Wild hare and blackberry pie

Autumn's harvest in a pie

Autumn’s harvest in a pie

Well its’ been quite some time since I last posted anything, I’ve been really busy with my photography and doing bits with Radio Leicester (click to hear most recent recipe of chorizo sausage rolls and green tomato ketchup) and writing for Metro and then I acquired a stalker so this blog kind of took a back seat for a couple of months. But I’m back, and its Autumn so I’ve been busy foraging the hedgerows to make amazing blackberry and vanilla vodka and now this blackberry and hare pie.

We are very lucky here in Melton Mowbray to have a proper Farmer’s market, you can buy anything from a herd of sheep, a prize winning bull, a few ferrets, some shot game, foraged mushrooms, homemade butter and antiques and collectables. Its all there every Tuesday morning and costs very little indeed, except the prize winning bull that is.

I headed over on Tuesday morning with the intention of seeing what the game auction was like that day, its very hit and miss depending on what’s in season and what the weather was like for the shoots over the weekend. You can normally expect to see a couple of deer, plenty of pigeons, pheasants, partridge, rabbits, hares and wild boar plus mallards, geese, woodcocks and squirrels. This week though it was very quite, there were a lot of pigeon but they weren’t in top condition so I left those (they went at 20p/brace) and hung about for the mallard and hares. I was bidding against an old boy for the mallard but had set my max at £3.50/brace and it went on his bid at that so I came home with a couple of beautiful hares at just £5.

Skinning hares is very easy, if you fancy watching a brilliant video clip then I totally fell in love with this guy being all masterful with an axe in the woods:

You just need to be really careful whilst gutting them not to pierce anything as the smell is really pretty nasty. Go for hares with head shots so your meat is nice and clean and none of the internals have been punctured.

skinning hare

 

Two large hares left me with a great deal of meat that I butchered into legs and fillets and froze most of. I instantly fried off a bit of fillet nice and pink for a bit of a cook’s perk then got to work on this simple pie for tea.

Wild hare and blackberry mini pie  (makes 2 mini pies that each serve one person)

Ingredients:

  • about 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 hare fillets, sliced into bite sized pieces
  • a few tablespoons of seasoned flour
  • about 150g smoked pancetta cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • about 200ml of full bodied red wine
  • 2 handfuls fresh blackberries
  • a bit of sugar if the blackberries are not sweet
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • About 60ml hare blood (optional)
  • 175g puff pastry
  • 1 egg beaten
  • a few ladles of stock made from simmering the hare bones for a couple of hours

Method:

  1. Dredge the hare in the seasoned flour. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the hare, cook over a medium heat to brown and add the pancetta, cook for another 3 minutes then add the diced veg, garlic and herbs. Cook gently for about 5 minutes whist stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the red wine, bring to just boiling then reduce heat to a simmer,add the blackberries and some of the stock until everything is well covered, add the blood also if using and put a well fitting lid on, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hrs or until the hare has softened to meltingly tender.
  3. If the stew seems a little thick simply loosen with some more stock, season with salt and pepper and add a touch of sugar if it needs it, cook uncovered until you are happy with the thickness of the gravy then divide between two small pie trays.
  4. Preheat your oven to 200C. Roll out your puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut into two pieces big enough to cover your pies. Seal the sides and brush with the beaten egg. Make a little hole for steam to come out of then put in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is risen and golden.

 

 

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Wild Wood Pigeon, a Lemon Verbena Surprise and Glen gets naked…

Thursday morning and I’m in a bit of a flutter. I’m recording a baking session with Ben Jackson for BBC Radio Leicester in an hour, I’ve been frantically cleaning and mopping the kitchen and I’ve just discovered that Poppy Bumface (our kitten) is locked in the cottage next door and I can hear her crying through the wall. I’ve no idea what time my neighbour is coming home (or how she got in there for that matter) and I haven’t managed to prep any ingredients

Whilst I’m peering through the neighbour’s letterbox at a crying Poppy Bumface, (probably making her much more distressed) unbeknownst to me Boris Cat has brought a present into the kitchen. I return to find a flurry of grey and white feathers, a smug looking Boris Cat and a decapitated, still warm, plump wood pigeon on my freshly mopped floor. Feathers are stuck to the still wet floor, cupboards, fridge door and there is a little trail of blood leading to the back door. Brilliant.

