, it’s fun. 

Slow sloe quick quick sloe gin

It’s almost sloe gin time again.

Sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) can be steeped in good quality gin to create a strong winter warmer…sloe gin.

The bitter blue-black fruit makes an excellent flavour for gin. Its blood coloured flesh darkens the clear spirit to a rich dark pink.

Traditionally, it’s better to wait until the first autumn frost before picking sloes. The frost splits the skin and breaks up the flesh of the fruit, enhancing the flavour it imparts to the spirit. Nowadays, a frost can mean waiting until late October or early November. The fruit is ripe and at it’s best before then so if you want to find that the best fruit pick in late September/early October and freeze it. The fruit is ripe when it has a bloom on it.

If you start now you will have a smooth, rich liqueur ready for Christmas. Traditionally a winter drink, sloe gin will mature into the base of long ice cold cocktails you can enjoy in the summer too. So make plenty.

So, how do you make it. Use a quality gin. Plymouth is good but it depends on your taste. Prick the sloes. Take a sealable parfait (preserve) jar and start filling it with sloes. For each layer of sloes add a layer of caster sugar and alternate the layers of sloes and sugar until you reach the top of the jar. Then add gin until the jar is full, add a few drops of vanilla essence and then seal the jar.

Put it in a dark cupboard and give it a light shake every day for a few weeks. Then as the sugar dissolves shake it once a week. After about eight weeks strain the gin through muslin into bottles. Enjoy some at Christmas but remember that the longer you leave it the better it will taste.

Don’t forget to keep some of the fruit that has been steeped in the gin. remove the stones, stir into a bowl full of melted dark chocolate, pour the mixture out onto crease proof paper lined tins and then allow to cool.

A delicious chocolate liqueur treat for Christmas…or any other time for that matter.


Yorkshire puddings

Yorkshire puddings make a great accompaniment for a roast dinner.
Bank holiday Monday, it turns out, is the new Sunday.

M must have thought so because today lunch consisted of roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots and broccoli. The perfect accompaniment for a roast dinner is of course the yorkshire pudding. The kids love them and mixed with gravy they’re unbeatable.

Fresh are best, so forget your Aunt Bessie’s. All you need are 2 ounces of plain flour, 1/4 pint of whole milk mixed with a little water, one beaten egg and a little salt and pepper.

Get yourself a mixing bowl and put in the flour. Stir in the salt and pepper. Make a well in the flour and pour in the beaten egg. Start folding in the flour and slowly pour in the milk and water mix and stir in until you have a smooth batter.

Next, get a cup cake baking tray and pour a little oil into each part. Put the tray into the top of a hot oven – about 200 degrees c. When the oil is really hot remove the tin and pour in a little of the batter into each section until it’s all used. The oil should sizzle as the batter goes in.

Put the tin in the oven and bake the yorkshires until crisp and golden – about 10-15 minutes.

For more Yorkshires increase the amounts of ingredients accordingly. You can also double the quantities and use the batter for another English classic – Toad in the Hole.