WELL SEASONED

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Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 25 2017 08:29AM

Earlier this week we submitted the second half of our text for the book to the publishers. Exciting stuff and at the same time we received the first half back from the proof-readers. It felt a bit like getting your home work marked - I'm not sure if i've been given a B or a C . (In fact, I'm not sure those even exist under the new system.)


As we get closer to launch and availability of pre-orders for Well Seasoned, we've been re-designing the website and have taken the decision to re-launch with one that is entirely designed around the book. When we launch, you'll see lots of changes and a fresh, clean design with lots of new material. Rest assured, our seasonality charts will still be there along with all of the blog from 2017 onwards. The older blog material will be archived and parked elsewhere (so the search engines can still find it) with a link to the new site.


What do you need to do? Absolutely nothing except sit back and enjoy the ride with us. We'll let you know before the new site launches and a simple refresh of your browser is all you might need once it's gone live.


It's been a really busy few weeks for us with writing, recipe testing and photography as well as working with the publishers on things like the proof reading, design and layout. As I write this, Russ is slaving over a hot grouse in the kitchen and Matt Inwood, our designer, is trying his best to interpret our wooly and incomplete thoughts into a stunning cover.


More to come very soon.


PS. The damsons have arrived a few weeks early (we'd normally expect them mid-September). If you want to make a batch of damson gin or jam, it's time to get picking!

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 18 2015 09:01AM

A rather longer blog today, to give a serious topic proper consideration.


After the Summer lull, the season for shooting feathered game kicked off last week with the grouse season on the "Glorious Twelfth". Partridges and duck will join them in September with pheasant and woodcock joining the shooting party in October. As seasonal foodies it’s a time we look forward to as a rich choice of meats we haven't tasted for months come back on the menu. Feathered game is one of most traditionally seasonal elements of the British diet. The very fact that game can only be shot at particular times of the year means it is strictly (and legally) a seasonal treat. But it's not without its controversy.


As a country, we have a mixed relationship with game shooting - it tends to polarise us into one of two views. On the one hand, we have the cosy image of a traditional, countryside pursuit providing wholesome, free-range food for our tables. On the other, a cruel bloodspot defended by toffs and large landowners. The start of the season invariably brings with it press articles articulating both side of the emotive argument and rightly prompts people to consider the moral issues involved. Personally, I feel strongly that, when done properly, game shooting for food is very defensible from an ethical standpoint. But I recognise that "done properly" is a significant caveat and things are definitely not as black and white as lobbyists on either side would have us believe. I want to use this blog piece to look at some of the arguments both for and against.


If you are a principled vegetarian then you are unlikely to think that shooting is ever right. On the other hand if, like me, you eat meat, it seems to me that your duty must be threefold. First, to ensure that the animals you eat live comfortable lives, secondly, to give them a humane death and, finally, to ensure you make good use of any meat that is harvested.


Looking first at how game birds live, some birds (notably grouse, woodcock and snipe) are entirely wild. Others, including pheasants and partridge are bred and partially reared in captivity. They are then released into holding pens as poults towards the end of the summer and, finally, released into the open countryside a few weeks before the season starts.


So, there's a bit of a sliding scale here. To me, there can be little argument that wholly-wild birds live infinitely happier lives that any raised in captivity. They roam free, happy to scratch and peck their way around the countryside, the only danger pre-season being natural predators such as foxes (whose numbers will be kept strictly in check by the estate gamekeeper) so it’s a largely safe and comfortable existence. However, the majority of reared game (which includes most pheasants and partridge) are born in large scale hatcheries similar to chicken farms. And as with chicken, the quality of those hatcheries varies. On the one hand, the best will rear their birds in conditions akin to free range chicken farms, with plenty of space for each bird to move around and to behave naturally. At the other end of the scale are intensive operations, similar to battery factories. Clearly, the further down that scale you go, the less robust an argument you have that game is a free-range meat.


In terms of how game is killed, a skilled gun will know his or her limits and cleanly shoot and kill a bird outright maybe nine times out of ten. Most birds that are hit will be dead before they hit the ground or killed by the impact. It is a quick and, by most measures, humane death. However, even the most confident of shots wouldn't be so bold to claim they hit them all. The moral ambiguity comes with that tenth bird. Most will be missed altogether but, of course, occasionally an off-centre shot will injure or "prick" a bird rather than kill it outright. Well-managed shoots have a small army of pickers-up and dogs, trained to find those injured birds so that they too can be quickly dispatched. On those shoots, the vast majority of gamekeepers and shooters will not leave the field until all efforts have gone into tracking down all of the birds. Nearly all will be found quickly, but it's a undeniable fact that occasionally some won't be.


Those lost birds are, it seems to me, the unhappy price to be paid for accepting that game birds live, and are killed, in the wild rather than the more controlled conditions of a farm and slaughter house. Proponents of shooting point out that human error and the production-line nature of abattoirs means a stress and pain-free death is far from guaranteed - besides which, injured birds will be quickly found and gobbled up by foxes or birds of prey - no worse a fate than a sick bird would face in the wild. Those against shooting argue that we should not accept any level of avoidable risk when it comes to humane slaughter and that culling should only ever be undertaken by skilled professionals in a controlled environment. To me, this is the most persuasive argument against shooting in any form. On balance, however, because of the infinitely better life they will have lived, I still come down in favour of eating wild animals, notwithstanding the fact that this inevitably brings with it the potential for a less humane death.


