Thursday, 23 April 2015

Tastier Than Bear's 6: Meat on the Menu

A lot has been happening the last few weeks, and I have a so much to blog about, yet very little time. I left you all on a cliff-hanger over 2 weeks ago with my quest to kill a pigeon, so it seems only fair that I start with an update on my foraging antics.

Well................I still haven't killed a pigeon, though I bought Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'The River Cottage Cookbook' (at the carboot sale for 50p) which follows his early antics at River Cottage. He has a whole chapter on Hedgerow, including wild meats, and is informative on preparing pigeon, rabbit, squirrel and ......snails (Hugh and Bear would get on a treat!). So having read more on the subject, I am feeling much more prepared for the pigeon-caught-in-a-net day to arrive.

But all was not lost on the meat front. Driving along a country lane I spotted some road kill. It was a cock pheasant and looked in very good condition, considering it had been hit by a car. I quickly jumped out and having some compost sacks in the boot, I stuffed the pheasant inside one and drove off full of excitement. This was it - true foraging with my first road kill dinner!

I was heading to collect horse manure from Suella, who is always very generous at sharing her horses' produce and there was quite a gathering. So I consulted with the wise Suella, Janet and Martha on my road kill and the first question was 'Is it still warm?' Why did that not occur to me? I had managed to bag the carcass without touching it, so I tentatively reached inside and yes it was warm, so very fresh. It was a bit smelly, but as they pointed out 'All living creatures are smelly'. Here it is.

Note to self: Don't stuff it in a bag next time, lay it flat! Nice how David Cameron is thoughtfully positioned to be consulting with my dead pheasant ;-)

Hugh doesn't mention pheasant, so I checked out some simple techniques on YouTube for removing feathers and gutting, but they all had shot birds whereas mine was already a bit damaged with guts spilling out. I was quickly losing my nerve, as a pre-packaged chicken doesn't come with the same smell, feathers, feet and undigested corn falling out. So I just dived in and cut out the breasts and quickly discarded the rest. I know it was such a waste, but I was overcome with squeamishness. Bear just rips off the head, feet and wings and skewers it for the fire, but I am not up to that yet (if ever).

I calmed down once faced with just the 2 pieces of breast and chopped them up for a stir-fry. I then dashed out to the woods (not shops) for some accompaniments - more wild garlic, hogweed shoots and stinging nettles.

I decided to break the rules and use some olive oil for frying as it is much easier than to keep adding dribbles of water. The hogweed shoots are absolutely delicious fried and were the best tasting part of the meal still. I may have forgotten to mention that I ate them last week on a bed of dandelion leaf salad, and they are so much more delicious fried than steamed.

The pheasant wasn't gamey (probably because it was too fresh), but rather plain and overcooked. I had thought to cook the breasts whole, so that I could leave them pink in the middle, but this was road kill and overcooked seemed a far safer option, if somewhat less appetising.

So I have eaten foraged meat and I survived ;-) There may be more meat menus to follow, if I can catch one of those darn pigeons.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Tastier than Bear's 5: Not quite pigeon

Well, Bears challenge has gone out of the window last month. Partly because it has been a busy month at the allotment and partly because I have set my sights higher for the next meal. The last meal had basically composed of a salad, and really I wanted to find some more nutritious food for the next meal. So I decided to target 2 new foods.

The first is pignuts. Not only do these involve a bit more pre-meditation than just pulling a few leaves while I am out walking, because I need tools for digging up the root and permission to dig, but I am having trouble identifying them without digging up the root. There are loads of plants with similar leaves in my woods, but they may also be something nasty like Hemlock, which is somewhat similar. So I need to take a mat and some plant identification books and sit and investigate, which needs the luxury of time and weather.

The second is pigeons. Yes I am carnivore and though I am not keen on eating bitter wiggly worms like Bear Grylls, I am game for some pigeon. A google search for pigeon brings up some really mouth-watering recipes. The wood pigeons we get in the garden have been grazing on locally grown vegetables, bird seed and other delights from the fields nearby, whereas city birds scavenge on rubbish so may not be a good idea. The problem of course is how to catch one and kill it. Road kill is definitely an appealing option, as I am used to dealing with dead carcasses, rather doing any slaughtering myself, but I have not been in luck.

