Tunbridge Wells Farmers' Manager Bruce McMichael marks British Game Week by chatting to local suppliers who specialise in this rich variety of seasonal meats, and also showcases some delicious dishes to inspire you to get into the kitchen and cook them
Late autumn is the time cooks and foodies reach for recipe books seeking inspiration for warm, comfortable welcoming meals. Casserole dishes and hot pots are dusted down and given pride of place in the kitchen.
It’s also the season that game comes into its own with the windows of specialist butchers shops and stalls at farmers’ markets stocked with cuts of venison, pheasants, rabbits and much more.
Simon Knight of Dundale Game is a seasonal stallholder at Tunbridge Wells (Town Hall) farmers’ market and has regular customers returning year after year for his game, especially venison. Simon farms just south of Tunbridge Wells at Dundale Farm, which is also home to Fenton’s Rink, England’s only ice one.
“New customers usually try diced venison first, putting it in casseroles and stews,” explains Simon.
“As the taste grows on them, they come back for steaks and joints, particularly saddles,” he says. “I give them recipe leaflets for ideas on cooking our venison and pheasants. It’s all about giving our customers confidence to try new dishes.”
Simon has recently started selling at Stonegate Farmers’ Market. “It’s where some of my family lives and our meat has been popular with the locals there.”
Master butcher Kieron Toole is also a keen shot and combines these two skills into his Penshurst-based company Kieron’s Game. His produce is sourced from farms across west Kent including Penshurst, Hever, and Shipbourne with the occasional trip further afield to seek out wild boar.
Kieron is a regular stallholder at Shipbourne, Tunbridge Wells Pantiles and Penshurst Farmers’ Markets.
During the game season Kieron has a good supply of fresh meat such as venison, duck, pheasant, partridge and guinea fowl. “Demand for game at this time of year is always strong,” he adds. “This year, venison chunks for casseroles is very popular. Chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver are beginning to use game again and supermarkets are publishing more recipes about game, which gives people confidence to try different meats,” says Kieron.
He also makes venison sausages and burgers and rabbit and pigeon breast marinated in red wine is one of Kieron’s specialities. In addition to this the butcher raises guinea fowl alongside his hens on his farm, and finds people much prefer them to chicken. This is because they boast a stronger flavour, reminiscent of pheasant, but without any excessive gamey overtones.
The classic way of cooking game birds is to roast them in the oven and serve with game chips but with today’s availability of handy, ready to cook portions they are just as good in casseroles, pies, pâtés, soups and sausages.
June Fuller, of Fuller’s Farm Shop in Eridge says customers are asking more and more for game meat, particularly venison and pheasant: “Our venison and cranberry burgers are really popular. People also like our cubed venison which is great for making casseroles and ragu.”