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“What I Done Did in England”

It’s been an action packed few weeks. I hopped over to England for Christmas and then to New York for New Years and Girl Hunter media, and then to Indiana and Dallas for book signings. Now I’m home sweet home. There’s something magical about eating at home and sleeping at home. There’s no place like it.

While I was in England, aside from doing my favorite things, I went to one of my favorite places up ‘narth. You may remember it from last year. It is a friend’s estate where they have their bird shoot three times a year.

This is my friend on the left, doing one of her traditional earnest portrait poses. She’s American but is good at tapping into the British ways now that she lives over there.

One of my favorite things about this hunt is that the men wear red tassels on their feet. We need more red tassels on our feet in the U.S. I think it would solve the economic problems.

We started our first hunt in the rapeseed fields. I kept thinking they were saying grape seed, which is one of my favorite cooking oils, but rapeseed is what they make canola oil out of. Who knew?

This villager was trying to train his dog. The dog was young and not interested in being trained.

Oh, did I tell you my family got a new dog at Tulipwood over the holidays? I’ll show you pics soon, he’s the cutest.

The British fields are awfully magical. They have that gray mixed with royal green look all the time because of the light. It seems to settle on the land there in a way that I don’t see many other places. I think Montana is the closest I’ve seen it come to that in the U.S. But Montana has its own magic light that is distinctly Montana. This is distinctly British light.

Here I am happy but numb. It was windy and it whipped around and made my extremities cold. But I’m happy. I’m in the British fields with the British light after all.

Here I’m getting more numb and it’s starting to freeze my face over so that I can no longer smile.

Here I’m concerned and numb. I see a bird, or a plane, or… is it superman?

I like that lab in the background just going for it, whatever it is.

Barnaby!

Isn’t Barnaby just the coolest name? He is one of the villagers and he is the funniest chap full of good cheer and humor at every moment that I’ve known him.

He is the greatest too. And a very good shot might I add.

These villagers all live in this tiny village and are just like family. It’s all so wonderfully storybook.

There were bird dogs too. Our new family dog is a brown and white Springer Spaniel just like this one. They are fantastic bird dogs.

For these British shoots, everyone lines up on their particular “peg.” You get a peg card which lists your station for each “drive.”

A drive is when a group of villagers and their dogs go through the bushes and woods and beat the trees with white flags in order to get the birds to fly out. The “guns” stand at their “pegs” and shoot in their line of sight above the treeline.

Hopefully they walk away with a pheasant or duck or pigeon or woodcock…or two.

I love the red tassels. Have I mentioned that yet?

And then once the drive is over you all walk together to the next station.

In the olden days, each “gun” also had an assistant to help them reload their guns as quickly as possible. Often you’d have at least two guns so that one could be reloaded while the other was shot and you’d just switch off. Since this isn’t the olden days, and since I’m not royalty, I had to just reload as quickly as possible.

Each drive is positioned strategically so that the the third of six drives is near the house and the sixth of six drives is near the pub.

We have to eat after all.

I love a window that also serves as a door. I just wanted to state that for the record.

Also, this reminded me of the Secret Garden. It was full of beautiful nooks and crannies and that is a bay leaf tree on the right there.

Guess what time it is?

Elevenses! Everyone gathers in the green house at 11am for all kinds of treats to keep them fueled for the shoot.

Jealous dogs. They really wanted to be inside the green house to eat some scraps.

Tired boy. Beating the trees will do that to you.

Some of our harvest… it was mostly pheasant and duck this year. Last year there was some pigeon and partridge too. And I even saw a woodcock. But not this year.

The British have a wonderful way of aging their birds.

They hang them for at least 3-4 days with insides in tact. Head up… “it’s the natural flow of food,” they say.

One villager cuts the string while the others pair them and hang them. Once they’ve been aged, they’ll be divided among the guns.

Inside the greenhouse, meanwhile, are “sloegasms.” Sloe gin, made from sloe berries, mixed in with some champagne. I particularly like how they label the % vol of the bottle.

Does anyone know if we can get sloe berries in the U.S.? I want some.

These boots. They are my favorite. I since found out over the weekend that they are Irish and by a company called Dubarry. I need to get me some.

He is the man.

This is his greenhouse and his estate.

He smokes a pipe. It is awesome.

Warm tomato soup. Steaming.

My lovely friend drinking some from a mug.

And the wonderful sherry spiked with chilli peppers that we added to our soup. It was addictive I tell you.

Scotch eggs. I am going to post a recipe here for them soon. They will change your life.

And then it was back out into the field for three more drives.

To add to the larder. Can you guess how many birds there were by the end of the day?

I love a gate made out of hedges.

There’s Barnaby through the hedge.

There’s a view of the estate from one of the fields.

Here is the other side of the estate from the duck pond.

And the other side of the pond is full of more fields.

The dogs loved this particular drive. It was action packed.

This give you a sense of the action.

An alternative to free weights.

I loved all of the old trees. Some of them were 200 years old.

I think I might start walking around with a pipe in my mouth.

The guns were carted around in a horse cart.

Then they would be released into the field.

Those are some stray beaters chatting as they go.

The last drive, like I mentioned, is strategically positioned next to the pub–The White Swan.

It is a wonderful, warm place inside that pub.

But you know my favorite part about the inside?

It has cider made by one of the local villagers.

It is light and crisp and tangy and rather dangerous because it tastes like juice so you can get carried away. It’s wonderful over ice. I wish I could have smuggled a case back with me. But instead I can only have it in The White Swan. One more excuse to go back.

Isn’t this the most charming looking place?

This is a house on the corner of the road near the pub. The people that live there are called The Goths because they are a family that wears all black. They never seem to come out. Aren’t you curious to know what they’re all about? I am.

After the pub we walked to dinner at one of the villager’s houses.

This was a prelude to dessert.

The guns sit in one room and the beaters sit in another… usually.

And big heaping plates of food are passed about.

Steaming mashed potatoes.

Piping hot beef stew which was one of the villager’s cows. Wasn’t that nice for him to serve us one of his cows?

Tangy red cabbage. Peas and carrots. Amazing sauce.

And dessert was a sublime sticky toffee pudding, over which we poured a healthy amount of heavy cream… from one of his cows.

And after dessert, big wheels of cheese were passed around. Along with an ample supply of port which was never allowed to touch the table. You had to keep on passing.

I love England.

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Comments

  1. Looks just like you walked into a real fairytale. *sigh* How simply divine. My daddy smokes a pipe and so did my grandfather…boy, do I love a good pipe.

    I’m ready to pack my bags and move to England.

  2. It’s very odd to see it from a complete outsider’s perspective (as I’m one of those englishmen in the tweed suits with the funny hats), and very refreshing. I will endeavour to have a proper look at your blog next time I’m on the computer. Thankyou.

    Sam Thompson, Cumbria, England.

    • I love Cumbria! Read my first book “Food Heroes,” I spent a lot of time in Cumbria writing about some wonderful people. Cheerio!

  3. I ordered some Blackthorn (Sloe Berry) seeds from Chiltern Seeds in the UK a couple of weeks ago! I am making, or growing I guess you could say, a dog run with the shrubs! Then there are all of the possibilities with the berries….. I’m so excited!! Are you ready for the best part – they grow in Texas!!

    http://www.chilternseeds.co.uk