When the garden is bathed in sunlight, the school holidays are in full swing and the shops are still full of BBQ accessories (and jamjars with drinking straws in them: what’s that all about?) it seems strange to be rooting in the dark recesses of the garage and the wardrobe to retrieve boots, waterproofs, gaiters and caps. Our season begins on August 12th with the first day of the grouse-shooting season and every year, it comes around faster than expected.
I’ve been doing a bit of research into grouse shooting on the internet and it seems my first-hand experience is all wrong! As a beater, I am supposed to be some sort of Neanderthal rent-a-thug. If Thomas Hardy made Hammer films, I would be there. Of course, this dismissive attitude of the ‘unwashed’ who spend all year practicing the art of tugging their fetlocks with their webbed fingers amuses us beaters. Our happy group includes a Professor ; a university lecturer; a civil servant who works on conservation projects; mechanics; pest-controllers; students; teenagers and teachers.
Last year, I had the pleasure of giving a lift home to a teenage lad and I was entertained all the way home with a lecture on how woefully unrealistic zombie films are. In case you were wondering what makes this so: a zombie is already rotting and falling apart, so one could take them out with an airgun. The use of shotgun cartridges in such circumstances is most profilgate. That’s the thing about grouse days, conversation can range from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again; the only common theme is that everyone feels included.
I also love watching different breeds at work. We have springers, cockers, labs, weimeraners, vislas, GSPs and munsterlanders all enjoying their day out.
For me, the greatest pleasure is watching my springer move through the heather with such amazing grace. It takes some power to cruise through the really dense heather with such speed and focus, but she makes it look so easy. Meanwhile, my face is usually the colour of the heather, but who cares when the views are stunning and the company is grand?
I will write more on grouse soon, because they are the most amazing and beautiful birds. I also want to write more about the moors and how they are managed and the beguiling range of plants we have up there. It’s not just heather! Cranberry, bog rosemary, sundew, sedges, sphagnum mosses, bilberry….all small but so fascinating and pretty when viewed close-up. Looks-wise, bog rosemary is my favourite, but for practicality, bilberry wins hands-down as something to pull myself up hills with and nibble the berries too.
This week’s recipie, however, is not grouse. We’ll do grouse soon, because I think there is one way to serve it that beats all the rest.
Today’s recipie is something healthy (looking!) for all those still trying to get in shape for the season and struggling for time in the kitchen. Today I am going to write about pigeon faljitas.
They sat familiarity breeds contempt, so if you haven’t thought about it before, just think what a pretty bird the wood pigeon is and how good it tastes! Wood pigeon can taste very different depending on what it has been eating, so if your first attempt leaves you non-plussed, try again and you might be pleasantly surprised. Something else I have found is that freezing for too long, or in not-quite airtight wrapping can leave the bird with freezer burn that does spoil the flavour (a bit)
Allow at least 2 good-sized pigeon breasts per person, cut into strips and tossed in
cornflower or plain flower with lots of black pepper.
1 onion, chopped
1 small punnet of mushrooms (about 12) chopped
Butter – a good knob
A dash of any leftover red wine / port
Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the chopped mushrooms. Cook until soft.
Heat another frying pan or wok with about a tablespoonful of olive oil and cook the chopped onion until it is soft and golden. Push the onion to one end of the pan, crank up the heat and add the strips of pigeon that have been tossed in the flour and black pepper. Flash fry, taking care not to over-cook. As long as the outside of the strips have changed colour, they are offically done! If you have any leftover red wine, or can spare a bit from the bottle you’ve just opened, then add it now and enjoy the sizzling noise.
Turn the heat down again and add the mushrooms and a big dollop of pesto and stir.
Warm the faljitas in the microwave for a few seconds.
You can add a bit of steamed kale or some other kind of leaf if you want a bit of green, otherwise, spoon a good dollop of the mixture in each faljita and serve at once.
We tend to remove the breast meat from pigeons and freeze in batches. I take out a bag before work to defrost and I’ve got a quick and easy meal ready for the evening.