On North Yorkshire – Day 3 – North York Moors

I’ve got this thing about landscape and resonance and connection, and the call of the moors is as strong as that of the sea. I want to go and walk, and listen, feel, look, be.

‘Such a bloody weirdo-‘  says Stevie. But he agrees to drive wherever I decide and to find us the barest, most forsaken bit of moor possible. ‘And then this afternoon,’ he says. ‘We do the forest mountain biking.’

I try not to think of the seat-bone agony to come, and instead whip out my map. As we drive, I try to tell the daughters about great dramas on moorland, but can only remember snippets of  Bronte and King Lear. I’m pretty sure Macbeth involved a fair bit of moorland too, but I don’t think any of them had a particularly jolly time. I don’t feel they communed (Lear may have wailed a bit).

Happily, my ideas of moorland have been shaped by Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome – I think of it as a place to range free, without grown ups and with plenty of pemmican and chocolate.

We decide to go without the tyranny of Sat Nav and I sit very upright, my finger on the map, directing us out of Cropton. I get a little bit carried away with the sense of adventure, and we leave the sensible A169 to career off down narrow, hair-pin tracks.I mean us to go to Cockayne Ridge, but somehow, inexplicably, we end up on Danby High Moor.Danby High Moor, North Yorkshire (2)

From the bubble of our car, we admire vistas and point out glimpses of farms down in the valleys. The colour scheme is very pleasing – all duns; bark-brown heathers, ochre moss, grasses the colour of milky tea. But it’s not until we get out that we can feel the place.  The wind snatches our breath, unclips our hair, numbs our cheeks. It gets in our ears, our noses, buffetting our brains clean and leaving us with the faintest taste of the North Sea.

Stephen has parked the car just off the grey satin ribbon of road and we stand across it, our arms outspread. The moor demands that we bend to the forces at work, that we recognise its elemental power. It’s impossible to stand still, the wind won’t let us, and we run whooping from the road and down a quad track. Pants and Dora are insanely happy, intent on unknowable missions,  almost frantic in their need to discover, to know. They send up black grouse every few seconds, barking as the birds whirr low over the ground, their red heads target-like.

Dora, rabbitting
Dora, rabbitting

The Moors are covered in tracks like these, unsigned mostly, and we’re careful to remember the path we take. The ground upon which we’re walking has been compacted by sheep, skeins of their wool are caught on bushes of stunted gorse. To either side of us are shallow mossed arbours, springy and soft underfoot, as if walking on velvet eiderdown. Reed-like grass grows in thick, brazen clumps, bleach blonde with mousey roots.

After twenty minutes, our eyes are watering and the children are asking for hot chocolate from the flask. We head back to the car, looping around blackened heather.

‘A fire?’ says Ellie, doubtfully. We tell her about men burning with big gas torches, so the grouse can eat the new shoots. She wanders off, mid-sentence.

We leave the dogs out free whilst we huddle back in the car with the flask and a lump of cake each.

Dora is in  rabbiting-mode, snuffling ecstatically along tiny pathways made for a her jack-rat legs. She’s much happier than she was in the rock pools of Robin Hood Bay.Danby Low Moor, North Yorkshire (4)

Our car windows are down so we can whistle if any cars come, and we can hear the faint calls of sheep on the wind, the peculiar music of wind up our exhaust.

The landscape makes me think of all my favourite childhood textures; close crop of the old snooker table, my dad’s corduroy trousers, the tweedy roughness of hemp sacks in the derelict cowshed.

We finish our drinks, but we still don’t leave. The fells are crossed with the uneven zips of stonewalls, and we can’t see any road but the one we’re on, just occasional beads of cars running along the landscape. Down below, in the valley, we can see copses of un-tellable trees, their bare arms like upended witches’ brooms.

Eventually, the children start talking about mountain-biking, and what colour bikes they might have, and anyway, Mum, how far is it to Dalby Forest? Stephen forcibly requests the use of Sat Nav, and then we’re whistling the dogs, driving away towards the A171.

Stephen looks at me as we turn onto the main road.

‘Happy?’ he says. ‘Did you be?’

‘A little,’ I say. ‘But I’m going to have to come back to be sure.’

Pants!
The Silly Pants! Oh Dog of Little Brain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the fourth of a set of posts, written about our family holiday in North Yorkshire, as guests of  Forest Holidays (part of the Forestry Commission for England). All opinions and views are my own.

PS. Thank you to my American friend, and his prod of ‘Get on with it!’

