Winter Squash Recipes

For general tips on cooking winter squash see here.

Butternut Squash Soup

You can make soup with any of the winter squash family but the amount of liquid required will vary depending on how wet or dry the flesh is. I most often make this soup with leftover roasted squash, although you can of course start from scratch. Spices are optional, but I like a bit of heat from chillies and the flavour of cumin and nutmeg.  I have become particularly fond of the umami provided by black garlic in vegetable dishes and it goes especially well with the sweetness of squash. However it does make the colour of the whole soup rather dark so leave it out if this bothers you.

Olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of black garlic, chopped

Spices  (salt, pepper, cumin, nutmeg and chilli)

1lb diced squash (pre-roasted or raw)

Approx 1½ pint of hot chicken or vegetable stock

Pumpkin seeds cooked in butter to garnish

Fry the chopped onion in olive oil together with whichever spices you are using.  Add the diced squash and turn until coated with spices.  Now add hot stock to cover and simmer.  If the pumpkin is raw you will need to simmer until softened, but with ready cooked squash 10 minutes is enough to combine flavours.

Blend with a stick blender or liquidise adding more stock and seasoning as required.

Serve garnished with roasted or fried pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin Ravioli

This is my absolute favourite way of eating squash.  I have already said that I do not like squash in dessert dishes, but could in fact imagine eating this as a dessert – perhaps with the sweetness enhanced with honey.

400g fresh pasta

filling:

250g roasted pumpkin purée (Crown Prince for preference, or try a mixture of butternut squash and sweet potato)

50g freshly grated parmesan cheese

50g ground almonds

2 tablespoons finely chopped Mostarda (Italian pickled fruits)

freshly grated nutmeg to taste

to serve:

Melted butter and sage or rosemary

Scattering of chopped walnuts

Roast slices of pumpkin until soft and then purée.  Mix with the remaining filling ingredients.

Roll the pasta into thin sheets.  Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture at intervals along the dough, leaving a finger’s width between each.  Use your finger to lightly wet around each mound of filling then lay a second sheet of pasta on top.  Seal the pasta using the cupped side of your hand and ensuring that no air is trapped inside the parcel.  Cut around to form individual ravioli.  Press the edges again firmly to seal.

Cook half a dozen ravioli at a time in rapidly boiling salted water.  As soon as they rise to the surface remove from the water with a slotted spoon and keep warm in a dish containing butter, which has been melted with chopped sage or rosemary.

Grate a little more nutmeg over before serving and scatter with chopped walnuts.

Gnocchi di Zucca

These gnocchi are a traditional speciality of the Veneto and southern Lombardy.  Marina di Chioggia would be the best variety to use but Crown Prince is a reasonable substitute or a mixture of butternut squash and sweet potato comes close to the spicy sweetness and texture of a northern Italian pumpkin. In the Veneto these gnocchi are dressed with butter, parmesan, sugar and cinnamon.  This shows the Venetian sweet-savoury blend also evident in the ravioli recipe above.  In Lombardy and elsewhere is they are dressed with butter, parmesan and sage.  This is the dressing I have used here.

Serves 10-12

2.5 kg/5 lb squash

500g/18 oz OO grade flour

5 tsp baking powder

salt

6 large eggs

140g/5 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

generous grating of nutmeg

Dressing:

175g/6 oz unsalted butter

15 sage leaves, snipped

140g/5 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Roast the squash (and sweet potatoes if using a mix).  Remove the flesh from the skins and purée both vegetables.

Mix in the flour, baking powder and salt and then break in the eggs.  Mix to ensure they are thoroughly incorporated before adding the Parmesan and seasoning to taste with salt and nutmeg.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.  You can then either shape small balls of gnocchi with your floured hands or use a piping bag fitted with a large plain nozzle. If using a piping bag it is easy to pipe directly over the boiling water, cutting of lengths about 2cm/¾” long.  Don’t cook too many gnocchi at once, they will take only a minute or two to rise to the surface, when they should be lifted out with a slotted spoon and placed in a large shallow ovenproof dish kept in a low oven.

For the dressing heat the butter with the sage until it begins to foam, pour over the gnocchi and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Gratin of Butternut Squash

3 lb butternut squash, peeled, halved and seeds removed

1 pint double cream

a good handful of fresh thyme leaves

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

4 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tbsps fresh breadcrumbs

salt and pepper

Thinly slice the butternut squash and lay the slices in a buttered ovenproof serving dish.  Heat the cream to just below boiling point then add the garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and half the Parmesan.  Pour over the squash and then sprinkle the rest of the parmesan and breadcrumbs over the top.

Bake at 170°C/Gas Mark 4 for about an hour.

Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

This recipe for using squash as a spaghetti replacement comes from Annie Levy of kitchencounterculture.co.uk who says…

I love this winter squash variety, which is not easy to find in Britain. I love its light, earthy, yet watery flavour in the form of its famous shape and texture: that of spaghetti. When you’ve lightly steamed or baked it, and take tines of a fork, from perimeter to its opposite point, gently dragging, as if raking or combing delicate hair, long strands spiral in a pile of your plate, similar to spaghetti, hence its name, even if it’s closer to Angel Hair in its stringy skinny glory. Spaghetti Squash is receptive and flexible to strong flavours and welcomes chilli flakes. Tonight my husband had made a Spag Bol sauce for our family, a dish our children love, and which they prefer from him.  He makes it meaty and dense, whereas I might even omit meat and revel in tomatoey brown lentils with grated beetroot with that iron back taste of blood and rosemary and of course lots of garlic.

Squash variation on Apple Dessert

You can also read Annie’s squash variation on an apple dessert here:

https://kitchencounterculture121.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/a-great-apple-dessert-squash-and-quince-variations/

Stir-up-Sunday

Stir up Sunday, the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day (30th November), is traditionally the day on which Christmas Puddings are made.  Personally I like to give my puddings longer to mature, but Stir up Sunday is a good time to make mincemeat and, if you haven’t already done so, your Christmas Cake.

CHRISTMAS CAKE

Makes an 8″ round, or 7″ square, cake

4 oz natural glace cherries

4 oz candied peel, chopped

8 oz currants

8 oz sultanas

8 oz raisins

4 oz prunes

8 oz plain flour

good pinch of salt

4 eggs

8 oz butter

1 teasp. mixed spice

8 oz muscovado sugar

2 oz Pedro Ximenez sherry or brandy

Rinse the sugary coating from the cherries, cut into quarters and put in a large mixing bowl. Add the fruit and peel, pour over the sherry, stir and leave covered overnight for the fruit to swell.

Grease and line the tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and sugar. Sieve the flour, salt and mixed spice. Beat the eggs.

Add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, a bit at a time, mixing well after each addition and adding a little of the flour with the last addition. Fold in the rest of the flour and then the fruit.

Put into the prepared tin and tie brown paper around the outside of the tin.  Bake at150°C for an hour then turn the oven down to 140°C for a further 2½ hours.  (If you are using a fan oven reduce the temperatures by 10°C but do not use the fan if you have the choice).  You may need to cover the cake with brown paper during the last hour to prevent the top becoming too brown.

When the cake is cool make holes in the bottom with a skewer and pour over another couple of tablespoons of sherry.  Feed the cake with sherry again once a month during storage.

MINCEMEAT

Makes 4½-5 lb

½ lb cooking apples, minced or coarsely grated

½ lb currants

½ lb raisins

½ lb sultanas

4 oz natural glace cherries

4 oz chopped peel

4 oz shelled walnuts

8 oz shredded suet

1 lb demerara sugar

2 level tsps mixed spice

3- 4 fl oz brandy

Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, cover and leave for 2 days, stirring twice a day. Put into clean jars. If you are intending to keep the mincemeat for a long time seal them as you would jam.

Venison Recipes

General Tips when Cooking Venison

  • Compensate for the lack of fat in game – I mostly use good pancetta or dry-cured streaky bacon for this.
  • Serve on a very hot plate to prevent the meat turning to an unappetising dull grey/brown as it cools.
  • Rest in a warm, but not hot, place before serving, allowing for the fact the venison will continue cooking in this time.
  • Older deer, or those that have had insufficient hanging time, will benefit from lengthy marinating (5-6 days) and cooking with tenderising ingredients such as beetroot.
  • Wild foods, e.g. fungi and chestnuts but especially berries, go especially well with venison.  Emphasise what the deer have been eating in the wild.

Saddle or Loin

This is the prime joint on a deer and the quickest to cook.  Even the whole saddle will take little time to roast because of the bone running through it conducting the heat to the centre. Quicker still is to cut the saddle into individual cutlets, which can be fried or grilled, or remove just the eye of the loin to cook like fillet steak – either in individual pieces or, in the larger species, as you would for Beef Wellington.

Roast Saddle of Roe or Fallow Deer with Medlar Jelly

1 saddle of Roe of Fallow Deer (this will weigh about 4lb)

12-18 thin slices of dry-cured streaky bacon or pancetta

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Medlar or Rowan Jelly

Red wine

Good stock – chicken or veal for preference

Trim all the skin, sinew and membrane from the saddle so that the flesh is exposed.  Fold the two flaps of tougher meat (called the aprons) under the joint to protect the fillet.  Oil and season the top then cover with slices of streaky bacon.

