I heard a new term this last week, “Nature Deficit Disorder” (NDD). Although not a recognised medical condition at the moment, I guess it is only a matter of time before it becomes one. Yet another medical condition or label we can assign to our children. It is almost as if we need new terminology to legitimise our / their poor habits or behaviours. NDD is all about children losing contact with nature, they are not experiencing it, they are not even seeing it first hand. The nearest many of them get to nature is looking at images on a computer screen.
Not so long ago the majority of children spent most of their free time playing out in the streets, parks and countryside. In fact the biggest challenge for parents was rounding up their wanderlust imbued offspring of a night. Now of course it is just the opposite, the difficulty is getting the younger generation off their backsides, their bodies seemingly having a level of inertia far in excess of what their body mass might seem to indicate. I know many younger people would disagree, but I can’t help thinking that they are missing out on so much!
I have always been an outdoor person and, luckily, I have always been pretty observant too. There is nothing I like more than to wander through the wilds, quietly, often on my own, absorbing the sights and sounds of nature. In the area where I live there are many wild animals and exotic plants and flowers for those with the eyes to see. Sighting plants and animals in nature is like geocaching without the electronics!
I have seen over the last couple of years a steady increase in rabbits. That is no doubt why this year there have been more foxes and hawks that prey on rabbits. I have even sighted the odd eagle owl hiding in the forest. What for me has been the sight of the year though is a genet, a beautiful and illusive creature I have managed to see a couple of times at dusk. Of course I can see better and clearer images on the internet, but where is the excitement that one gets from a quick glimpse of something that bit special, as it scuttles away into the undergrowth?
Although it might take me a while to get to the point, the fact is that this is a culinary blog and my goal of course it to talk about food….. and food there is aplenty in the countryside. Here I tend to collect edible plants and berries including walnuts, chestnuts, blackberries, sloes, mulberries, figs and wild mushrooms. When I was a child in England we used to go out picking berries, especially bilberries on the moors. We were certainly not the only ones, yet even with the crisis of recent years it seems like families prefer buying in the supermarket to collecting in the open moors and fields.
Here the hunting of wild animals is also common. As I write this I can hear the dogs barking, awaiting the off in search of wild boar or deer. It is also common to hunt hares and rabbits, with or without dogs. Some might think it cruel, but the meat is used to feed families and they are careful not to over hunt the countryside. At the moment there is a plague of rabbits that are destroying crops. Nature will restore the balance no doubt, and the hunters are part of that, as they go about putting food on the table.
This week therefore I wanted to talk about hare, and the typical dish from the village here. The neighbour, Javier, is a hunter and some time ago he gave us our first wild hare. His wife explained a local recipe to us, that we have repeated on numerous occasions over the years. It is as simple as it gets, just four ingredients. The results are delicious and perfect for these cooler and wetter autumnal and winter days.
I would in fact recommend cooking the dish the day before and then re-heating to serve. The sauce seems to thicken up and the flavours seem to develop further.
I would also recommend an open fire for cooking beans. I know that for many of you this is impossible but an open fire can be simulated to a certain extent. The big thing about an open fire or a wood fired stove is the variations in temperature. As each new log is added the flames and the temperature rise, as the log burns away the flames and temperature drop. I think this fluctuation is one of the keys to having nice soft beans at the end of the cooking process.
To achieve this on an normal electric or gas cooker never add too much water to the cooking beans. As the water evaporates and reduces, add more, but add in cold water. The cold water drops the overall temperature emulating the temperature fluctuations from a wood fired heat-source.
Liebre con Alubias
Serves 8 people
1 Wild hare
3 Large Onions
350g Dried beans
3 Bay leaves
Pre-soak the beans overnight in plenty of water.
Put the beans in a pan to cook with water. As per my comments above, if you are cooking on a conventional hob only just cover with water and add more if it evaporates. I never cover the pan, I feel that evaporation helps to thicken the stock.
Chop the onions. Brown the hare in hot oil then add in the onion and fry until the onions are soft.
Add the entire contents of the frying pan to the beans, oil and all.
Cook slowly until done.
I often remove the meat from the bones. It makes it easier to serve and eat.
Leave for 10 minutes before serving.
Although the recipe is for hare, any kind of meat can be used. In many ways the cheaper, tougher cuts of meat are better. Don’t worry, as it will be cooking for more than two hours, even the backside of a rhinoceros will come out tender.
If you have coney or chicken and want to try a traditional recipe, just click here.
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
2016 Lincoln W. Betteridge