November means game and windfall apples

“Mum, you know those pheasants you’ve got, did you feed them raisins laced with sleeping pills?” asked my young son, Henry, as I was removing a brace of them browning in a hot tray from the roasting oven.

“Why do you ask?” I enquired with an element of concern but hoping not to show it.

“Because that’s what Danny and his father did,” replied Henry.

Not knowing any “Dannys”, let alone his father, I started to worry about who he’s mixing with at his new school if the playground talk is about drugging game birds. I casually asked if Danny was in his class. My question was met with a guff of laughter as Henry explained that he was referring to the Roald Dahl book Danny, the Champion of the World.

Letting Henry return to his seasonal reading and my maternal panic subside, I returned to my cooking. I know there’s the rule of thumb regarding the cooking of pheasants of “young ‘uns for roasting and old ‘uns for the pot” but this recipe covers both options by pot roasting.

Browning the birds first ensures they have a nice burnished colour and transferring to a casserole with all the other bits gives you a moist, flavoursome dish all in one pot with a super natural gravy to serve with it.

Another seasonal task is collecting the windfall Bramley apples from the tree in the garden. This recipe for Apple Charlotte, supposedly named after Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, uses Bramleys which give the texture you want as well as Cox’s which give you nice chunks of apple as they don’t break up like Bramleys. The combination of flavours of the apple, orange juice, brown sugar, spices and butter is sublime – and be generous when you butter the bread and you’ll have a champion of puddings.

Pot Roasted Pheasant

Serves 4.

• 2 pheasants
• 50g (2oz) butter, softened
• 1 onion
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 150g (5oz) chestnut mushrooms
• 75g (3oz) smoked bacon lardons
• 250g (9oz) peeled fresh chestnuts
• Large glass of white wine
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Sprig of thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 tablespoon sunflower oil

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F, Gas mark 6). Smear the butter over the pheasants, season with salt and pepper and place in a roasting tray. Roast for 15-20min until nicely browned. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 180C (350F, Gas mark 4). Meanwhile chop the onion and crush the garlic and start frying them in the oil. Quarter the mushrooms if they are large or leave them whole. Add them to the pan with the onions and also put in the bacon. When they begin to colour, tip them into a large casserole with the thyme, bay leaf and chestnuts. Remove the pheasants from the roasting tray and place them on top of the mushrooms, onions and bacon. Pour the white wine into the roasting tray, place it over the heat and stir to lift all the tasty bits and juices from the pan. Then tip the wine into the pheasant casserole. Cover with a lid and place in the oven and cook for a further 45-55min depending on the size of the birds. (Pull a leg away from the body to see that it is cooked).

Creamy Mash

For really superb creamy mash, I always use King Edward potatoes or, at a pinch, Desiree Reds. Boil the potatoes in the usual way, drain them and put them back into the pan to let the steam rise from them and ensure they become quite dry. Next, mash thoroughly and if you have a potato ricer use that for faultless lump-free mash. Next add a knob of butter, a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, a little grated nutmeg and check the salt content. Finally beat in as much milk as will make the mash quite creamy.

Apple Charlotte

Apple Charlotte

You will also need a charlotte mould or similar shaped tin of 1 litre (1¾ pint) capacity. Serves 6.

• 2 large Bramley apples
• 2-3 Cox apples
• 100ml (3½fl oz) orange juice
• 75g (3oz) soft light brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon
• 2-3 cloves
• 4-5 slices of medium-sliced white bread
• 75g (3oz) softened butter

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F, Gas mark 5) Peel, core and slice the apples and place in a pan with the orange juice, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Cook over a low heat until the Bramley apple pulps and thickens. Remove the cloves. Remove the crust from the bread and butter it both sides. Line the base and sides of the mould/tin cutting the bread so it fits snugly. Fill with the apple mixture and form a lid with the remaining bread. Place in the oven on a tray and bake for 35min until golden. Allow to cool a little before turning out. Serve with custard or clotted cream.

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