Weigh the joint and calculate 8 minutes per pound.  This should give you a medium-rare, pink meat but you can adjust it by 2 minutes either way for rare or well done.  Leave the meat at room temperature whilst you heat the oven as high as it will go (240°C/Gas mark 9).

Seal the joint at this high temperature for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for the remainder of the cooking time.

Remove to a warm place (no more than 75˚C) to rest for half an hour before serving remembering that the meat will continue cooking a little during this time so don’t worry if it appears a little under-done when you remove it from the oven.

Make a sauce in the pan in which the joint has been roasted.  De-glaze first with a rich red wine, and then add the stock and a tablespoon of medlar or rowan jelly.  In the absence of either of these you can use redcurrant jelly, but it does not have quite the degree of astringency that you find in medlar or rowan, so perhaps use a little less.  Serve additional jelly at the table.

Fried Venison Loin Chops or Steaks with Pontack Sauce

The best way to test how the meat is cooked here is by touch – if it feel spongy the meat is still very rare, some resistance is perfect.  Heat a dry heavy based frying pan until it is really hot.  Sear the meat briefly on both sides and then season with salt and pepper turning the meat every 30 seconds until you have the texture you want.  Now remove to a warm place to rest for at least 5 minutes.

Pontack Sauce

Pontack Sauce is made with elderberries and is great with venison. It is especially useful where there are few pan juices with which to make a sauce.  It does however need to be made well in advance and the longer it is kept the better (7 years is said to be perfect!).  In the absence of Pontack Sauce try serving the steaks with one of the fruit jellies mentioned above or some wild mushrooms.

The following recipe is taken from Pam Corbin’s Preserves in the River Cottage series.

Makes 1 x 350 ml bottle

500g elderberries (ripe in late August/early September)

500 ml cider vinegar

200g shallots, peeled and sliced

6 cloves

4 allspice berries

1 blade of mace

1 tbsp black peppercorns

15g fresh root ginger, bruised

Strip the berries from the stalks as soon as possible after picking – a table fork is useful for doing this.  Place them in an ovenproof dish with the vinegar and put in a very low oven for 4-6 hours, or overnight.  Remove from the oven and strain through a sieve, crushing the berries as you do so to obtain the maximum juice.

Put the rich red-black juice in the pan along with the sliced shallots, spices and ginger.  Bring gently to the boil and cook for 20-25 minutes until slightly reduced.  Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve.

Return the juice to the pan and bring to the boil, then boil steadily for 5 minutes.  Pour the sauce into warm, sterilised bottles and seal.  Store in a cool dark cupboard.

Strip Loin

Rather than cutting the loin into steaks or cutlets before cooking it can be cooked as a piece and then sliced for serving.  In this case I sear the fillet in a pan as above, season, and then put into a hot oven (220˚C) for 5 minutes.  Rest for about 15 minutes in an oven that has been previously heated but has now cooled.

Whole Loins from medium to large animals are wonderful cooked like Beef Wellington.

Haunch

The rear legs of a deer are also good for roasting, although I cook them for far longer than the saddle.  This means that greater care is needed to prevent the joint drying out during cooking.  Caul fat is ideal for wrapping around the whole haunch and will baste the joint as it cooks, or if you can buy good firm back fat you can use a larding needle to insert strips all over the joint.  Alternatively I have wrapped the joint in foil so that it partially steams, removing the foil only for the last half hour of cooking.

Some people cut steaks from the haunch, although unless it is a very young animal I don’t recommend this.  For a large beast, such as Red or Sika Deer, it does make sense to cut this joint down, but I think it is better cooked in something like a venison pasty.

Roast Haunch of Venison with Fruity Wine Sauce

I have used this method with both Roe and Red Deer, although the latter was marinated for 6 days beforehand.

Put a double layer of foil in a roasting pan and lay slices of orange and lemon over the base (Seville oranges, when in season, are better still).  Put the haunch of venison on top of the fruit, season with salt and pepper and then wrap the foil to seal the joint.

Cook at 170˚C/Gas Mark 3 allowing 25 minutes per pound.  Open up the foil for the last half hour of cooking.

Remove the meat to a warm place to rest – 20 minutes will be sufficient for the lower temperature used in this recipe.

You will be left with a lovely mix of venison and fruit juices to which red wine or port and redcurrant jelly can now be added to make a sauce.

Dauphinois Potatoes are the perfect accompaniment.

Shoulder and Neck

The front legs, shoulder and neck meat is best casseroled.  You may wish to marinade the meat first (see below) for added flavour.

