Ahh… home. I never realised quite how much I’d missed my own bed until I was back in it and struggling to get out again every morning. Bliss.
Life has been somewhat sedentary since I returned home too, but I’m hoping to kick this routine fairly soon, detach myself from the wood burner and get outside to do some gentle foraging.
From the minimal poking about I’ve managed so far, there’s not a lot of sloes and definitely no damsons to be had this year (too wet, by all accounts), but I’ve got my eye on the rosehips up the lane, and my mother tells me there are haws to be had around these parts too (insert childish and highly anticipated snigger here). I can feel some jam-making coming on before too long…
Since returning home, I’ve also remade acquaintances with my favourite butcher in the area, D.W.Wall, who yesterday sold me a couple of bunnies for the Sunday evening stew I was planning to make. The lovely lads in there also dug out a wodge of beef fat of me to grate into suet too (free, of course), which went into the tasty wee walnut and chive dumplings I plopped on top of the stew (and the rest of which will go into the Christmas pudding I’ll be making tomorrow).
The rabbit stew is based upon a recipe from a lovely, lovely book, called (and no, I don’t want any sniggering now) The Beatrix Potter Country Cooking Book, by Sara Paston-Williams. This book was an online purchase (either eBay or Amazon – I have terrible weaknesses for both) that I bought in the naïve belief that it had been written, in part, by Beatrix Potter herself. I had dreamy notions of wonderfully written recipes, with insightful anecdotes into her life and her writings – a bit like Roald Dahl’s own recipe book, Memories with Food at Gipsy House – and don’t get me wrong, it has all these elements: it’s just written by someone else. Once I had recovered from my own sense of folly and actually read through the book, I completely fell in love with it.
After I had bought my bunnies and the three of us had made it safely home, I checked the recipe and realised I was somewhat lacking in the stock department. The original called for chicken stock, but I made a vegetable stock using soaked butter beans (which I cooked with a clove-studded onion, a bay leaf and a couple of peppercorns) and was pretty pleased with my substitution.
This stew serves 6.
Streaky bacon – 175g, de-rinded and diced
Rabbit pieces – 1kg (my butcher just took a heavy cleaver to a couple of whole rabbits, which was just over a kilo’s worth)
Leeks – 2, thickly sliced
Parsnips – 2, chopped into largish chunks
Carrots – 2, sliced
Swedes – 2 small ones, chopped into chunks
Celery – 4 sticks, sliced
Plain flour – 3 tbsp (this is to thicken the stew – if you prefer a thinner stew, reduce the amount to your liking)
Dry cider – 300ml
Stock – 600ml
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bay leaves – 1
Rosemary – 1 large sprig
Marigold petals – to garnish
For the dumplings:
Self-raising flour – 125g
Salt – a pinch
Freshly ground black pepper
Chives, finely chopped – 2 to 3 tbsp
Walnut pieces – a handful, quite finely crumbled
Fresh beef suet, grated – 50g
Wensleydale cheese – 50g, finely crumbled
Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius/gas mark 1.
Place a large casserole dish on the hob over a fairly high heat, add a thin slice of butter and fry the bacon until the fat runs. Wash and dry the rabbit pieces and add them to the casserole until browned all over.
Once browned, remove the rabbit pieces to a dish and add the vegetables to the casserole. Fry until all the vegetables are browned, adding a bit more butter if necessary. Sprinkle with flour, one tablespoon at a time and stir well after each addition. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes and remove the casserole from the heat.
Add the cider to the pot, scraping the casserole to remove any sticky bits, then add the stock and return to the heat. Bring to the boil, stirring, then return the rabbit to the pot and season with a little salt (bearing in mind the bacon may be salty) and a good grinding of pepper. Tuck in the bay leaf and rosemary, pop the lid on top and place in the oven for 1¾ hours, or until the rabbit is tender.
To make the dumplings, sieve the flour and salt together in a bowl, stir in the remaining ingredients and bind with just enough cold water to bring the mixture together. Shape into 12 small balls.
Once the stew has had its time, remove the casserole from the oven, dot the dumplings over the top and replace the lid before putting it back in the oven again for a further 20 minutes. By this time, the dumplings should be plump and well risen.
Dish the stew into 6 bowls, evenly distributing the dumplings (we don’t want any squabbles at the dinner table), and sprinkle each bowl with marigold petals.
Serve with good, fresh bread for dunking.