Apples and Game: A Perfect Matchby Robert Gooch October 15 2020
When the leaves are falling on a crisp autumn day and the sunlight fades, there’s nothing more satisfying – or more British – than a tasty dish made with wild game and apples.
Apples have been an important element of harvest celebrations in Britain through the centuries and in 1990, dismayed at the loss of many of our heritage varieties, the charity Common Ground made 21st October our national Apple Day. The first was held in the old Apple Market in London’s Covent Garden – where the word ‘apple’ now often means phones and tablets than fruit. It struck a chord. After seeing apple growers, cider makers, juice pressers, chefs and communities come together, Apple Day events started springing up around the country. And more people were given the opportunity to remember the mouthwatering age-old combination of apples and game.
Common Ground are delighted that Apple Day is now widely celebrated, saying its popularity is raising awareness not only of the importance of orchards to our landscape and culture, but also in the provenance and traceability of food. The apple, they say, has become a symbol of what is being lost in many aspects of our lives. So let’s continue to celebrate it throughout autumn and winter, we say, alongside other Great British seasonal ingredients.
Apple Day 2020
This year’s harvest began early after the warm spring and, according to British Apples and Pears (BAPL), is expected to be especially delicious. "Britain has the perfect combination of the ideal maritime climate, centuries of orchard experience and a commitment to innovation that enables our apple and pear varieties to flourish – delivering delicious, healthy, home-grown fruit for everyone to enjoy. With the weather challenges this year, it may not be the biggest harvest we’ve ever had, but it will certainly be one of the best tasting," says Ali Capper, BAPL’s Chief Executive.
Social gathering restrictions mean communities won’t be able to come together as they have to celebrate Apple Day this year. But that doesn’t mean Apple Day can’t still be celebrated at home. Families can have fun apple bobbing, apple printing and holding a longest peel competition before tucking into a tasty traditional dinner of wild game cooked with apples served with a glass of apple juice or cider!
Game birds with apple
Is there anything more autumnal than pheasant or partridge braised in cider with apples or pears? The partridge season starts in September and the pheasant season follows in October so Partridge is usually available by Apple Day and pheasant soon after with both in season until February.
Try Delia Smith’s pot-roast of pheasant with shallots and caramelised apples or Hank Shaw’s pheasant with apples, a version of the classic creamy Pheasant Normandy. Or head to our Recipes section to try Game to Eat’s sautéed partridge breast fillets with rosemary and apples (pictured right) or Hannah Thomas of Herbs and Wild’s pan-fried pheasant with pear and bay.
Grouse, woodcock, wild duck and wood pigeon are all also superb served with caramelised apples or in creamy appley sauces. Matt Tebutt’s roasted crown of grouse with pâté and red cabbage, with braised red cabbage sweetened with green apples and given a delectable tang with red wine vinegar. And Rowley Leigh’s roast wild duck with apples, rosemary and bacon and Delia Smith’s braised wood pigeon with cider apple sauce and a confit of apples and shallots are both absolute treats too.
You can, of course, simply add some wedges of apple or pears to the roasting tray along with onion for an effortless but delicious accompaniment to your gamebird. This also works very well with our boneless birds and ballotines stuffed with our apricot, apple and ginger stuffing!
Game meats with apple
The sweetness and tartness of apples is ideal for pairing with rich game meats as well as birds. Add slices to the roasting tray or pot with venison, wild boar or rabbit, or create mouthwatering sauces for casseroles with cider and apple juice. For inspirations, see Louise Robinson’s rabbit casserole with apple, cider and tarragon or Rose Prince’s roast venison topside with apple gravy and groats.
Or, for a night off the stove, just pop one of Truly Traceable’s homemade wild boar, cider and apple pies in the oven!
Game and apple salads
Roasts and casseroles are usually the first dishes that spring to mind for apple and game dishes but crisp apple salads shouldn’t be overlooked either when planning a seasonal menu. Tom Kitchin recommends serving his grouse sausage rolls (pictured right) hot with a watercress and apple salad - why not try this with Truly Traceable's handmade game sausage rolls too, while Rosie Birkett combines seared venison with a sprout and apple slaw for a festive lunch.
Apple jellies and chutneys
In yesteryear people would have been filling their cupboards with apple jellies, sauces and chutneys in the wild boar autumn as well as filling their stores with apples. And there really is no better accompaniment to roast wild boar or free range pork than a tangy homemade apple jelly!
Different varieties will produce very different results – experiment with cooking and eating apples or a mixture of both. Whichever you use, the basic recipe is the same: 2 kg apples, 1 kg sugar, 1.25 litres water and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
Wash your apples and cut them into thick slices (keeping the core in) the place them in a large saucepan with the water. Bring the water to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer them for about 30 minutes until soft. Then set a colander lined with muslin over a large bowl and allow the cooked apple to drain through overnight (don’t push it through – this will make your jelly cloudy).
The next day, measure the apple juice and return it to your cleaned large saucepan, adding 200 g sugar for every 250 ml juice and a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice. Bring it to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, until a thermometer shows it has reached 105-110℃ then check if it sets by spooning a little onto a cold plate. If it does, pour the mixture into sterilised jars, seal and allow to cool. Done properly, this will then keep for up to a year.
Your favourite apple and wild meat dishes
We’d love to hear your favourite apple and game dishes for autumn and winter and see your photos if you try our suggestions. Share your pictures with us at Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grouse sausage rolls photo credit: © Marc Millar
Sautéed partridge breast fillets photo credit: Game to Eat