Venison Casserole with Chestnut Gnocchi

3lb diced venison (if you have the bones they can be added to the casserole for added flavour)

4 oz of cubed pancetta (cut from a block)

1 large onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 leek, chopped

1 stick of celery, diced

6 oz sliced mushrooms (include some wild mushrooms if you have them)

2 bay leaves

Fresh thyme

1tsp juniper berries, chopped

1 tbsp flour

Salt and pepper

Bottle of red wine

Put the diced pancetta into a large casserole dish and cook gently until the fat begins to run (add olive oil if needed to prevent the pancetta sticking).  Once you have released sufficient fat begin browning the diced venison, in batches to prevent the heat of the pan being reduced too far.  When the meat is sealed remove it to a plate until all of the meat is done.

Now add the diced onion, carrot, leek and celery and cook until softened.  Finally add the mushrooms and cook briefly.  Season with salt, pepper and juniper berries.

Season the meat and sprinkle it with flour.  Return it to the casserole and pour over the bottle of wine.  Lay any venison bones you have on top of the meat.  Add the bay leaves and thyme and bring the wine up to simmering point.

Transfer the casserole to a low oven 140˚C/Gas Mark 3 and cook for 3 hours until the meat is tender.

I love to serve this with the Chestnut Gnocchi below, but alternatively you could just add chestnuts to the casserole towards the end of cooking.  Don’t add them too early, or they will absorb all of the liquid.  If you do decide to add chestnuts to the casserole they provide sufficient thickening to dispense with the flour.

Chestnut Gnocchi

Chestnut flour does not keep well so make this first version only between December and March when the new season’s flour is around.  The second version, whilst not quite as light, can be made with tinned or vacuum packed chestnuts.

1¼ lb floury potatoes

4½ oz chestnut flour

1 egg

salt and pepper

butter

parmesan cheese

Boil the potatoes in their skins in salted water.  Peel them whilst they are still warm and pass through a mouli-lègume.

Add the chestnut flour and egg and work well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thoroughly combined.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil.  Meanwhile shape the gnocchi by taking inch long cylinders of the mixture and rolling them along the inside curve of a fork whilst pressing the dough lightly with your fingers.

Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water and remove them with a slotted spoon as soon as they rise to the surface.  Toss them in melted butter and sprinkle with grated parmesan before serving.

Alternative recipe using tinned chestnuts

Use 7oz/200g of peeled chestnuts mixed with 3½oz/100g potato, 2½ oz/70g plain flour and one egg.

Marinade for Venison

This marinade is cooked to extract the maximum flavour from the herbs and vegetables.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 stick celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 pint red wine

1 tspn juniper berries, crushed

1 bay leaf, crushed

sprig of thyme

1 tspn black peppercorns

2 tspn salt

Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and fry the vegetables until very lightly coloured, adding the garlic half way through. Now add the wine, herbs and spices and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave until cold before pouring over the meat. Leave to marinate for at least two days (but up to six if you want to tenderise as well as flavour the meat) turning the meat every day. The marinade can then be strained and used in the sauce or casserole.

Venison Offal

Deer offal is extremely good, but rarely sold.  It must be removed immediately the animal is killed and is usually regarded as the stalker’s perk.  Occasionally though you may be able to find venison liver this, despite its dark red colour is actually very mild in flavour.  Serve it slightly pink.

Bay Recipes

Conger Eel with Potatoes and Bay

Conger eel, whilst quite different from Anguilla anguilla, the now quite uncommon freshwater eel, is a firm fleshed white fish of reasonable flavour.  It was once commonly eaten in Cornwall, usually salted, and with potatoes.  A similar fish casserole is made in Spain using Hake.  The addition of Bay was inspired by the more usual pairing of this herb with Anguilla anguilla.

4 conger eel steaks, about ¾” thick

2 onions

Olive oil

6 fresh bay leaves

Salt

Pepper

4 potatoes

½ pint fish stock

Lightly salt the conger eel steaks on both sides and return them to the fridge for half an hour or so.  The salt will draw moisture from the flesh, making it even firmer.  The fish need only be wiped with damp kitchen roll before cooking to remove excess salt.

Cut the onion in half, through the core, and then slice into half rings.  Heat some olive oil in an ovenproof casserole dish and turn the onion slices in the oil so that they are all coated.  Add 2 fresh bay leaves, cover the casserole and cook gently in a low oven (120˚C) for an hour or so to soften.

Remove the dish from the oven and turn the heat up to 180˚C.

Cook the onions over a medium heat until they begin to caramelise.   Lightly brown the conger eel steaks on each side, adding pepper to each side as you do so.

