A bounty of bunnies
Rabbit is back on the menu and a new book, Ahead of the Game, is packed with advice on how to make the most of it, says Tony Jackson
The humble coney has long been the bedrock of shooting in this country. For many people, their first introduction to shooting was through an air rifle or .410 in pursuit, under supervision, of a rabbit. The art of stalking, of learning to paunch, skin and prepare the animal for the table would follow.
For those who wish to start, there is a recently published book, Ahead of the Game, by Shooting Times columnist and all-round rabbit expert Simon Whitehead. It was written in collaboration with Scott Rea, a renowned butcher with a passion for the skills and traditions associated with all aspects of butchery and the production of healthy food.
Scott’s worthy goal is to persuade young and old to move away from sanitised, processed packets of supermarket meat and to understand that game, taken in the field, is pure and organic. Furthermore, the animal has enjoyed a free-range life in the wild until humanely despatched.
Today, with a new understanding of the benefits of wild food, bunnies are bouncing back and this is where Simon and Scott’s book is making a positive impact. Simon explains that, though not a species native to Britain, rabbits have been a part of our fauna for centuries, though it was not until the 19th century that extensive game preservation and the crackdown on poaching resulted in an explosion in rabbit numbers.
Enormous bags were shot by organised parties of Guns. On 7 October 1898 five Guns killed 6,943 rabbits at Blenheim in seven drives. In Rhiwlas, North Wales, 5,086 were shot in a day in 1885.
Feet, tails and ears
Rabbits in the 19th and early 20th century were legion and Simon investigates and records the work of the warreners who, using traps, nets, dogs and ferrets, harvested vast numbers of rabbits for butchers and furriers. Even the feet, tails and ears were shredded and sent to the hop fields of Kent for manure.
The bonanza came to an end in 1953 with the advent of myxomatosis and in less than two years 99 per cent of the rabbit population had been killed. Rabbits are survivors, though, and by 2006 numbers had risen to 45million. The population has again been reduced by rabbit haemorrhagic disease and Simon believes the current population is half what it could be. But there are still good numbers available for the table and Scott demonstrates the preparation of a rabbit through clear text and a series of outstanding photographs.
He then provides 52 mouthwatering rabbit recipes calculated to satisfy the fussiest gourmet. From bunny burgers to rabbit stroganoff with sour cream, from steamed rabbit suet pudding to Korean fried rabbit, the choice is extensive.
Fortunately, I have a freezer full of rabbits and will work my way through the book. I suspect hunter’s casserole — a mixture of rabbit joints, bacon, onions, herbs and stock — will feature often. Delicious! the harvest preparation and cooking of wild rabbit by Simon Whitehead and Scott Rea is published by A Way With Media, in association with the Taste of Game. The book costs £20. www.awaywithmedia.com
Harvesting rabbits with dogs, nets and ferrets to produce free-range tasty meat for the table is at theheart of