So, what to do with the birds once shot? I can see no argument whatsoever that justifies shooting a bird simply for the sport in this country. Plenty has been said in recent weeks about the pros and cons of trophy hunting in Africa, so I won't go into that here, but to me at least one part of the equation is very simple - if an animal is killed and can be eaten then it should be. When shooting was having a heyday in the mid-2000s, before the last recession, there were reports of birds being shot on large corporate shoots and simply discarded into ditches or ploughed back into the fields because there was no market for their meat. Whether, or to what extent, this was actually true is unclear. But if it is true, it's utterly indefensible and the mere suggestion that it might be, understandably provokes outrage. No, in order to be comfortable with the shooting of animals, we must also be comfortable that they will be put to good use. Most people who shoot will take a brace of birds home at the end of the day but many more birds will have been shot and those will usually be sold to game dealers. The volume of birds shot in the UK is such that pheasant meat really is one of the cheapest available during the season (There is a tounge-in-cheek Victorian saying that reflects the economics of shooting - "Up goes a guinea, bang goes sixpence and down comes half a crown.") A shoot might sell an entire bird for just 50p meaning that, even once gutted and plucked, you'll rarely pay more than a fiver for an oven-ready bird and in many places you'll get two for that price. Of course, not all game ends up beautifully presented on the butcher's slab or restaurant menu. Some is rejected from the human food chain because it is badly bruised or shot from too-close range. Badly-damaged birds may be made into pet food which, to me is another area of moral ambiguity. It's better than being dumped in a ditch, but only just and I think anyone who shoots has a responsibility to ensure that those damaged birds are kept to an absolute minimum.


Finally, some objections to shooting seem to hinge on a discomfort with the fact that those who shoot enjoy it. I find this a curious argument because it ignores altogether the welfare of the animal and focusses only on the judgement of one person's feelings against another’s. It's undeniable that, if you do shoot, a day in the field is a real highlight of the year. But it's not right to think that what people like most about it is the act of killing. There may of course be people whose thrills come from the infliction of death but I can, hand on heart, say I have never met one of them. A days shooting involves so much more - it is meeting with friends, eating good food, walking through beautiful countryside and enjoying fresh country air. In fact, a comparatively small part of the day is spent actually shooting. I can’t speak for everyone else but I know that the feeling I have when shooting an animal is a mixture of primal urge to hunt, regret of the death itself, satisfaction of a clean job well done and anticipation of the meal to come. To me, the last of those is crucial. I shoot to eat and I enjoy knowing that I have harvested my meal from the wild. I will happily debate the rights and wrongs of shooting from an animal welfare perspective but, in my view, any argument based solely on the fact that I enjoy it rather misses the point.


So, there you go. Even as a fan of shooting, I know it is far from being a simple question of 'right' or 'wrong'. The argument is far more nuanced and whether we are instinctively 'pro' or 'anti' we'll do well to remember that there are two sides to the shooting coin. There are undoubtedly good practices and bad ones and we can all agree that the more of the former and fewer of the latter, the better.


For what it's worth, my view is that there is an acceptable middle-ground. Shooting on a small scale is, I believe, a good thing. It promotes healthy eating and a respect for the countryside, for its wildlife and the birds we shoot. It can create jobs, supply us with good quality meat and have animal welfare standards on a par with the best meat farming practices. As with so much of our food chain, it's when shooting becomes big business that things go wrong. A focus only on profit and the number of birds shot in a day completely severs the link between shooting and food and quite rightly raises objections. Those of us who do shoot are in a minority and I have always felt that it's for us to show that it can be done in a sensitive and ethically sound way - we should be the loudest objectors when it isn't.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 27 2015 08:36AM

We don't usually review products on this blog but every now and then, when something genuinley interesting comes along, we'll make an exception.


As you know, at Well Seasoned we're big fans of game of all kinds. Wild meat has so many benefits in terms of health, flavour and ethics and we've always done our best to promote it. But it's fair to say that game can be a little intimidating to the first-timer - not everyone is necessarily keen to tackle a whole roast grouse and many a potential convert has been put off by the, er, robust flavour a long-hung hare or over-cooked pigeon.


So, how do you go about finding new consumers for an under-developed market? Well, Taste of Game, an organisation set up to promote eating game in the UK, has come up with one new angle - a range of crisps based on traditional game dishes, aimed specifically at reaching a wider audience of foodies. It's a simple yet ingenious idea...and we rather wish we'd thought of it.


But, many a good idea has failed due to poor execution. So, how do the crisps measure up? Honestly? They're rather good.


We tasted the first lines, based on two very traditional dishes - Grouse & Whinberry and Smoked Pheasant & Wild Mushroom. The crisps are thick and crunchy with plenty of flavour to them. As with any flavouring purporting to taste like a whole meal, you'd do well to put your finger on the exact flavours in a blind tasting but some serious work has obviously gone into them. There is a distinct gamey flavour to the grouse and although the smoked pheasant could fairly easily pass for roast chicken, it certainly isn't a million miles away.


