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

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - BOOK REVIEW -

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

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