On Food: The Grouse Sunday Dinner

Before I cooked them:

On Friday, I whizz up to the farmshop for sausages, and find grouse in the outside cabinet. Hellishly expensive, and quite obviously not with the stomach-filling capacities of sixteen Lincolnshire’s. As if in a dream (the one where I’m dressed in tweed, and my husband’s a laird with muscled knees), I put them on the counter.

I ask Mark the butcher how to cook them, and he looks sheepish.

‘Not had them?’

‘No,’ he says. ‘Well…no. Roast them, maybe?’

I take them home and put them in the fridge; they look incongruous next to the Frubes, the cucumber heels and the revolting plastic ham my eldest daughter adores. They look like a supper that might be destined for people other than the Lee’s.

It’s Saturday night now, the Night of the Grouse. But I’m whey-faced, feeble. Knackered. My lovely, lovely husband trundles off to collect an Indian, and feeds me chunks of sag aloo.

So now it’s Sunday, and the Grouse must be eaten. I apply myself to Google, to find out how to do them. I don’t learn an awful lot – the recipes I find involve breasts, rather than whole birds, or else basically, just roast them, because their favour needs no messing. And add some game chips and bread sauce.

These cooks and chefs and foodie types have obviously never had to feed two fussy daughters and a ravenous Roast-Dinner expecting husband.

Crisps ain’t gonna cut it.

Right. I keep reading that the meat can be very dry, owing to the lack of fat in the bird, and that the taste is very gamey. Every recipe I read uses a bacon carapace during cooking, and then advises a quick pan de-glaze job and making a thin  jus. Oh God. I’m doing mine with mashed potato – can you imagine their faces on seeing jus? The Bisto would be out of the cupboard before I’d even sat down.

So anyway…I’m off.

How I Cooked Them

Photo

Ingredients

Two fat chicken legs (with skin)

Two grouse

Hot beef stock

Smoked bacon (back, because I have no streaky)

Hot water (as in, from a kettle)

Vermouth

Juniper

Salt and pepper

Garlic

Plain flour

Cranberry sauce

Method (not including veg instructions)

Oven on at 180, chicken legs in a pot roast jobbie that would fit them and the grouse. I slice a garlic clove and put the shards under the skin of the chicken. Slosh in few slugs of vermouth, and hot water up to half an inch of so. Five juniper berries, because I love them . Tin foil over jobbie; oven.

Grouse inspected for anything nasty (feathers, shot, bits of guts…not all our game meat comes from a butcher, so habit). Grouse turned upside down and its back draped in bacon (did not season – our bacon quite salty).

Chicken legs extracted from oven after 15min. Grouse tucked in between, breast-side down, bacon upper-most, foil back on. Back in oven for 30 minutes. Foil taken off towards last 10 min of cooking.

Out of oven, whole lot transferred to hot plate to rest for 10 min whilst gravy made. Liquid from pan poured off into cup, leaving two or three table spoons. One  table spoon flour into the pan, scrubbed altogether with wooden spoon. Wait until pan really quite bloody hot. Splash in hot beef stock. Stir until flour has made it all into a gravy. Add 1 teaspoon of cranberry and check seasoning. Pour into hot gravy boat.

Put bacon from birds in a frying pan with olive oil, when hot again, put in fine beans and mini sweetcorns (again, bending to will of obstinate daughter). Stir fry.

Serve chicken onto children’s plates, put Grouse on a wooden chopping board to be carved at table between me and him.

Put beans, mini sweetcorns and huge Mash Mountain in hot serving bowl, take to the table with chopping board of grouse.

Oh my Lord. Smells incredible. Eat it.

And What We Thought About It

‘Mummy it tastes like red salmon’

‘What? It’s a bird.’

‘Red salmon. The one you do with the yellow sauce.’

Bloody weird child.

Stephen has given me the breast of the smaller grouse, and from my first mouthful, I know I won’t manage both fillets. The meat is incredibly dense, and close textured. I’ve cooked them medium rare, and the pinker bits melt in my mouth, but the whole thing reminds me of metal, like sucking a copper coin. I’m not sure I like it yet, but I want to like it, the way I used to want to like whisky, and sweetbreads (I’ve never made it with the sweetbreads).

The gravy is incredible – the nicest we’ve ever made with no red wine involved.

Stephen likes the grouse, but not as much as a steak, and we both agree that we’d probably like it more processed, with different flavours. Sliced thinly in a winter salad say, with  pomegranate seeds, or in a game pie, the hot-and-sloppy sort, with a thick crust.

I poke at the carcasses thoughtfully. Stock. Grouse soup. With sour dough and cheddar as cheese-on-toast.

Yum.

Photo
Grouse Sunday Dinner