Timothy Gardner Cookery
We have just celebrated two “glorious” dates in August: the twelfth, when grouse shooting begins, and the fifteenth, the feast of Our Lady’s Glorious Assumption. The Glorious Twelfth was, in fact, not so glorious this year, especially in Scotland where wet weather and parasites have decimated the grouse population.
The new game cookery book by Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of television’s infamous “fat ladies”, is full of mouthwatering dishes that may well tempt the British palate back to the delights of grouse, wood pigeon and other neglected meats. If you fancy trying Clarissa’s “Carpaccio of Young Grouse”, then there should still be plenty of grouse to be had from the Yorkshire Moors well into October.
I suspect one reason that we have lost our taste for game is that we no longer like the animals we eat actually to look like animals. Rabbit, for example, is delicious, but to see rabbits skinned and gutted in a butcher’s shop is a sight that most people would prefer to avoid. For the faint of heart, most game can now be bought ready plucked, drawn and packaged, and you can have the satisfaction of knowing that what you are eating is genuinely free range and organic. Be careful with rabbit, however, and look at the label to ensure that it is wild, or you may end up with battery bunny.
If you are still not convinced about rabbit, mince the meat with some pork belly (about 4:1), season well and make into burgers — you will be converted I promise!
The Glorious Assumption, as with all great feasts of Our Lady, is much associated with processions and feasting, and thus with food. There is an ancient custom of blessing nature on this day in many European countries, specifically the elements of nature which are the scene of human labour and the source of human food. In parts of Austria there is a tradition of the “Blessing of the Alps” where not only the mountains and streams but the pastures and orchards are blessed on the Assumption. In the French Alps there was, in former times, a practice of blessing farm animals. The priest would ride from farm to farm, his acolyte seated behind him holding a vessel of holy water, and in every meadow he would bless the sheep and cattle which had been gathered around a large floral cross. In the Iberian Peninsula it tends to be the ocean and fishing boats rather than livestock which are blessed.
Herbs picked in August are traditionally thought to be particularly powerful and this led to the medieval practice of the “Blessing of Herbs” on the Assumption. In Germany and Poland the day itself was called “Our Lady’s Herb Day”. The city of Würzburg in Bavaria was a centre for such herb blessings and it even seems to have received its name from the practice (witrz means spice herb). Until it was revised, the Roman Ritual contained a blessing for herbs on 15th August.
In Sicily there is a somewhat bizarre tradition of abstaining from fruit during the first fortnight of August (La Quindicina) in honour of the Virgin. On the feast day itself they have different kinds of fruit blessed in church and serve them at dinner and give them as gifts. In most places, though, the food of the Assumption is simply the local speciality: cod in Portugal, suckling pig in Northern Spain, crevettes in Brittany, beef in Cortona for the Festa della Bistecca, and throughout Spain and Italy, veal.
PICCATE AL MARSALA Piccate, or scaloppini, are small squares of veal weighing about 30g and about 8cm square.
Allow 3 or 4 piccate per person and beat them out flat.
Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and dust lightly in flour.
Brown the slices quickly in butter and add a couple of tablespoons of dry Marsala (or dry Madeira), let it bubble, then add a tablespoon of chicken or meat stock.
Stir the sauce and turn the heat down, cooking gently until the sauce looks syrupy.
The whole process should take about five minutes. Mushrooms go well with this dish.