The early bird
Partridge is the first of autumn’s rich bounty
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 email@example.com
‘The first game birds really are special... the star of the show, the delightful and delicious partridge’