Herefordshire Recepes: Festive Flavours With Martin Griffiths

PUBLISHED: 17:47 30 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:24 20 February 2013

Pears in Perry with aromatic spices and served with a glass of Dragon Orchards delicious dessert cider

Pears in Perry with aromatic spices and served with a glass of Dragon Orchards delicious dessert cider

Martin Griffiths visits some of the county's best butchers, farm shops and farmers' markets in search of local produce for a festive spread bursting with Herefordshire flavours

Martin Griffiths visits some of the countys best butchers, farm shops and farmers markets in search of local produce for a festive spread bursting with Herefordshire flavours.


Turkeys and geese have their places on our dining tables at Christmas and a good duck takes some beating (and basting), but for a real taste of the countryside I decided to go wild this Christmas.


Growing up on a small farm on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire borders tended to mean you automatically became involved in the world of shooting. If nothing else it was necessary to control the pigeons on the kale crop and in my family the Boxing Day shoot was something of a rite of passage. Being allowed to progress from a mere catapult to a gun was a big step and shooting your first bird was like gaining a trophy which allowed you to enter an altogether more adult world. Tales (still told 20 years later) of how my brother-in-law Brian bagged two woodcock with successive barrels or the story, (his own version) of how Garston brilliantly shot down an impossibly high pigeon as it sped high above the trees in Toms Wood became the stuff of family myth and legend. These days I prefer to visit Dave Waller of Ledbury, or one of the other excellent family butchers around the county to pick up my Christmas game.


If youve never tasted game meat then be reassured it doesnt have to cost a fortune and neither does it have to be so well hung that even the dog is unwilling to sniff it. It is healthy, nutritious, low in fat and is sourced from a natural environment where a sustainable harvest is essential in controlling and maintaining a balanced countryside. Shooting helps bring income into the countryside and encourages landowners to manage the woods and hedges sensitively and effectively. You dont have to shoot to understand and enjoy its benefits. The produce also tastes delicious, so its worth going to your local butcher, farm shop or farmers market and experimenting with going wild this Christmas.


Canaps and Starters


Get your wild Christmas party going by passing round some Bucks Fizz and offering croutes made with wild duck or rabbit pat. Bucks Fizz made from Sloe Gin from Monkhide at Canon Pyon and sparkling Herefordshire wine goes very well with the earthy pat flavours, as does sparkling Herefordshire perry. Smoked trout/salmon and cucumber rolls offer a delightful and colourful alternative, which can be easily made in advance. Cut thin slices of cucumber with a potato peeler, remove excess moisture with a kitchen towel, top each cucumber slice with smoked trout/salmon, spread a little crme fraiche over the fish, cut to desired length and carefully roll up.


Shauns Pigeon Pithivier with Wild Mushrooms and Poached Pears


Pigeons can be a genuine countryside pest whose numbers need controlling. They dont offer a great deal of meat but it is very tasty and has many uses. Cut into strips and pan fried with black pudding it makes a delicious warm salad when mixed with walnuts, young spinach leaves and a perry vinegar dressing. However by following my friend Shaun Naens recipe and packing them in a shortcrust pastry parcel along with wild mushrooms and sausage meat, they are lifted to another dimension.


Makes 4 portions


2 pigeon breasts (half a breast per portion as a starter)


150 gms wild mushroom


150 gms minced pork/sausage meat


Orange zest, thyme, oil, seasoning


1 egg yolk and dash of water for pastry glazing


Shortcrust pastry: 200gms flour, 100gms butter


1. Make up your pastry and chill well before rolling out and cutting out 4 inch circles


2. Saut the mushrooms and pork before blitzing in a food processor with the orange zest, thyme and seasoning


3. Sear the pigeon breast before wrapping each breast in the pork/mushroom mixture


4. Place a wrapped breast on the centre of the pastry circles and cover with the remaining pastry


5. Glaze the pastry with the egg wash and bake at 180c for around 25mins


6. Serve with a red wine reduction and some thin slices of poached pears for a restaurant-style presentation


Main Options


Partridge and pheasant are both delicious and although some simple precautions need to be taken to avoid the meat drying out they are both extremely versatile and tasty. For a panfried dinner simply take your pheasant breasts (or wild duck if you get the chance) and saut them in a little butter and oil for around 8-10 minutes before reserving to rest. (Cooking the breast alongside some apple or quince chunks helps create juice and flavour.) Deglaze the cooking pan with a dash of cider or cider brandy and add mustard and cream. This sauce can be sieved for finer results and the pheasant/duck is delicious when served with a potato and apple mash and hearty green vegetables.


Roast Partridge and Pheasant


As both birds are different sizes, then roasting them together is a simple matter of carefully watching your timings. Allow around 40-50mins for a pheasant and 10-20mins for a partridge depending on personal preference. I like to sear the skin of my birds in a heavy frying pan with some well-seasoned butter and oil before popping them on top of a tray of root vegetables, garlic and herbs which are already baking in the oven.