Peel the potatoes and slice quite thinly (about the thickness of a £1 coin).  Layer up the fish steaks, onion, potato slices and the four remaining bay leaves.  Pour over the hot fish stock seasoned with salt and pepper.

FRESH BAY CUSTARD

This is especially good with apple dishes.

Makes ½ pint

3 fresh bay leaves

½ pint of double cream

2 egg yolks

1 oz caster sugar

1 tsp cornflour (optional)

Custard made with fresh eggs is much thinner than that made with dried eggs in the form of custard powder.  If you prefer thicker custard add the cornflour to the eggs and sugar or use an additional egg yolk.  If you prefer you can use single cream or a mixture of double cream and milk.

Heat the cream with the bay leaves to simmering point.  Draw off the heat and leave, covered, to infuse for half an hour.  Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and, if using, the cornflour.  Strain the cream onto the eggs and return to a clean pan.  Heat gently, stirring all the time until the custard thickens slightly, you can take it just to simmering point without the eggs curdling, which the addition of cornflour will also help to avoid.

Pumpkins – beyond Halloween

As soon as Halloween is over the price of pumpkins comes right down.  Once cut squash do not keep, so cook it all and then used the leftovers in one of the following dishes. Pumpkins, and other squashes, make a wonderful soup.  The amount of liquid required will vary depending on the type of squash used – Crown Prince, for example, has a great strength of flavour but is quite dry in texture.  At its most simple, you could just purée leftover roast squash and thin it down with stock or even water.  Pumpkin is however at the more watery end of the squash spectrum, especially the larger ones, so the following recipe includes a little flour.

Pumpkin Soup

1½ lb chopped pumpkin flesh

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

2 oz butter

1½ pints homemade chicken stock

½ pint single cream

1 level tbsp flour

salt and pepper

nutmeg

Lightly fry the onion and pumpkin in the butter for about 5 minutes until it is soft but not coloured. Stir in the flour, cook for a minute, and then add the hot chicken stock. Simmer gently for 40 minutes.

Now purée the soup in an electric blender or food processor and pass it through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Re-heat the soup but do not boil it. Add the cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.  Pumpkin seeds, dry roasted, then browned in butter, make the perfect topping.

Pumpkin Ravioli

400g fresh pasta

filling:

250g roasted pumpkin purée (Crown Prince for preference, or try a mixture of butternut squash and sweet potato)

50g freshly grated parmesan cheese

50g ground almonds

2 tablespoons finely chopped Mostarda

freshly grated nutmeg to taste

to serve:

Melted butter and sage or rosemary

Scattering of chopped walnuts

Roast slices of pumpkin until soft and then purée.  Mix with the remaining filling ingredients.

Roll the pasta into thin sheets.  Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture at intervals along the dough, leaving a finger’s width between each.  Use your finger to lightly wet around each mound of filling then lay a second sheet of pasta on top.  Seal the pasta using the cupped side of your hand and ensuring that no air is trapped inside the parcel.  Cut around to form individual ravioli.  Press the edges again firmly to seal.

Cook half a dozen ravioli at a time in rapidly boiling salted water.  As soon as they rise to the surface remove from the water with a slotted spoon and keep warm in a dish containing butter, which has been melted with chopped sage or rosemary.

Grate a little more nutmeg over before serving and scatter with chopped walnuts.

Fireside Teas

Roast Chestnuts

The simplest thing to cook over (or in) an indoor fire is probably chestnuts.  You can buy a special chestnut roasting pan, which has holes in the base, or simply wrap them in foil and place in the embers.  This latter method has the advantage that if the chestnuts do burst they won’t fly out of the fire.  To help prevent bursting you should slit each chestnut with a sharp knife before they are cooked.

Drop Scones (Scotch Pancakes)

The next simplest and quickest thing to make is Drop Scones.  These are risen with baking powder rather than yeast, so the batter must be baked immediately it is mixed.

To make 24-30

225g/8 oz plain flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp cream of tartar (this can be omitted or reduced if you have soured unpasteurised milk)

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 medium egg, beaten

300ml/½ pint of milk

Set a lightly greased griddle or heavy based frying pan (preferably cast iron) over the fire or stove to warm.

Sift together all the dry ingredients, then beat together the egg and milk.  Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the milk and egg mixture.  Gradually incorporate all of the flour to make a smooth batter.  Drop dessertspoonfuls of the batter onto the warm griddle and cook until bubbles appear on the top.  Flip them over and cook for the same amount of time on the other side (about 2-3 minutes a side).  Remove to warm plate and cover with a cloth until you have made a batch, but serve as soon as possible with butter and/or honey.