Boris Cat, hunter extraordinaire

As bad as his timing was,two things are very impressive about this, 1: Boris wears not one but TWO bells on his collar and therefore sounds like a herd of reindeer as he moves (and looks like a feline Mr T.   2: The body of the wood pigeon was completely untouched, it was a clean kill, just the head removed which I don’t eat and the body presented to be by the oven. Couldn’t help but be massively impressed by this.

The back door was wide open and there on the doorstep stood my 2 chickens looking rather shaken at the murder they had clearly just witnessed! The last thing I wanted was for Ben to arrive into this scene of blood, feathers and traumatised chickens so I very quickly plucked the pigeon, removed the breasts, heart and lungs, popped them in the fridge and cleared the kitchen (and fed the chickens some hemp seeds and grapes to try and reassure them that all was well!).

Despite my somewhat flustered state the recording went well and if you want to listen click here. I am 1hr 41mins into the broadcast.

So I had 2 wonderfully plump wood pigeon breasts, a heart and liver, what to make? I just kept it really simple and pan fried it with butter, seasoning and sherry. A forage about in my garden delivered lots of edible leaves and flowers. By picking lots of different leaves and flowers I was able to try different combinations. It was absolutely beautiful. The big surprises were how incredible the combination of lemon verbena and pigeon was. The sharp herbal lemon twist just balanced the earthy pigeon and sweet sherry. The lovage leaves were another surprise combination that I’m going to be exploring. In fact everything was just delicious.  The liver was like the most delicate mousse, far superior to any chicken liver, more like foie gras. I’m guessing it’s down to the wood pigeons gorging themselves on the chicken corn and mash that I put out every day.

“Give me back my wood pigeon, I caught it, it’s MINE!”

Ingredients:

  • 2 plump wood pigeon breasts
  • 1 pigeon heart
  • 1 liver
  • big knob of butter
  • salt and pepper
  • sweet sherry (big splosh)

Salad leaves:

  • chard
  • wood sorrel
  • lovage
  • beetroot
  • lemon verbena
  • tarragon
  • fennel fronds
  • chives
  • nasturtium
  • celery
  • pea
  • lollo rosso
  • frisee
  • rocket

Flowers:

  • chives
  • fennel
  • viola
  • runner bean
  • rocket
  • borage
  • french bean
  • nasturtium

Method:

Melt the butter, season the breasts and fry for a couple of minutes each side. The outside was nice and caramelised but the inside still pink. Towards the end of cooking add the heart and liver, cook for a minute then add the sherry, flame and spoon the juices over the meat. Add chopped chives, transfer to a plate and rest for a couple of minutes. Arrange leaves and flowers on a plate, slice the breasts in half and place on the leaves along with the heart and liver and spoon over the juices from the pan.

It was such a beautiful afternoon in the garden, eating free food and drinking red wine. I even gave myself a whole hour off from working just to enjoy the garden with Glen…

Wood sorrel, my giant sunflower, courgette flower and my aces trainers 🙂

I don’t think Boris was ready for Glen doing some naked sunbathing though…

Boris can’t believe it when Glen starts stripping, no idea what he’s laughing at

Squirrel and Sherry pie

Game is incredibly popular around here, we have the fantastic Game Auction that takes place every Tuesday morning at the Cattle Market.  You never really know whats going to make an appearance hanging on the rails – wild boar, deer, hare, woodcock, partridge, squirrel, it’s a real mixed bag.  The squirrels normally go for between 50p and £1 depending on the crowd.  Yesterday I popped into town to pick up a newspaper and grab a brandy hot chocolate from the guy on the market, next to him was Picks Organic Farm who raise all their own meat and the quality of their beef is absolutely fantastic.  I asked if they had any veal sweetbreads at all and was met with the reply: “no, people are still a bit funny about veal… but we’ve got squirrel”.  Done, I said, I’ll take the squirrels instead.

