Autumn is my favourite season. Yes winter brings snow and Christmas, spring has new-born lambs and delicate vegetables while summer means sunshine and strawberries. But autumn to me is above them all, there is a bountiful harvest on the trees, in the soil and resting on the land. Game is plentiful and as jumpers come out of the wardrobe and scarves are adorned, I am dreaming of long walks down country roads and through forests turning from green to red, returning to a slow cooked stew, a pint of ale and lighting a fire. Autumn never lets you down, it just appears, ever reliable and welcoming.
One of the things I love most is the way that the bounty of the land comes together in the most amazing flavours. Cheap cuts of meat, gnarled looking roots, the odd leaf or twig along with a bottle of something brown or red produces such depth that the hours you spend waiting for it feels like an investment rather than a chore. Also at this time comes the odd burst of beauty, a splash of colour to match the changing leaves with a sweetness and acidity that surely was meant for summer. Brambles (or blackberries if you’d prefer) are a perfect example, they grow like weeds but when you come across a ripe crop of them it is a magical moment, very probably most people’s introduction to foraging, it was certainly mine. So with brambles in season and venison being such a rich meat for my first stew of this autumn, bulked out and complemented by an array of roots combining to yield a rich juicy gravy full of earthy flavour with a hint of sweetness and a reddish hue alongside tender chunks of meat. Autumn on a plate.
Venison and wild bramble stew
500g venison shoulder chopped into inch cubes
Knob butter and olive oil for browning
1 red onion roughly chopped
1 medium beetroot diced
1 carrot sliced
1/2 turnip (Swede outside Scotland) roughly diced
3 sprigs rosemary
3 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
100g brambles – wild if possible
Salt and pepper
1. Heat the oven to 120C and in a heavy based casserole brown the venison well in the oil and butter over a medium/high heat.
2. Add in the onion and garlic and soften slightly then the rosemary and stir again to release aromas. Add the root vegetables, the brambles and the splash of gin. Cover with roughly 250ml water then cover and bring to a simmer on the hob.
3. Place in the oven and cook for 4-4.5 hours, checking after a couple to make sure that the stew isn’t drying out. You’ll initially notice that it seems wet after the first hour or so if you’re looking, don’t worry, this is the vegetables giving up their water, it will reduce down nicely by serving time. However if it gets too dry add in a little water.
Serve with mashed potatoes or simply in a bowl with sourdough.
First published in Great British Chefs