Roasted Pheasant and Partridge on a Bed of Baked Winter Vegetables


Serves 4


2 whole partridge and 1 pheasant seared in a pan before roasting


4 parsnips peeled and sliced lengthways


6 large carrots cut lengthways


2 pears and 2 apples cut in half and deseeded


4 potatoes cut into chunks


4 rashers streaky bacon


Honey, cider vinegar, butter and seasoning according to taste


1. Par boil the potatoes, parsnips and carrots for 5mins in a pan of salted boiling water


2. Drain and dry thoroughly


3. Place the vegetables and fruit cut side down in a baking tray and spoon over 3 tablespoons of oil, a dash of cider vinegar, a dab or two of butter and a tablespoon of honey


4. Place the pheasant on top of the vegetables and cover the breast with good quality streaky bacon


5. Bake for around 40mins at 200c before checking on progress and adding the partridges, covered in bacon, next to the pheasant


6. Continue cooking for 10-15mins before checking. When the birds juices run clear remove the birds and cover with a damp cloth and silver foil to keep moist. Allow to rest for 5-10mins


7. Carve and serve with the vegetables, bread sauce, clapshot (potato and swede mash) and sprouts cooked with sweet chestnuts and chilli or a spicy red cabbage Use the juices from when you seared the birds as a base for your gravy


Pudding Options


With so much wonderful fruit being produced within the county it seems a shame not to celebrate Christmas without using it. Pears poached in perry with a good dash of cinnamon, allspice and star anise smell fragrant and are easily served cold with a sauce made simply by reducing their cooking liquor while a good honest baked apple stuffed with dried fruit which has been previously soaked in cider brandy makes a happy alternative to richer puddings. If eating a pudding is an excuse to try the dessert cider produced by Norman and Ann Stanier at Dragon Orchard, near Ledbury, then I recommend you grab it and if you have any room left for cheeses then a visit to one of the Mousetrap cheese shops belonging to Monkland Dairy will offer you a chance to select from a superb range of locally produced cheeses


Merry Perry Christmas


Put some traditional sparkle into this Christmas with some genuine Herefordshire perry. There are some outstanding producers around the county and by buying perry we not only give ourselves a wonderfully flavoured genuinely local product to enjoy, we are also helping to maintain an ancient traditional craft and the spectacular fruit trees which produce the pears. The varieties of these tiny pears have names, which often reflect their very local origins, and some of the trees, which I visited, in the orchards at Westons this autumn are around 200 years old. These ancient giants, which have been delivering fruit for generations of perry producers, are also havens of wildlife.


On a recent visit to see Simon Day launch his new Ribston Lawn sparkling perry at Dragon Orchard, I stopped to take some photographs in the nearby orchards and was delighted to see a pair of green woodpeckers hunting for grubs amongst the trees. So by drinking perry this Christmas you are not only helping to keep alive traditional skills and sustain ancient orchards you are also helping to supply a great home for the countys wildlife. Perryfect..!


There are a substantial number of small artisan producers of perry throughout the county so its always worth keeping an eye out for your local producer or visiting your next farmers market. Westons at Much Marcle run a well-stocked shop which features their own excellent perry and Paddy Shave of The Hop Pocket Wine store at Bishops Frome has a fine selection of Herefordshire perry, cider and wine.


For further information: www.thethreecountiesciderandperryassociation.co.uk


TURKEY TIPS


If traditional turkey is to your taste follow these tips from the countys food experts.


Chris Tudge: When cooking turkey try to open the door as little as possible as the oven will lose its core temperature and result in an overcooked breast and dry meat. The Tudge family rear around 250 turkeys for the Christmas market at their farm at Richards Gate. The birds there run in the open during the day.


Chris Murphy: Stuff the cavity of with eating apples as well as stuffing, it helps with flavour and moisture and you get a baked apple to eat. Chris is head chef at Scrumpy House, Much Marcle, and got this tip from his gran.


Hannah Day: Add five spice powder to your gravy along with a good splash of cider, especially if serving pork and turkey together for Christmas dinner. Hannah and Simon Day run Once upon a Tree at Putley.


Pam Morgan: Always use good quality streaky bacon from your local butcher to protect the breast meat. It keeps it moist and imparts great flavour. Pam cooks at the award-winning kitchen at Broadfield Court, Bodenham.


Sue Thorn: Turn the bird over on its breast for the first part of its cooking as this allows the juices from the bones to run into the meat. Sue and James Thorn run Upper Holme Farm Shop, Lyonshall.


Valerie Gibson: Good farm produced birds are essential, as is a good stuffing, Tom and I especially like this stuffing recipe (below). Valerie and Tom Oliver produce Olivers Cider and Perry at Ocle Pychard.


A Good Stuffing:


100 ml milk


50 ml cider


450 gms pork sausage meat


125 gms mushrooms


125 gms breadcrumbs


1 large onion finely chopped


8 cloves


1 egg yolk


1 bay leaf and sprig of fresh sage


1. Put milk and cider into a saucepan with the onion, bay and cloves. Place onto a gentle heat for 10 minutes


2. Remove the bay leaf and cloves


3. Break up the sausage meat and fry with no added fat for 6 mins


4. Add the finely chopped mushrooms to the pan and fry for 5 more minutes


5. Combine ingredients into a large bowl, mix well and allow to cool


This basic mixture can be given your own variations by the addition of specialist sausage meat from your butcher and fruit and nuts of choice.

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