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Thinking Outside the Pizza Box

An Interview with Rachel Green

Rachel Green   game cooking demo by George Gunn 2 yoa3g1

Rachel Green is a chef, author, presenter and food campaigner. Her family have been farming in Lincolnshire for 14 generations, and her connection to the land has afforded her a back-to-basics, no-nonsense approach to food, using the best ingredients and letting them shine. Here she talks the future of food and, as an avid supporter of the Eat Game Awards, she gives her favourite seasonal pairings.

You come from a farming background and you’re very connected to where our food comes from – what’s your earliest food memory?

We used to have pigs – one of the most visual things in my head is slaughtering the pig and having all the component parts laid out on the big wooden table with my grandma and my mum there. We used to fry the pig’s brain and have it for breakfast and make pork pies and haslets. I remember everyone generally just getting stuck in, there was a real community feel to what they call ‘putting the pig away’. Pigs are a very important part of Lincolnshire food culture – years ago, the lard from the pig was used to make Lincolnshire plum bread. I also remember we were always made to help pluck the last bag of game birds before Christmas. We would sit in the coal house and you’d have to go down these steps and sit there and pluck pheasant and partridge. The place was covered with coal and feathers – it was all kind of mad really. Even now I’m quite fast at doing it.

Those are some quite visceral experiences, in a lot of ways we’ve lost that connection to where our food comes from.

Absolutely, it’s all very sterile now.

How do we bridge that gap? Obviously a lot of people grow up in urban settings without a garden – how do we forge that connection back to nature?

There are some really fantastic community projects in cities using free space to actually grow stuff, but where children are concerned we obviously need more education in schools. That was taken away and now food technology is all about designing a pizza box and not actually physically doing any cooking. I don’t think there’s just one thing you can do, it’s a series of steps. For me there’s a food culture, and I don’t know if you’d agree with this, but I feel it’s become quite exclusive and very middle-class. It’s a lot of Waitrosey people and ‘I know that trendy pop-up, I know this, I know that’ and the so-called influencers of food. But what’s happening to the people on the street? What’s happening with all the social problems around food, with people feeding themselves from food banks? That’s all pushed to the side.

Basic food skills are usually passed from generation to generation, so if there’s a break people won’t grow up with them.

No they won’t – but I’d also say that the culture around celebrity chefs has over-glamorised food and I think it makes it more complicated than it actually is. We don’t want 23 different ingredients for a shepherd’s pie, which I saw from a chef a couple of years ago. Shepherd’s pie is a really beautiful dish done properly with gorgeous mince lamb, lovely simple vegetables and great flavours – it doesn’t need 23 ingredients. It’s just crazy stuff to try and compete with each other when we should be thinking about what’s going to happen to the future generations in terms of food. What’s going to happen when we leave the EU?

You’re a big supporter of British produce, including game which we’re highlighting this issue. What excites you about game season?

I always find September a magical month. It’s a harvest month and the grouse, partridge and rabbits have been feeding well over the summer, the pigeons have been picking up the last of the grain and everything is absolutely at its best. Game is one of those ingredients that comes on at a certain time of year and goes so well with all the things around it.

For the gardeners out there, what kinds of seasonal produce should they be looking to pair with game?

First off, it’s important to remember to stock your freezer with game for the periods of the year when you won’t be able to buy it fresh. A rough guide to the game bird season is that it starts with grouse in August, partridge and mallard in September, pheasant and woodcock in October and the main part of it comes to a close around the end of January. Venison has longer seasons – there are different varieties – and woodpigeon and rabbit are in season all year round. I’m a great fan of untraditional game dishes, so I like to pair with all sorts of ingredients…

January: Yorkshire rhubarb is delicious in a warm winter partridge salad.

May: Flowers like borage, chive and elder are perfect to scatter over any kind of game salad. You also can’t beat crunchy, young green asparagus with a seasoned rare venison steak and some crushed, buttered Jersey Royals.

July: Gently grilled courgette flowers on the barbecue with a venison or woodpigeon fillet spring to mind.

August: Blackcurrants and blackberries are wonderful with pretty much all game meat.

September: I love a Kentish cobnut or wet walnut to go into a Middle Eastern game terrine with dried apricots and would use these instead of pistachios; of course, there’s also the famous pheasant ‘Normandie’ which is perfect with seasonal apples.

October: If you do want to go traditional with fresh game, then why not do different kinds of game chips with parsnips, swede, celeriac or turnips.

November: A Jerusalem artichoke and pheasant soup would warm you up on a chilly winter’s day.

What’s your favourite game meat, and how do you like to cook it?

Ah, that’s so cruel to ask me to choose! I love different game meat for different reasons. Rabbit is great for stews, ragus and curries. Partridge and grouse are delicious cut into thin fillets or strips and flash fried for warm salads, garnishes and the barbecue. Mallard lends itself brilliantly to Asian dishes (crispy duck pancakes are surely a national treasure?) Venison is a worthy pretender to the grass-fed, dry aged fillet or sirloin steak throne, and very tasty served with the usual suspects – chips and salad. I use pheasant – mixed with other meats to add in a little fat – for mouth-watering meat balls – the list goes on…

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