Oh Deer, Oh Deer

There is no law, no rules or regulation that say that you have to love, like or even get on with your siblings. As a mother of four, I would be horrified if my children didn’t at least like, rub along with and support each other. Horrified.

But my relationship with my brother was far from harmonious.

We were competitors right from the beginning. He was an achingly beautiful child born not long after the end of the war at the only short period in their lives when my parents were being unusually successful. That meant affording a nanny and dressing my angelic, spaniel-eyed brother in round collared shirts and sharply creased shorts. He was noticeably prettier than me, whose eyes, grey as the North Sea, disappeared into chubby cheeks like currants in a bun. The family whisper was that my brother who was four and a half years old when I appeared on the scene, took one look and was so jealous that my mother had to take him away for a holiday to recover.

Eventually, I grew up into the archetypal little sister, following him everywhere, over dale and hill, coast and cliff, returning bedraggled and defeated with mud stained socks, lost hair ribbons, and torn dresses. As the younger child and a girl, it wasn’t me that got into trouble, it was my brother. This of course only increased sibling rivalry.

My return in the jealousy stakes didn’t come until I was about six.  I heard my parents planning a deer stalking and camping holiday in Scotland. I was therefore furious to discover that I was going to be left behind with my grandmother. Why couldn’t I go camping in the glens, accompanied by a tweed-suited ghillie to stalk the hills?

Not to shoot, mind. After five years of active service in the war, neither of my parents ever wanted to see a gun again. This was a trip to walk, admire the scenery, camp out and watch deer in their natural habitat. I envisaged them sitting around a campfire, creeping through the heather on their elbows, pressing their stomachs into the mud, whilst at the same time scanning the hillside for the slightest movement. As an early reader, I had just discovered Enid Blyton’s ‘Adventure’ series and was constantly daydreaming about venturing out on wild escapades. Whatever you want to say about Ms. B’s prowess as a writer, I always felt she portrayed girls as equal partners; not something that was a regular occurrence in late 1950s England.

Camping in the Highlands

My sulk, on my parents’ return, lasted for weeks, especially as my brother couldn’t help recounting the adventures they had had, over and over again. In my wiser, older, better natured moments I wonder if they took him on that trip to prepare him for being sent away to boarding school, which I remember happened not too long after.

None of my subsequent trips to the Highlands have ever succeeded in getting far enough north to catch anything but a glimpse of a red deer. Like the ponies in the New Forest, no one person owns them. But apparently, if herds of deer are on your land you are responsible for their management. With a soaring deer population of over 1.5 million in the UK, half of these in Scotland, these animals can be viewed as rodents, causing serious environmental havoc.

Free to roam, they hoover up vegetation from moorland, trample down estate fences, stamp all over young plantations and strip the bark from trees. They also carry Lyme disease which can be transmitted to dogs and their owners walking in the woodlands, and also to foxes who then transfer the ticks to domestic animals in more urban areas. Since the British wolf population became extinct in 1680 the deer have had no natural predator. It is left to Man and his gun to control this exploding population.

The question I often ask therefore is, if there are vast herds of deer in the UK which for the good of the environment and to help protect the public from the spread of Lymes disease, are in desperate need of culling, why is not more made of venison as a food  and why is it not more readily available in the shops?

In London, I buy my venison from either Farmdrop or the Wild Meat Company. The meat is low in fat, high in taste and easy to prepare. With the first cold spell of the autumn, rich meaty dishes are high on my menu, so to keep the protein content low and the vegetable content high, I make a rich venison ragu mixed with meaty shitake mushrooms, to be served over thick ribbons of my favourite pasta, Pappardelle.

Venison Ragu. – Serves 2, Preparation time two and half hours.

Olive oil
40g salted butter
100g venison haunch steak cut into 4cm chunks
2 level tbs of plain flour
Ground salt and pepper
200g fresh shitake mushrooms – sliced roughly
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
½ small bunch of thyme leaves picked
250g roasted tomato sauce (This is a sauce I made from my cherry tomato crop, roasted until soft in the oven for 20 mins with chilli and garlic and a tablespoon of oil. Then puree and freeze) A tin of chopped tomatoes with herbs or garlic can be happily used instead.
2 tbs marsala
150ml – very approximate of red wine
Grated parmesan or pec

orino
150g of De Cecco Pappardelle – cook according to packet instructions.

METHOD

Mix flour with a good grind of both salt and pepper. Add venison cubes and coat all over with seasoned flour. Heat a splash of oil and 20g butter in a wide-based shallow pan over a medium heat. Brown the meat until golden, remove.

Turn the heat down to low and add the rest of the butter and a splash or two of oil. Scrape out any sticky bits left from venison. Add the onions, mushrooms, and garlic. Sweat, stirring occasionally for approximately 20 minutes until the onions are soft adding a little more oil if necessary as the mushrooms will soak it up like blotting paper.  Turn up the heat and stir in the tomato sauce, herbs, marsala and half of the red wine. Bring to the boil and then turn down heat to a simmer. Cover with a lid and leave to plop gently for at least two hours until the meat is falling apart.

Check every half hour or so to see that it is not drying up and add a bit more wine. Leave the lid off the pan for the last half hour, to let the sauce thicken and intensify.  You need just enough to stick to the pasta, not fully coat it. This, of course, tastes better if left for a day but I didn’t think that far enough ahead.

Cook pappardelle, drain well and toss well in the ragu sauce. Serve with a spicy herb salad.

Venison Ragu and Pappardelle

This is brilliant as a sauce for pasta so if you are more organised than me, quadruple the quantities and divide up into four freezer boxes, for those days you just don’t have time to cook.

 

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