Having only had squirrel as part of a mixed game pie before I wasn’t entirely sure about the flavours.  I’d heard they took on a nutty flavour due to their diet so thought a nice nutty Amontillado sherry would help bring that out.  I had a look online to see if there were any recipes to use as a guide but failed to find any so decided to wing it.  I didn’t want the squirrel to be overpowered by any other really strong flavours so kept it all pretty simple and made it up as I went along.

Ingredients (made 2 generously filled pies)

2 local wild grey squirrels, skinned, gutted and cleaned

1 red onion, finely diced

3/4 carrot, finely diced

1 stick celery, finely diced

2 garlic cloves

About 10 mushrooms finely sliced

Butter

1 tblsp rapeseed oil ( a good nutty one, I use Chiltern Cold Pressed)

2 thyme sprigs

Large wine glass Amontillado Sherry

Handful hazelnuts

Chicken stock (enough to cover the squirrels)

Shortcrust pastry

Puff pastry

1 beaten egg to glaze

Method:

Put your oil in a saucepan then add the onion, carrot and celery and fry gently to soften then add the garlic and a large knob of butter and the mushrooms  and continue to cook gently for about a minute before adding the 2 whole squirrels.  Allow the squirrels to just brown then add the thyme, sherry, hazelnuts and enough chicken stock to just cover, pop a lid on the saucepan and simmer really gently for about 30mins.  I had intended to cook it long and slow as its hard to tell the age of a squirrel and the older ones are tough but after 30 minutes the meat was really tender so decided to remove the squirrels and put to one side to cool.

I then reduced the saucepan contents to intensify and thicken.  Whilst this was happening I rolled out my shortcrust pasty, lined 2 small casserole dishes and baked them blind in the oven for 20 mins (filled with tinfoil and rice).  The stock was reducing well but it needed a little extra thickening so in went some more butter that I had squished some flour into to make a quick beurre maniè.

Now that the squirrels had cooled I stripped the meat off and added it back into the saucepan and seasoned with some salt and pepper.  Once the pastry was ready I gave the insides a quick brush with beaten egg, filled them with the squirrel mixture then brushed around the edges before popping a puff pastry lid on each one, creating a little hole in the centre to let the steam escape and then brushing with more beaten egg.  These then went back in the oven for about 15mins until the lids were all puffed up beautifully. Once taken out of the oven I just turned them upside down and they fell out of their little casserole pots.

I had been tasting as I went so I knew that it would be nice but I was still surprised by just how nice it was.  The nutty sherry brought out the flavour of the squirrel and allowed it to really shine.  The hazelnuts had softened but still had a bit of bite to them which was lovely against the tender meat and crisp pastry.  I served the pies with a buttery mash and a dollop of good horseradish sauce on the side.  The horseradish worked so well with the pie that next time I might just add the tinniest  amount to the pie mix.

There was a mixed reaction from people on Twitter and Facebook in regards to eating squirrel, with the overwhelming majority being hugely enthusiastic and positive about this wild, sustainable meat.  Many people shared my view that eating more grey squirrels can only be a good thing to encourage the return of our native red squirrel which has sadly been almost wiped out by the American grey impostor.

I grew up in Hong Kong where we ate things like chicken feet, intestines and trotters with gusto and you picked your seafood from a tank to be whisked away to the kitchen only to return minutes later cooked to perfection and served on a platter.  I was asked on Twitter if, seeing as I was happy to eat squirrel, would I also eat cat?  Well, no I wouldn’t but apart from the fact that I prefer not to eat my pets, it’s is also because I like my meat to have dined on a vegetarian diet (although I do eat chickens that have been running around fields snaffling slugs and worms).  My partner refuses to eat octopus as he says they are far too intelligent to eat, I on the other hand love octopus and eat it with relish.  Everyone has their own views over what animals they do or don’t eat and why, and for those who love game I cannot recommend squirrel enough.  I for one will be making this dish many times over, and if you do decide to give it a go then please do let me know how you get on. Happy cooking!