Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Game Cookery at Audley End

I spent this afternoon at the beautiful Audley End House near Saffron Walden, Cambridgeshire. As a member of English Heritage I was invited to an afternoons talk and demonstration about Game Cookery given by Food Historian Dr Annie Gray. English estates were famed for their game, if you could shoot it, they would eat it, everything from larks and herons to rabbits and partridges. Game would have been served at every meal when it was available and when it wasn't rabbit (not considered game in the past) or chicken would have been served.

We started off in the stunning historic kitchens, where Annie explained about the running of the kitchen. The kitchen sports a huge range as well as a roasting range, one of the most important things in an English Country House kitchen. It also has the huge range of copper pots and pans expected. The kitchen dates to the 1880s and at that time was run by Avis Crocomb with a host of staff beneath her.

As well as the fairly modest kitchen there was a pastry room complete with marble slabs.

There would have been many other rooms making up the kitchen complex and we got to see into one of the larders, where someone had been busy bottling and preserving.

After that we moved into the demonstration room where Annie showed us some butchery techniques as well as how to make three historic game recipes.
For most of the 19th century something called service a la Francais would have been in operation. This meant that all the dishes for a particular course would have been laid out at the same time and each guest would have helped themselves. They would all have had very similar dishes close to them on the table and this would have included both savoury and sweet dishes on the table at the same time. This was replaced with service a la Russe, where courses were brought one after the other, easier for the cook but not as spectacular for the diner.
The first butchery technique we saw was how to joint a rabbit:

Which went in to making white soup:

This was one of Avis Crocomb's recipes and would have been laid out near the ladies at the table, as the white denoted purity and all things feminine. The men would have had a brown soup placed close to them, showing their manliness! The only difference being that the ingredients for the brown soup would have been fried before being made into soup and those in the white soup had not. The process for making this soup involved sieving the meat, which is very hard work!
The second recipe we were introduced to was potted meats, which is basically cooked meat pounded in a pestle and mortar with large amounts of butter, mace, cayenne pepper and ground cloves. She showed us how to make potted pigeon.

This was just one of the ways Victorian cooks would have used leftover meats. After a meal was consumed by the Lord and Lady of the house, the higher servants would use the leftover meats the next day made into a new and different dish and then the lower servants/kitchen staff and so on down the pecking order to putting the real leftover food into buckets and taking it out to the poor in the local villages. They really didn't waste anything.
The piece de la resistance of the afternoon was a Game Pie.

She showed us how to debone a chicken whilst keeping the chicken whole (this has a chefy name but I can't remember what it is), she had also done this with a pigeon and a partridge. She also made the pastry case which was like a shortcrust pastry but taken a step further as she smeared the dough with the heal of her hand giving it a play dough texture. This was put into a mould as the Victorians loved fantastic looking pies. Sausagemeat was put on the bottom of the pie, the three birds were placed one on to of the other, folded up and then placed in the mould. The Victorians liked their pies high so the meat came a couple of inches above the top of the mould and then a pastry lid was placed on top and the whole thing was baked and it looked like this inside:

It was absolutely fantastic, and would be lovely served with a nice chutney.
The afternoon was wonderful, Annie was a fantastic demonstrator and so knowledgeable about social history aspect, as well as the cookery aspects of the demonstration and we got to try a little bit of everything she cooked. We also had the Kitchens to ourselves as Audley End is not open on Tuesday's so it was lovely to go behind the scenes without lots of people milling round.
Disclaimer: I chose and paid to go on this course, All opinions are my own and no-one has given me any money to say nice things!

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