Crumpets

When I was a child we bought crumpets and I loved them.  Something changed, and flaccid bought crumpets no longer hit the spot.  For several years I stopped eating them altogether and then I had a go at making them myself – it was well worth the effort.  When making bread I avoid easy-blend yeast with its added ascorbic acid, but crumpets are a fast risen batter anyway.  Baking Powder and Bicarbonate of Soda were not used in baking until the 1920s so crumpets would originally have been risen by yeast alone.  However the addition of a small amount of Baking Powder (I find the mixed preparation has less taste than bicarbonate of soda on its own) just before baking helps the rise and makes for lighter crumpets.

Makes 12

7 fl oz warm milk made up to 12 fl oz with warm water (or 12 fl oz semi-skimmed milk)

2 tbsps vegetable oil

6 oz strong (bread) plain flour

6 oz plain (all-purpose) flour

1 tsp easy blend yeast (just this once!)

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp baking powder

Put the flour in a bowl and mix with the yeast, salt and sugar.  Make a well in the middle and pour in the warm milk and water mixture and vegetable oil.  Beat together to make a thick batter.  Leave to rise until it has about doubled in size (1-2 hours).

Put a large frying pan or griddle over a very low heat.  Whilst this is heating dissolve the baking powder in2 fl oz of warm water and beat into the batter.

When the pan is hot enough that a drop of batter would start cooking immediately, but not so hot that the crumpets will burn, brush the base and inside of metal rings (plain pastry cutters will do) with vegetable oil.  Spoon in enough batter to cover the base of each ring, letting it find its own level.  Don’t make them too thick.

Cook the crumpets until they are dry and set on the top – this can take 10 minutes or more.  During this time bubbles should appear on the top but towards the end of the cooking time you can use a skewer to help them burst as otherwise the crumpets, though tasty, will be “blind” and won’t absorb butter, which is an essential part of the eating experience.

Turn the rings over to cook the other side for a couple of minutes; it does not matter if they are not actually touching the surface of the pan, although you should be able to ease them away from the sides of the ring with a palette knife.

When the bubbly side is lightly browned remove the crumpets out completely from their rings and leave them to cool and set on a wire rack.

Toast and butter the crumpets before serving.

Pikelets

Pikelets are the Yorkshire version of crumpets, essentially made with the same batter although perhaps a tad looser, and cooked without a ring.  This means that the batter spreads and the finished pikelet is much thinner than a crumpet.

English Muffins

These are made with a stiffer batter than crumpets and are baked without rings.  They do not have holes.  They are made almost like buns but then baked on a griddle rather than in the oven – which is a fascinating process that requires a leap of faith the first time you do it. There are strong opinions about how they should be buttered, definitely not split and toasted.  According to Marian McNeill the correct way to serve them is to open them slightly at their joint all the way round (some say to snip with scissors but I score rather than cut them with a bread knife), toast them back and front, then tear them open and butter the insides liberally.

Makes 8

450g/1lb strong plain flour

2 tsps salt

175ml/6 fl oz water

175ml/6 fl oz milk

2 tbsp olive oil

15g/½oz fresh yeast or 2 tsps of traditional dried/1 tsp of easy-blend

1 tsp sugar

Rice flour for dusting

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then cover and place in a very low oven to warm.  Meanwhile mix together the milk and water (or use all semi-skimmed milk) and warm until just tepid.  Cream the yeast and sugar with a little of the warm milk (or if using easy blend yeast you can add it directly to the dry ingredients).

Make a well in the middle of the warmed flour and pour in the yeast liquid and olive oil.  Mix with a wooden spoon and then turn out onto an oiled surface to knead.  The dough should be very soft and slack, but not sticky.  When smooth, put the dough back into the bowl, cover and leave until doubled in size (an hour or so).

Divide the dough into eight and shape each piece into a ball then flatten slightly with the heel of your palm.  Dust all over with rice flour.  Put them onto a well-floured tray and cover with a cloth for 40 minutes or so until they have risen again.

Heat a skillet until hot but not red hot as you would for meat, then transfer the muffins very gently so that you do not knock the air out.  Cook gently for about 8 minutes a side.  They will look floury, pale golden-brown but white waisted and should be anything up to 2” (5cm) thick.  Serve as described above.

YORKSHIRE TEA CAKES

These are baked in an oven, rather than cooked on a griddle, but they are toasted before being eaten so this could be done in front of an open fire.

Makes 8

285ml/½ pint full cream milk

2 teaspoons of traditional dried yeast (or 1 of fast-acting if it you cannot find traditional)

250g/8 oz strong white bread flour

250g/8 oz soft white flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp mixed spice

55g/2 oz unsalted butter, diced

45g/1½ oz sugar

115g/4 oz currants

1 medium egg

For the glaze:

4 tbsps milk

3 tbsps sugar

Heat the milk until tepid, pour into a mixing bowl and sprinkle on the yeast.  Leave for 10 minutes to check it is active (this is not necessary for fast acting yeast).

