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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Melton Mowbray Farmer’s Market Game Auction

Game, foraged mushrooms, veg, just a few of the things you can bid on at the auction

Tuesday mornings are my favourite because I head across the road to Melton Farmer’s Market, eat a bacon sandwich and head into the auction sheds to see what treats are on offer. One of the many things I love about this bustling weekly market is that you never know what you are going to find.

A couple of months ago I nominated Melton Farmer’s Market for the Best Food Market category in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. A couple of weeks ago I was stood in the kitchens prepping Sunday lunch and listening to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme on the little radio, as I always do, when I heard Valentine Warner read out my nomination. I really like Valentine’s approach to food and cooking, in fact the only cookbook I have in the work kitchen is his “What to Eat Now – Autumn/Winter” book, which sits next to the radio. I recognised my words instantly, Melton Farmer’s market had made it to the final three from hundreds of nominations, I was ecstatic! I’m still ecstatic about it, Melton Farmer’s market is the heart and soul of countryside living and it really deserves to be celebrated.

Earlier in the year I took Radio Leicester’s Ben Jackson to the market. Ben is passionate about the county and it’s wonderful food and we had a blast, as we always do when we hang out together, and I promised that once game season kicks off we would do it again. Well game season is in full swing and yesterday morning off we went to see what was on offer in the Fur and Feather shed.

Melton Farmer’s market never disappoints, you can listen to me and Ben and find out just how easy it is to bid at the game auction by clicking on this link:

Melton Mowbray Game Auction – Radio Leicester (audio)

There were pheasants, partridges, pigeons, rabbits, hares, ducks, venison and grouse hanging on the racks and on the tables were boxes of huge turgid savoy cabbages, bags of onions, plenty of massive squashes, a giant pumpkin and lots of boxes of foraged mushrooms, marvellous!

What I love about the auction is that the people around you love to talk about the food that’s being sold. Recipe tips are exchanged and foraging spots shared. Unlike pretty much everyone else that attends the auction I’m not a huge fan of the blewitt mushrooms which are called Blue Legs here. I prefer the meaty parasol mushrooms and am always the solitary bidder (likewise when I buy squirrels!) so people are always happy to tell me where they’ve seen lots growing.

Whilst there on Tuesday morning we chatted to the bidders around us, swapping hanging and cooking techniques, discussing how the price for the venison was high this week and the price of live chickens so low (just £1 for 4 birds) and that you could pick up two big plump live turkeys for just £30 today. I wish I had more outdoor space I really do, I think my chickens would object to sharing their coop with a huge turkey or two.

Lots of people outside of such a community seem to view game as being something for the upper classes, for the toffs to shoot and eat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Game is cheap, healthy and plentiful. Game isn’t a “food trend” on people’s plates round here, it’s a seasonal feast that’s looked forward to each year and welcomed back into our kitchens with gleefully hungry, open arms.

Pheasants were going for £1.50/brace, Grouse went for a whopping £13 this week as there was just the one brace and the mallards just £1.50. That huge pumpkin was sold to me for a mere £1!

The veg is always top quality and we walked away with the most perfect savoy cabbages and a whopping pumpkin that weighted in at 7.4kg for just £1. So far that pumpkin has been turned into a huge pumpkin and porcini lasagne, 50 yes FIFTY rich and fudgy pumpkin, walnut and chocolate brownies and I STILL have 1/4 of it left to use up.

It’s not just the auctions that draw me to the market every week but in the food shed you will find the wonderful Maria and her homemade delights. Maria’s homemade butter is just incredible and this week her husband Tony, who makes wonderful chilli sauces and wooden chopping boards, had been out shooting and whipped up lots of venison pâte.

In the 3 years that I’ve been living in Melton Mowbray, and using the cattle market twice a week, it has become my main source of food and enjoyment in this town. It never fails to enrich my cupboards, larder and dining table and will hopefully continue to do so for many  years. If you ever get a chance to come over to Melton on a Tuesday morning then make sure you have a wander around all the different sheds; you’ll find antiques, collectables, firewood, building wood, clothes, kitchenalia, not to mention all the ferrets, pigs, sheep, cows, canaries, geese, well the list goes on and on. Come over, come early (auctions kick off about 9:30am), grab yourself a wild boar bacon sandwich from Paul (aka The Roosterman) and take it all in, you won’t be disappointed.

 

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!

On the game in Melton

He ain't getin on no plane FOOL!

I am incredibly lucky to live just a few minutes walk away from the truly wonderful Melton Cattle Market which hosts the most fantastic Farmers Market every Tuesday and during Game Season you can take your pick of wild meats as well as all the usual livestock, local veg, homemade cakes, pies, breads, antiques, chicken coops, old bikes, shotguns, Landrovers the list goes on and on! There really is not a lot that you can’t buy at this Farmer’s Market and its one of the reasons I’m always so excited to go.

Melton Game Auction’s glamorous assistant

deer, pheasant, partridge, pigeon, rabbit, hare, duckFab Fungi in the auctionfab fungi