Saturday, 24 May 2014

Venison - a Royal hunting perogative

Vegetarians should skip on down because I am "posting" about a venison stew I cooked last week. I  told my son it was a meat casserole, unwilling to be more specific in case he would not try it! That strategy paid dividends. I slow cooked it in the oven for most of the afternoon, creating a lovely wafting aroma. He remarked upon passing through the kitchen "that stew smells good!" Mission accomplished - and many root vegetables used up as well.

What a coincidence to find just this product in one's 'fridge!
It was a complete coincidence there was venison in the house. I had spent quite a bit of time reading about and "writing up" some historical aspects about deer because roasted venison was my latest line in 12th scale miniature Medieval and Tudor dollshouse food. I had literally just finished and looked in the fridge only to find these packets bought by my partner had bought the previous evening. My immediate thought was that I did not believe my eyes! But rapidly I realised how useful for blogging purposes. Last, I wondered how I could balance the strong taste so that everyone, including me, would eat the casserole. I knew I should probably use a lot of vegetables, and so a culinary plot was hatched....

Medieval Morsels one inch scale roasted venison for a Medieval or Tudor dolls house setting
I was not alone with grappling with the consequences of a strongly flavoured meat. In the Middle Ages and later in Tudor times venison was traditionally rubbbed with ground ginger and pepper, which served to hide the strong taste. Also, as a bonus, the spices stopped the meat tainting. Perhaps this practice is why we use the term "seasoning" for the process of hanging game for days or weeks to improve its flavour. Favourite medieval accompaniments were sauces, jellies or preserves using rowanberries, sloes, red currants, or cranberries. Our venison came with a sachet of red port, wine and plum sauce so taste values have changed little since Medieval times! For Medieval Morsels I produced a sauce of rowanberries for my 12th scale oven or spi-roasted venison haunches destined for a miniature Middle Ages or Tudor feast.

When the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, invaded England in 1066 he swiftly enclosed areas of "barren" land, Hampshire's New Forest area being the first in 1079, for his use as protected deer hunting grounds. Highly unpopular Forest Law benefited the beasts of the developing forests but at the expense of the local peasant population who were given small concessions to graze their livestock and gather fallen wood.  Hunting was an exclusive Royal pursuit enjoyed by the Sovereign and his (or her) favourite nobles. Charles II (1660-85) was the last Royal to hunt in Britain's forests. Venison was only eaten by the nobility- unless it had been poached at some considerable risk.

Britain had three species of deer in Medieval times, native red deer and roe deer, and the once native fallow deer which had been reintroduced by the Romans. Our shop bought venison was red or fallow deer, reared in Ireland or the UK and vacuum packed in Yorkshire! Today we also have exotic escaped species - muntjac and Japanese sika deer. The red and sika deer are intent on interbreeding apparently! So much so that pure bred wild species may be at risk. There's an unanticipated consequence.....