Mix together the two flours, salt and mixed spice.  Rub in the cubed butter, then add the sugar and currants.  A food processor is handy for this stage, just do not process with a metal blade after the currants have been added – the aim is just to mix everything together.

Beat the egg into the milk and yeast mixture and then add the dry ingredients.  It will seem a little sticky at first.  Leave it for 10 minutes or so and it should be easier to knead.  Knead until the texture is silky.

Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (an hour or so).

Divide the mixture into eight even sized balls.  Place on a lined or greased tray and flatten slightly with your hand (a 10 cm ring is useful for making them all even sized and neat, but is not essential).

Cover the tray and return to a warm place to puff up again whilst you heat the oven to 200˚C/Gas Mark 6 (this will take about three-quarters of an hour).

Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.  Whilst the teacakes are cooking prepare the glaze by heating the milk, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then boiling for about a minute until lightly syrupy.

Brush the teacakes with the glaze as soon as they come out of the oven.  They can be eaten as fresh but they taste even better split and toasted the following day.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

A Partridge in a Pear Tree – the association between partridge and pear is represented here by serving a honey roast pear as an accompaniment.  The other flavours used in this dish can be varied somewhat depending on what is most readily available, but I have furthered the orchard theme by stuffing the partridge with quince and finishing the sauce with a crab apple Verjuice.  Verjuice was used before lemons became widely available.  In wine producing countries it was made from the juice of unripe grapes, in Britain the juice of crab apples was used to the same effect.

Serves 4

4 partridge

12 rashers of thinly sliced smoked bacon or pancetta

4 pears

1 quince

2 tbsps honey

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

8 sprigs of thyme

1 tbsp brown sugar

butter

Verjuice (or substitute Perry, Cider, or Lemon Juice)

Crab apple jelly (optional)

Season the insides of the partridges and insert slices of quince.  Preferably the quince should be poached first until softened in sweetened white wine (see recipe), but if you add them raw they will still scent the partridge beautifully even if they remain too firm to eat in the brief time it takes to cook the partridge.  Cover each partridge with thin slices of bacon and place the birds in pre-soaked clay baking bricks if you have them.  This, I have found, is the best way to keep the birds tender during cooking, but you can open roast them if necessary.

If using the clay bricks they should be placed in a cold oven with the temperature then set to 230˚C.  The partridge will cook be cooked in about 50 minutes.  If open roasting, pre- heat the oven to 200˚C and roast the birds for about 40 minutes.

The pears need to be roasted at a lower temperature – 180˚C, and will take about 45 minutes.  Slice each pear in half lengthways, leaving the stalk in place.  Put the pear halves in a roasting tin, skin side down.  Mix together the honey, balsamic vinegar and a tablespoonful of the verjuice.  Season the pears and then spoon the honey dressing over each half.  Top with a sprig of thyme, a couple of flakes of butter and a little brown sugar.  Keep an eye on them as they cook to make sure that they are not getting too dark, adding a little verjuice to the pan if required.

When the partridges are cooked remove them from their cooking vessel and deglaze this with a little verjuice.  Remove the pears from their roasting tin and add the partridge juices to the thicker sticky left from roasting the pears.  Taste and adjust the flavours as required – you might want more verjuice or some crab apple jelly.

PERFECT ROAST PHEASANT (or Partridge)

I make no apologies for the simplicity of this recipe.  All the hard work has come before, in finding and preparing the bird. For more information about sourcing your pheasant, see my article http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/2010/11/good-game  .  For those who have a bird in the feather and would like to hang and pluck it themselves – good for you!  Some notes to help follow the recipe.

 

 Whilst pheasants are at their best I follow the general principle of roasting them on the bone.  After Christmas, when they are a bit older and I’ve had my fill of them this way, they are jointed and served in a variety of dishes.  There is a slight deviation from this, for the first pheasants of the season.  These are hung for a minimal period (about 3 days), then plucked and drawn before taking them to the local smokehouse to be lightly cold smoked.  They will still be roasted in the method described below, but these I use for salad starter, where one pheasant will serve 6 people.  The only reason that I do this with the first brace of the season is that if I leave it any longer the smokehouse is too busy smoking salmon for Christmas.  Most smoked pheasant you are ever likely to have tasted has been hot-smoked (so no further cooking is required) and usually just the breasts have been smoked, off the bone.  This is far too severe for pheasant as they have no fat to protect them.

