I recently was bestowed with these two pleasant pheasants via our secretary at work. This is one of the clear advantages of a career in the countryside – the fruit of the land. A pair is traditionally known as a brace, one male and one female. They need to be hung for 1-2 weeks to allow the meat to tenderise; i am told they are quite inedible prior to this.
My plan was to bravely pluck, eviscerate and prepare the birds myself, despite having no experience to bring to the task, other than a youtube video (what more does one need in this day and age?) However i quickly realised the error of my ways when faced with the aromas, time-scale and general gory-ness of the process, so i opted for the simpler route of skinning the breast and legs, and doing a casserole. Here i am preparing for action…
The task proved to be only mildly nauseating, but my symptoms were suitably eased by the smug feeling that comes with being this intimate with your food, from source to plate, minus food miles and corporate mark-up prices. I was shocked to hear that the fella that shoots these birds receives a mere 75p per bird from the butcher.
I elected to spare you the photographic details of the intervening process, but here are the fruits of my labour. the quantities were a little underwhelming, but more than enough for a nice pheasant stew last sunday. The recipe came from Darina Allen’s wonderful book Forgotten Skills of Cooking. The gist was – fry up chopped onions and carrots til soft. Seal the pheasant in a hot frying pan, then de-glaze the pan with some white wine and chicken stock and add all to a casserole dish. Add in some nice herbs (bay, thyme etc), and cook slowly, covered, in the oven at around 160 – maybe 2 hours. I was relieved to find it wasn’t too tough in the eating, and some happy table mates made all the effort worthwhile!
And to finish, here’s a merry little folk song, apparently ‘not to be sung by the faint-hearted…’
I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s son
I’m only plucking pheasants ’till the pheasant plucker comes.
Me husband is a keeper, he’s a very busy man
I try to understand him and I help him all I can,
But sometimes in an evening I feel a trifle dim
All alone, I’m plucking pheasants, when I’d rather pluck with him.
I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s mate
I’m only plucking pheasants ‘cos the pheasant plucker’s late !
I’m not good at plucking pheasants, at pheasant plucking I get stuck
Though some pheasants find it pleasant I’d rather pluck a duck.
Oh plucking geese is gorgeous, I can pluck a goose with ease
But pheasant plucking’s torture because they haven’t any grease.
I’m not a pheasant plucker, he has gone out on the tiles
He only plucked one pheasant and I’m sitting here with piles !
You have to pluck them fresh, if it’s fresh they’re not unpleasant,
I knew a man in Dunstable who could pluck a frozen pheasant.
They say the village constable had pheasant plucking sessions
With the vicar on a Sunday ‘tween the first and second lessons.
I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s mum
I’m only plucking pheasants ’till the pheasant plucker’s come.
My good friend Godfrey is most adept, he’s really got the knack
He likes to have a pheasant plucked before he hits the sack.
I like to give a helping hand, I gather up the feathers,
It’s really all our pheasant plucking keeps us pair together.
I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s friend
I’m only plucking pheasants as a means unto an end !
My husband’s in the forest always banging with his gun
If he could hear me half the time I’m sure that he would run,
For there’s fluff in all my crannies, there’s feathers up my nose
And I’m itching in the kitchen from my head down to my toes.
I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s wife
And when we pluck together it’s a pheasant plucking life !
Come January and preservers everywhere are pulling out their pans as Seville oranges hit the shops for a brief window of opportunity. Last year was my first attempt to make marmalade from scratch, having never done so before due to my belief that i didn’t like marmalade. I now realise that i didn’t like mass-produced, shop bought marmalade. The real deal is a different story indeed – spread some a-top home-made toasted bread (if you’re lucky enough to live with 2 artisan bread-makers) and melting butter….a moment of solace every morning.
I use Darina Allen’s recipe from her excellent book ‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’. The advantage of her method is that you don’t have to spend several tedious hours chopping up the hard, waxy peel, before soaking it overnight. She calls it the ‘whole orange’ method – namely, boil the fruit for several hours to soften, making the chopping a breeze, especially if you use the slicer function on the Magimix (which all self-respecting kitchens should have..)
So, start with 2.25kg of seville oranges in a large preserving pan, add 9 pints of water, and boil for around 2 hours. Place a plate/smaller lid on the oranges to keep them submerged. Leave to sit overnight, then drain, reserving the water.
Cut the oranges in half and scoop out the soft centre. Put the pips in a muslin bag. Finely slice the peel (manually if you dare…)
Put everything back in the pan, bring to the boil and reduce by half-two thirds.
Add 4kg of warmed, granulated sugar. (If you pour in cold sugar, it takes longer to return to the boil, which is supposed to affect the fresh flavour.) Boil hard until you reach setting point. If you have a thermometer, that’s 104*C. Otherwise, put a spot on a plate and refrigerate. After a few minutes, if it forms a wrinkly skin when touched, its ready. (Note: i have never actually managed to achieve firm, well set marmalade, no matter how long i have boiled it. I guess you could sneak in a bit of jam sugar, but i quite like it a bit runny.)
Pot in sterlised jars and cover immediately. If you don’t have a jam funnel, buy one. Its worth it! And voila – a year’s supply of golden nectar, including a give-away allowance for lucky acquaintances and nice people in your life.
Elderflowers are abundant at the moment in hedgerows and roadsides. I picked this lot up driving home from work one day this week, and converted them into a years supply of cordial. Its so expensive to buy, you would think the process was complicated. But no – an overnight infusion, add some sugar, heat for a few minutes and your laughing.