In the late 1960s Gillian Flower left New Zealand as a young woman with the intention of seeing as much of the world as possible. Within a relatively short period of time she discovered that good food was a reason in itself to travel. Since then her culinary quest has led her to places as diverse as North Africa, South America, Nepal and India and the Antarctic. She went on to have a successful career as a private chef in England and Scotland during which she was regularly called on to cook for various members of the Royal Family, socialites, wealthy and high-profile business people.
So Gillian agreed to write a little for us and share some recipes – here goes….
My contribution will bring together a few tips and recipes that take advantage of seasonal produce. I will also keep you up to date with my travels. So, here is the first:
Scotland in November. There is a chill in the air, the fires are laid and the promise of casseroles and hearty desserts keep me going. Even in late Autumn, I can still fill a basket with produce from foraging. The heather covered highlands still provide game and the rivers are full of salmon. Plump brown trout are easy catching in the lake nearby.
I am in absolute heaven as I head out to gather chanterelles, braving a raging river, to arrive at the midge-infested forest. Known locally as girolles these yellow, funnel shaped fungi with an apricot aroma are the most sought after wild mushroom. Fungi of all shapes, sizes and colour flourish beneath the moss and the autumn leaves and look like gourmet potential, but I know the limits of my knowledge! The precise location of ‘my’ patch is a well-kept secret. But what I will share is my recipe for Wild Mushroom Tartlets.
On this trip out I also bring back sprigs of bog myrtle, with a flavour similar to bay leaves. These add fantastic depth to casseroles or gravy. Blae berries and raspberries have now finished but when the small fruit were ripe, they’d add colour to a teatime cake – if they made it back to the kitchen. Cob nuts are also plentiful and ready for picking.
The grouse-shooting season has been underway since the glorious twelfth (of August, that is) and a generous supply is still finding its way to me via the gamekeeper or his gillie. They are both highly skilled in presenting the birds beautifully plucked and drawn, without too much lead. When cooked the flesh is pink and plump – this year the young heather shoots, which have been the birds’ diet, have been in abundance and this comes through in the delicate taste. Plenty of oohs and aahs at the table for this dish. Only the young birds are served; those born in the same year.
I use only the crown, or breasts, and present them on a fried crouton to catch the juices, fried breadcrumbs and game chips, a fragrant bread sauce and gravy as well as a hedgerow jelly. They have been roasted in a very hot oven for only 15 minutes after being generously brushed with butter and draped with streaky bacon to keep the flesh moist. After roasting it is important to let the birds rest for 30 minutes to set the juices..
For me, however, venison is the ultimate game and red and roe deer are in plentiful supply again this year. I am lucky enough to be asked how I would like the deer butchered. Firstly, in the case of the red deer, I ask for the fillet which I then wrap in prosciutto and sage and serve rare with autumn root vegetables. With the roe deer I get the saddle and cook that whole. The haunches can be either roasted or diced for a casserole which is made with rich venison stock and has the addition of local bog myrtle, pickled walnuts and swede.
Chestnuts too are very much part of autumn and winter meals. I first came across chestnuts being roasted on little burners in London in the 1960s and I’d buy a bag to warm up my chilled fingers. But it was in Italy during my early travelling years that I first tasted them in dishes. Finding myself in Rome with an empty wallet and a rucksack full of fabulous handbags and shoes, I needed to work. I took a job as a nanny and the very capable family cook introduced me to fine Italian cuisine, including a dessert called Mont Blanc. This was made of sweetened, pureed chestnuts mixed with whipped cream, served on meringue. Leftovers never lasted long in the family fridge as I extended my knowledge of the Italian repertoire! I’ve gone on to find wonderful uses for chestnuts – they add interest to casseroles and vegetable dishes and I now incorporate them into a traditional treacle tart.
I now look forward to Christmas and Hogmanay, the anticipation of snow and breathtaking clear skies. I shall be cooking casseroles and rich game risottos, making use of all the goodies I’ve stored in the freezer from the summer and autumn harvests. Keep warm.
Until next time,