" The month 'tis now September; the season has begun when English customs give us game, when dinner's almost done." Now for my own part I think we often rather waste our game in this country, by bringing it in when really everybody has dined; or if some one has what may be called reserved himself, he probably finds he gets such an exceedingly small portion that he runs considerable risk of going home hungry.
I recollect an old story of a notorious gourmand, who was asked to dine with a so-called friend, who played upon him the following cruel practical joke— A little soup and fish was followed by a plain leg of mutton, and the gourmand was informed that he saw his dinner before him. He accordingly gorged freely, while his host scarcely tasted a mouthful. The leg of mutton was, however, followed by a splendid haunch of venison.
" It was cruel not to tell me," said the guest, with tears of anguish rolling down his cheeks.
The story does not sound like a true one, and we trust for the sake of human nature it is not; but it exemplifies our point in saying, or rather asking, is it not a mistake when game is cheap and plentiful, to leave it quite to the last ?
I must say I admire the good, honest English hospitality of the North. It may be called the Black Country, but as long as black is associated with blackcock and grouse, long may it remain so.
Nowhere do you get grouse in such perfection as in the neighbourhood of the moors. They have not yet arrived at that depraved state of appetite in which it is considered the right thing to send game to table nearly putrid; nor, as a rule, do you get one, or at the outside two, mouthfuls put on your plate by an elegant waiter. Elegant waiters are all very well in their way, but we prefer grouse.
Now game, whether grouse, partridge, pheasant, or woodcock, requires careful cooking, and, above all things, good gravy.
By good gravy we mean that which will assist, and not counteract or destroy, the flavour of the game. Weak beef-tea or rich turtle soup would be alike wrong; and it will, we fear, be too often found that cooks fail very much in adapting the gravy to the occasion. Roast goose with sage-and-onion stuffing would bear a gravy which, so to speak, would kill the delicate flavour of a partridge.
Game served as a salmi, which nine times out of ten means game cooked before and warmed up, requires quite a differently-flavoured, sauce to game proper—i.e., game, not too fresh, and at the same time not at all high, roasted to a turn and served quickly.
In cooking game I fear we cannot learn much from that nation of cooks, the French. I am such an admirer of French cooking as a rule, that I wish to speak with the greatest diffidence, but did you ever taste any game, never mind of what kind, at any foreign hotel or restaurant abroad, to compare with the game we get at home ?
I say hotel or restaurant, as I have had no experience of French country private houses.
Whether this is owing to the game itself being of inferior quality or flavour—as is undoubtedly the case with red-legged partridges, when compared with the ordinary English ones—or to other causes, I cannot say, but simply record the fact.
There is no doubt that a large class of men enjoy their food when game is in season more than at any other time.
The class to whom we refer are those who live for the greater part of the year in London, and as a rule never move a mile except in a hansom; to such the 12th of August is the commencement of what may be termed their annual training, the exercise they take during the next three months probably saving them from the inevitable gout and dyspepsia which would necessarily follow a town life such as theirs without such intervals.
What a change ! First the early rising—and there are thousands whom nothing but hunting or shooting will persuade to get up early—the substantial breakfast, the glass of bitter, the gun examination, the struggle into the heavy greased shooting-boots, and then the tramp through the heather. What with the exercise and the bracing air of the moors, lunch is approached with feelings which by contrast approximate to what we should imagine the alderman's would have been, had he carried out the famous doctor's recipe—viz., to live on a shilling a day, and earn it.
Let us hope the hungry sportsmen may not meet with the disappointment that occurred to a shooting-party on the moors, that we referred to before. The first brace of grouse shot were sent to a neighbouring farm to be cooked for lunch. The farmer's wife, however, had them boiled, and stuffed with sage and onions.
There are various ways of cooking grouse, but only one which we consider to be worthy of consideration, and that is what we term grouse an naturel, or in other words plain roast, with good gravy and fried bread-crumbs, or bread sauce.
To overpower the delicious flavour of a good grouse with strong sauces seems to us as cruel a waste as to mull good 1848 La Fitte claret, and mix in cinnamon and sugar.
As an instance, however, of what cooks may come to, we will mention an Italian method of spoiling grouse—the ingredients for this extraordinary dish comprising mace, garlic, brandy, macaroni, tomato sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Imagine what a dish this Italian cook and our farmer's wife could manufacture between them !
The first point to be considered with regard to game is, How long should it be kept ?
When game is bought, it is of course impossible to say how long it has been killed, except from appearances. As a rule, the first symptom of discolouring, or the faintest smell of being high, shows that the birds are ripe for cooking. We would, however, allow a pheasant a longer time than either a partridge or a grouse. A thoroughly fresh pheasant is more tough than a fowl.
Game, in fact, should be treated exactly like a good haunch of mutton. No one would keep a haunch till it is high, but yet every one knows that the longer it is kept the more tender it becomes. In a large number of London shops the game for sale has already been kept too long, reminding one of the story of the man who arrived home after a days' shooting, who had, however, been driven to buy a brace for appearances, the look of which called forth the remark from his wife—