A partridge for my pot

The division of labour in our flat has worked out well for me on this sunny Saturday in October and so my morning begins, sauntering down the hill on the way down to Whiteladies Road Farmers Market, off to do the food shop. Turning on to Whiteladies I am met with a hive of activity; a portion of the road suddenly looks like it has been designed with a market in mind. There’s a bike propped cheekily against a ‘no entry except bikes’ street sign, adorned with hundreds of onions. Colourful flowers bob their heads in the breeze, piles of Cox apples warm their ruddy faces in the sun and the smell of cooking sausages wafts across the road to where I’m standing.

One of the many things I love about a market is that behind each stall is a trader bursting to be asked to share their expertise and enthusiasm for their product. I know personally that the most rewarding aspect of trading at a market is having a good old natter with my customers.  So I have come to the market without a list, to choose what looks tasty and ask the experts for their guidance.

A brace of partridges catches my eye.  I’ve never cooked partridge before so I have a chat with the stall holder. His stand, Gales of Westbury, is full of exciting choices, wild mallard, grouse, guinea fowl.  Having started as a farm shop years ago his family then opened a butchers in Filton which they have run for 26 years. They also have a place in Westbury Park and they have recently embraced the growing enthusiasm for outdoor markets. The partridges are from just up the road at Badminton Park, he tells me. He is more than happy to give advice on how to cook the meat. ‘Roast!’ He says, ‘or wrap in bacon and cabbage and steam’.

October is a good month for partridges; with the younger birds you can get lovely results from roasting. Later in the season the older birds benefit from a slower cook; pot roasting makes the most of the delicious flavours whilst keeping the meat tender.  His suggestion of steaming in cabbage and bacon, though, is one I want to give a go. At the organic vegetable stand I find some wonderful cavolo nero and a beautiful amber orange pumpkin, they sing of autumn in my shopping bag. I think some celeriac softened with butter and crème fraiche and a scattering of crispy bacon will bring out the wonderful autumnal gamey richness of the bird.

At home I stick the radio on and start the preparation. The wrapping is a bit fiddly, but when finished the partridges look pleasingly like little emerald gifts. I have a bit of difficulty finding a steamer to fit the pan so I improvise by making a bed of the springy leaves and perch the partridges on top to steam above a deliciously aromatic cider and chicken stock. After 20 minutes the little parcels are ready to open. The meat looks tender but needs colour so they benefit from a quick sizzle in the pan. I have a sneaky taste of the cavolo nero which has taken on the flavours of the bacon, the partridge and the cider; an apple sweetness has permeated and softened the dark leaves.

When we tuck in the partridge is succulent and light, not as gamey as I had imagined and the smooth celeriac puree is a perfect earthy accompaniment, I’ve crumbled a couple of walnuts on the puree for some lovely crunchy texture. Altogether it’s a dish that I want to wrap up and save for a rainy day. Comforting, delicious and not a bad way to spend a Saturday – I think I’ll volunteer to do the food shop more often!

This article was first published online for Crumbs Magazine http://www.crumbsmag.com

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