Sensibly, ToG have gone for all-natural flavourings and 100% British potatoes (with no GM) so few worries as far as the ethical foodie is concerned. The packaging too is well considered and very fitting, with a rich heather purple and a nod to the cock pheasant’s green-blue cowl respectively. On the back of the pack, factoids about heather moorland and the benefit of woodland management for wildlife help bang home ToG's message.


They look and taste like the posh crisps they are. After a long ramble across the moors or through a wooded valley to the familiar croak of pheasant calls, what self-respecting foodie wouldn't be tempted to swap the usual Ready Salted for a packet of these?


But perhaps most importantly, is isn't difficult to see how public exposure to these flavours will lead to a wider audience for real game dishes. Food doesn't get more "accessible" than a packet of crisps in your local country pub and once you've tasted grouse or pheasant in any format, it becomes a shorter step to eating the real thing. So, in terms of ToG's wider objective, that too gets a big tick in the box.


To sum up, a big gamey thumbs-up from us.


The crisps will be officially launched at this year's Country Landowners Association Game Fair in Leeds this weekend (31 July - 2 August) so look out for them on a snack shelf near you from early Autumn onwards.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 27 2015 02:00AM

Although it might not feel like it right now, we're coming towards the end of Winter.


The end of January is a bitter-sweet time (or perhaps, to use a food-related expression, a curate's egg). There's no doubt that we're looking towards some warmer weather and the green shoots of Spring, but it also means the end of the game season. We won't see any feathered game on our tables until August (when grouse make a return) and it will be early Autumn before we see pheasant and partridge back on the menu.


The dates of the British game seasons are curiously complicated and, for reasons that we've never been able to fathom, the duck and woodcock seasons end on 31st January whilst pheasant and partridge come to an end the next day on 1st February...except this year 1st February is a Sunday and it's illegal to shoot game on Sundays, so the seasons actually all end on the same day...


Unnecessary complexities and arcane shooting laws aside, the fact is that, after this Saturday, no game birds will be shot for several months. Even allowing time for those last birds to be hung for a few days (for the meat to tenderise and improve in flavour) and to make it to market, supplies will quickly dwindle and you'll do well to find any fresh meat in the shops past the middle of the month.


As a legally-enforced season, game shooting comes to an end rather more abruptly than most. Most natural seasons see a slow reduction in the availability of produce - mackerel numbers will gradually decrease during September until there are only a few stragglers by the end of October. Gooseberries will start to fade in August and will usually be all gone by September. But, regardless of how quickly they leave us, there's always a slight sadness as we know we're saying goodbye to those fabulous ingredients for another year.


As seasonal foodies, our sadness is, of course, tempered by two important factors - first, by the knowledge that they'll be back next year and secondly, by the absolute certainty that there's something just as good to follow. Our mackerel will be replaced by juicy mussels and our late gooseberries will overlap with the first blackberries. As we mourn the loss of all that feathered game this week, remember that there is some great venison available in March and pigeons will be at their best around April, once they've had a chance to feed on the first green shoots of Spring.


So, as one season goes out, another equally delicious once comes in. And so the seasonal cycle continues. It's this anticipation of what's next on the menu that makes seasonal living so fantastically enjoyable and exciting.


In short, let's not be too upset about the game season coming to an end. It'll be back in the Autumn and there's plenty of interesting ingredients to keep our tummies full before then. Just keep calm, carry on and eat seasonally. (Someone really should put that on a mug...)

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 8 2014 10:44PM

If you ever spent much time reading our old blog you'll know that beetroot is a real favourite of ours. It's so much more than just a root veg. To us it's a real symbol of the seasonal food movement - an underappreciated, abundant and cheap vegetable that people have shunned for no good reason. Give it some love and it will tantalise your taste buds in a way that no lacklustre, imported ingredient ever could.


As the game season kicks off we wanted to give you a tasty companion dish. Try this sweet, earthy number with roasted grouse (look out for our grouse with juniper berries and caraway recipe very soon!):


Honey and Thyme Roasted Beetroot with Walnuts


(Serves 2)


4 beetroot, stalks and knobbly bits removed

4 Springs Thyme

2 tbsp Honey (try and source your local producer)

1 clove Garlic, crushed

Handful of Walnuts, crushed roughly into bits

Rapeseed Oil

Salt and Pepper


Method:


1. Preheat the oven to 200/fan180/gas 6

2. Chop the beetroot into quarters, and then half each chunk again.

3. Chuck them into a baking tray with a generous glug of oil, the honey, garlic and seasoning.

4. Remove the leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme and scatter over the beetroot.

5. Give the tray a good old shake. Add the remaining thyme sprigs.

6. Place tin foil over the tray and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Take the foil off and cook for an additional 15 minutes

7. Meanwhile, fry the walnuts on a low heat until nicely golden brown.

8. When the beetroot is tender, remove from the oven and add the nuts to the tray. Mix everything up and serve as an accompaniment to your chosen game dish.


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