 

There is only one secret to roasting a pheasant perfectly – use a terracotta brick.  I know chicken bricks are terribly old fashioned, in fact it is quite hard to find one nowadays.  They were relevant in the days when chicken too were truly free range with very little fat.  Do invest in one if you intend to roast game regularly.  In the absence of a terracotta brick, a roasting bag provides a rough approximation of the method, but it is not really as effective. In a roasting bag, you would cook in an oven which had been pre-heated to 200˚C for about 45 minutes.  A chicken brick needs to be soaked in cold water first and placed in a cold oven.  The exact cooking time does depend on how quickly your oven heats up, for this reason I use my smaller oven for this recipe, and the bird is cooked in just under an hour.  In addition to keeping the bird moist, the chicken brick has another advantage over open roasting – all of the juices are retained for delicious gravy.

 

PERFECT ROAST PHEASANT

Serves 2

1 pheasant

3 slices of good smoked streaky bacon or pancetta

Clay baking pot

Soak the clay pot in cold water for at least 30 minutes.

Truss the pheasant and cover the breasts with the smoked bacon or pancetta.  Put the pheasant in the soaked clay pot and place this in a cold oven.  Set the temperature to 220C/Gas Mark 7 and roast for just under an hour, or until the juices run clear then you insert a knife into the thickest part of the leg.  Rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with bread sauce (recipe below).

Partridge can be cooked in exactly the same way but will take only half to three quarters of the time.

BREAD SAUCE

1 small onion

4 cloves

½ pint milk

2 oz fresh white breadcrumbs

½ oz butter

salt and pepper

Cut the onion in half and press the cloves into it.  Place in a saucepan and cover with the milk.  Heat the milk to just below boiling point, then remove from the heat, cover and leave for an hour.

Strain the milk and return to the rinsed out saucepan together with the breadcrumbs and butter.  Heat and let the sauce simmer for 2 minutes.  Season to taste.

This sauce can be frozen, so I often make a larger batch.

HANGING AND DRAWING A BIRD

Tales of game hung until crawling with maggots have done much to put people off game and certainly the notion of hanging it themselves.  I have heard more than one TV chef say that game doesn’t need hanging.  True, this stage is often omitted in hotter climes.  However, allowing rigor mortis to set in and then pass will relax the meat and make the bird tender.  If birds are roughly handled after death, this can prevent rigor mortis setting in.  The Code of Good Shooting Practise has included guidelines covering this and ensuring that game is hung as quickly as possible, rather than being left in a heap in a truck all day.

Unless you have a professional game storage larder, the time needed for hanging will depend on weather conditions.  In October, if the weather is warm, I might leave them for just three days.  By December/January, if there is a frosty snap, they can be left for 10 days or more without coming to any harm.  Start at the lower end of this period and then gradually experiment to find out your preferred hanging time.  Partridge need less time (3-5 days).  Game birds are usually hung as a brace, from string tied around the neck.  Ensure that air can circulate around them.

Plucking….. If it is your first time I would start with partridge – they are smaller and the skin is less inclined to tear.  Hang the birds over an open bin bag to catch all the feathers and do the job outdoors or in the garage unless you want to be chasing feathers around the house for days!

Start plucking the bird on the breast – holding the skin taut and plucking against this will help prevent tearing.  Remove the feathers up to half way along the neck and as far along the wings as you wish to eat (on small birds you may decide not to bother with the wings).

If removing the wings cut the skin around the joint and then sever with a sharp knife.  Cut the head off where you have stopped plucking – half way along the neck.  Remove the lower leg joint by cutting, bending the leg upwards to dislocate the joint so that it can be cut through.

Dressing…Turn the bird onto its breast and pinch the skin around the neck at the front so that it is taut at the back.  Cut along the neck bone that should now be visible and then cut off the neck as far down into the body as possible.  Use your fingers to gently ease the crop away from the body trying to keep it intact.

Turn the bird over onto its back and point the neck end away from you.  Make a slit in the hollow at the tail end a short way above the vent and then cut down to just above the vent.  You are aiming to create a slit large enough to insert a couple of fingers into whilst not cutting into the intestines.  Once you can insert your fingers, carefully slide them up into the body cavity as far as you can keeping close to the bone and proceeding very gently to avoid cutting yourself on any broken ribs.  Try to feel for the heart and then pull this and the rest of the innards out through the hole away from the bird until you can sever the intestinal pipes from the body.  Wash the bird now to get rid of excess blood and debris and then feel around the cavity to remove lungs from the rib cage and anything else that has been left.

A diagram would help illustrate this, and I would recommend trying to find the excellent but out of print Game book from the Time Life Good Cook series.