The early bird

Par­tridge is the first of au­tumn’s rich bounty

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

Iwould stick my neck out and say the month of Septem­ber is the most piv­otal mo­ment in the culi­nary calendar. Of course, for a food lover it’s less about spe­cific dates and all about those spe­cial sea­sons – the end of as­para­gus cut­ting on Mid­sum­mer’s Day and the var­i­ous times when we can shoot con­trolled species.

I wait im­pa­tiently with drool­ing ap­petite for these ed­i­ble mile­stones, when re­sist­ing taste­less im­ported sub­sti­tutes and hold­ing out in favour of na­tive spe­cial­i­ties is re­warded.

Cer­tainly when think­ing about what to choose for this ar­ti­cle’s ed­i­ble theme, the start of au­tumn is a boun­teous time and per­haps the tough­est for de­cid­ing which ed­i­ble de­lights tempt you with. Do I choose the first wild mush­rooms with the on­set of the main for­ag­ing sea­son, or do I go for plump sweet fruits, the last of the berries and the early or­chard fruits? Should it be the first of the myr­iad colour­ful squashes and leafy bras­si­cas? No, it has to be the re­turn of wild game.

Lo­cal and sea­sonal food is a no­brainer for a foodie like me. It is much cheaper to eat lo­cal, di­rect from the grower or farmer. It is health­ier to eat lo­cal, as nu­tri­ent val­ues drop the fur­ther pro­duce is shipped.

It’s more com­mu­nity-minded, keep­ing your neigh­bours in jobs and money in the area. Its qual­ity sings louder – crunchier car­rots, sweeter peas, bright-eyed fish fresh from the boats, bread warm from the vil­lage bak­ery oven. The plain and sim­ple fact is that lo­cal, sea­sonal food just tastes bet­ter.

So, back to my favourite game meats. Though the new sea­son gets in full swing later in Oc­to­ber, the first game birds re­ally are spe­cial – in early Septem­ber, the first of the wild duck, stub­blefed mal­lard in par­tic­u­lar, and for me the star of the show and this col­umn, the de­light­ful and de­li­cious par­tridge.

Of course, game hasn’t been en­tirely ab­sent over the sum­mer. There’s the om­nipresent wood­pi­geon and rab­bit be­ing culled by farmers to save their pre­cious crops, plus veni­son sim­i­larly avail­able in var­i­ous deer species and sexes through­out the year.

But for those feath­ered game species whose har­vest is tight­ly­con­trolled by law, things start slowly with most es­tates not start­ing their shoots for an­other month or more.

De­li­cious par­tridge, how­ever, makes its ap­pear­ance shortly af­ter its Septem­ber 1 sea­sonal start date.

De­signed for the ta­ble, their sweet yet savoury, juicy meat comes per­fectly por­tioned as a meal for one, though I find guests pre­fer to have it at least split into breasts and the legs on the bone. I tend to roast the breasts quickly to suc­cu­lent pink­ness and slow-braise the legs con­fit-style in fat, so they come out ten­der as can be, as in this recipe for lo­cal red­leg par­tridge two ways. It’s a good way to get the most out of your par­tridge, in terms of taste and tex­ture.

If you have time, make a re­duced game stock from the bones of the car­cass for the gravy.

Here I have ac­com­pa­nied these de­li­cious plump birds with early squash, greens, beets and chest­nuts, along with a herby jus.

We ac­tu­ally have two types of par­tridge breed­ing in Suf­folk, the rarer but resur­gent grey par­tridge, also known as the English par­tridge, which has been in the UK for thou­sands of years, and the far more com­mon and larger red-legged par­tridge, in­tro­duced in the late 18th cen­tury, which are the ones we see more of­ten, scut­tling across coun­try lanes.

And just for the record, you will do well to find a par­tridge in a pear tree. They are, in fact, ground-lov­ing birds. But who would want to spoil a good Christ­mas carol! N Macken­zie-David Events Event di­rec­tor Re­becca Macken­zie and chef-di­rec­tor Stephen David bring their culi­nary tal­ent and wel­com­ing ap­proach to cel­e­bra­tions, with a per­son­alised menu of lo­cal sea­sonal pro­duce. Con­tact Re­becca on 01986 893991 email re­becca@macken­zie-david.co.uk

‘The first game birds re­ally are spe­cial... the star of the show, the de­light­ful and de­li­cious par­tridge’

Pre­par­ing par­tridge

Red-Legged Par­tridge

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