Wednesday 25 April 2007

The one about free food and recycled pheasants

Friday November 24 2006

Food for free is simply the best. I came back this morning from dropping my son off to the school bus to find a brace of pheasants dangling from the door knocker. Not sure who they’re from but there are so many shoots round here and lots of our friends go beating (for a few extra quid) and end up with a glut. Everyone on Exmoor ends up eating a heck of a lot of pheasant in the winter months. Open any moorland freezer and you’ll find endless packets of pheasant breasts – barely anyone bothers to pluck the darn things; they just lop off the breasts and give the rest to the dogs.

Funny, isn’t it? When I lived in London pheasant as considered a bit ‘posh’ and was exceedingly expensive – if you got one you plucked every last feather and ate every last scrap of stringy flesh. Now it’s as common as spaghetti Bolognese.

Which reminds me of a funny story about our ex-neighbour (the wife of the man who does the whole ‘They don’t call it Sexmoor for nothing’ thing. She’s a gorgeous lady, love her to bits, but she is a tad eccentric. When we first moved in, people warned us: ‘She’s the rudest woman on Exmoor, watch out, she’ll have your guts for garters.’ But actually she’s been a true friend in need and has become one of our greatest pals. Yes, she has a sharp tongue, but a great sense of humour too. Anyhow. Village life revolves around an endless stream of fund-raising coffee mornings, bazaars, fetes and safari breakfasts and you soon learn to keep a stock of bargain wine and ‘two for the price of one’ boxes of chocolates to dole out when someone comes round hoping for raffle prizes.

Not so our neighbour. She handed over a brace of pheasants. Now that is not quite the done thing in the first place (as you’ll have gathered, everyone has pheasant coming out of their ears). But, as the chap drove off he noticed a pretty hefty whiff coming from the back seat – they were high as kites. On closer inspection he noticed that they were both a bit flat in the middle and there was - surely not? – a hint of tread mark across the wing. The rumour spread like wildfire – was it really true that Mrs P had sent in road-kill for the village hall raffle?!!

You have to admire her nerve, you really do. And, really, I suppose it’s a case of recycling – waste not, want not and all that. She wouldn’t be the first who watched a pheasant meet a sticky end under a 4x4 and quietly pull back and scoop it up.

It’s not just pheasants either. When we first moved in, we heard someone coming up the drive and a pretty ancient old cove staggered out of his truck and lurched up to the door weighed down by a huge parcel. My husband went out and the parcel was deposited in his arms.
‘Compliments of the Master of Staghounds,’ muttered the cove, nodding brusquely and wobbling back down to his truck. We looked at each other, went inside and opened up the (Tesco carrier) bag. Inside was the most enormous haunch of venison.

Luckily we love venison - the ultimate free range meat, low in cholesterol and totally delicious if chopped up with onions, mushrooms (whatever you fancy really - though a slap-happy libation of decent red wine is essential)......bring to the boil and then simply bung it in the bottom of the Aga to do its thing for a few hours. Fresh of the good stuff - nothing to beat it!

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