Tuesday, 18 January 2011

the pigeon and the pontack

There is one bottle in this house which I have been keeping tightly sealed...

Pontack was the first thing I made from the River Cottage Handbook No.2: Preserves by Pam Corbin. I'd never tasted or even heard of it before but the concoction of elderberries, mace, allspice, cloves, shallots, ginger and vinegar appealed to me. I picked my berries long-ago in Perthshire in September 2009. I do recall the berries took an age to fork-off the stems and I bust a gut rubbing the soused berries through a sieve for every last drop of precious liquor which made only two bottles instead of four. But it was worth it to see the intensely purple liquor even if I'd have to hold off for a 'proper' tasting as Pam says "according to tradition" the sauce is best matured for seven years. Well I am a patient gal but I only managed 16 months. The sauce is ideal with game so when I spied a special offer on Wood Pigeon, I saw that the Pontack's time had come. 

I'd never cooked such little birdies before but even the raw meat smelt wonderfully rich and sweet (which is not something I could say often). I went a little free-style on my cooking technique, something I've been getting braver about of late, and popped a slice of orange, a wee spring of rosemary and a few squashed juniper berries inside each bird with a sprinkle of pepper and salt. Then I slathered them in butter (there was very little fat on these guys but I soon corrected that) and popped them, breast side down, in a baking dish and in the oven, turning half way through. 

We had them with roasted roots: parsnip, carrot, and beetroot rolled in oil, seasoned and drizzled with honey (for the parsnips) and rosemary (on the rest). The roots were given a head start on the birds which I kept basting regularly but did over-do as there wasn't much tenderley-pink about them in the end. But boy-oh-boy did they not taste lip-smackingly good: sweet, rich and very livery. When it came to picking the bones, let's just say I had to be left to it (after being compared Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox). The Pontack made a delicious debut, it had definitely deepened in flavour since bottling but still had a fair kick to it. Hopefully, given time it shall mellow and I can work on my table-manners.


  1. Seven years?! That's crazy! Well done for waiting 16 months. Are you going to save bottle 2 for 2016 then? That's a whole four years after London hosts the Olympics that are still a long way off. Sheesh!

  2. Haha! Seven years is crazy - sounds like there should be a folk song written about it! Bottle No.2 went to my pal for Christmas last year. Come to think of it - I need to check she still has it! And y'know I just read that and realised that 2016 IS seven years away!! Jings!!!