Mr Twit used Hugtight Sticky Glue, pasted on the branches of a tree to trap birds for his bird pie. I must admit that it does seem a simple idea, not requiring any skill in the catching, but it is also indiscriminate. We really get some of the fattest pigeons in our garden, so a couple of years back, son and hubby decided to rig a trap. It involved my washing basket, propped on a stick. There was a rope tied to the stick and the other end was held by my son, who was sat in a camouflaged hide a few metres away. It was very entertaining, and as you might imagine totally unsuccessful! The pigeons were far too wily to walk under the basket. It was also somewhat of a relief because I didn't really think that either of them would be happy with killing their victim, and I did not want to be the one to do it.

So my mind had moved from traps to weapons. Eldest son has offered to shoot them with his bow and arrow, but having such a small garden with a public path along the side, I am scared of stray arrows causing harm. Maybe I could learn to master a slingshot, although I am the most appalling aim, and slow to boot. Look at these fancy ones which you can buy with seedball ammunition! At worst I would scare the pigeons off my vegetables, and if I got lucky, dinner would hopefully be dead from the impact.

But what if the pigeon was just injured and I had to catch it and kill it? There was only one thing for it. I needed help from an expert. The allotment is full of such experts. The netting designed to protect tender plants from the voracious appetite of greedy pigeons, is not always pigeon proof. A couple of times last spring I saw pigeons that had found a hole to get in, then couldn't escape .......the perfect pigeon traps! I have enlisted the help of an allotment friend and the next time a pigeon is trapped she will guide me to catch it and kill it. She seems quite an expert despite being a vegetarian, and has already dispelled my image of breaking it's neck, as apparently it is too easy to pull the head off - yuk! Bashing it over the head is her preferred technique. You really are going to have to stay tuned for a few more weeks to see whether I have the nerve to pull this one off.

There were several foraging successes this month though, although not a completely foraged meal. The wild garlic leaves are out everywhere now, so I felt no guilt in picking a bag full of leaves and making a batch of wild garlic pesto, following the recipe in the River Cottage Handbook No. 7: Hedgerow by John Wright which is shown below.

50g Wild garlic leaves
30g Pignuts/ cobnuts/ pine nuts, lightly toasted in a pan (I doubled this amount)
30g Parmesan cheese grated
80ml Olive oil plus extra to cover
Salt and pepper to taste

Put in a food processor and blitz, slowly adding the oil. Transfer to a jar and make sure the pesto is covered with olive oil. Keep in fridge for several weeks.

Having not found any pignuts, I roasted some of my remaining cobnut stash, but the resulting pesto was like extremely strong raw garlic. I threw in an equal amount of pine nuts, which balanced out the flavour enough so that I could taste it without burning my mouth. A small spoonful added to pasta sauce is great! Or even as a substitute for garlic butter in garlic bread or very sparingly in a salad dressing.

I also picked a bag full of nettle tops. I think I suffer with mild arthritis in the joints in my hands and have found that nettle stings seem to help. I run my hands through the nettles until they are stung all over, then quickly rub some chewed up plantain over my hands to stop the stinging. The stings still tingle for up to 24 hours, but after that scrubbing the bathroom or weeding the garden doesn't make my joints ache.

The nettle tops were so bright and fresh looking. I made them into nettle soup using another River Cottage recipe. It tasted good, though was not thick enough for my liking, so I will add more potato or some swede next time.

Half a carrier bag of stinging nettle tops
50g butter
1 large onion peeled and chopped
I litre vegetable or chicken stock
1 large potato, peeled and cubed (or maybe 2 if you like a thicker soup)
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. crème fraiche
A few drops of extra virgin olive oil
A few drops of Tabasco

Melt the butter and cook the onion until soft. Add stock, nettles, potatoes and carrots. Simmer for about 15 mins until potato is soft. puree with a stick blender and season to taste. Spoon into bowls with a teaspoon of crème fresh and drizzle of olive oil and tabasco.

I also picked some hogweed shoots and had them steamed with some chicken risotto. They do resemble asparagus in the texture, though not quite as delicious. Certainly very edible and something I will pick again.

I am still learning new plants all the time and keeping my eyes peeled for any delicious morsels, but growing vegetables is more productive and has to take priority for me over spring, whilst there is so much to be done.