BOOK REVIEW: Loose Birds & Game by Andrew Pern


Game seems , thank God, to be making a comeback. My local Dublin butcher has, in season, venison, pheasant, partridge and mallard. Rabbit, which disappeared from the high street for years is now back in the shops with a vengeance. Yet cookery books dealing exclusively with game are few and far between.

Angela Humphreys’ ‘Game Cookery’ was first published back in the mid-eighties and takes an unashamedly traditional approach.

‘Fat Lady’ Clarissa Dixon-Wright, one of cooking’s great characters whom I had the pleasure of interviewing when I was editor of ‘Food & Wine Magazine’ gave us ‘The Game Cookbook’ in conjunction with Johnny Scott. This one is a massive statement for espousing the ‘wild and real’ produced at a time when our culinary aspirations had got very fey, wimpish even.

Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies’s ‘Game: A Cookery Book has got some good reviews. I haven’t read it but , among my culinary chums the main complete seems to be that the recipes are quite labour intensive – personally I don’t find anything wrong in that. It gets a lot of plaudits, particularly for the step-by-step instructions and the photography.

None of these books has quite the flavour of Andrew Pern’s ‘Loose Birds & Game’ which, between its tactile covers is rampant with  ‘personality’. Anthony Hodgson’s classy layout and design has resulted in a tome to treasure. In the hands the book feels gorgeous; there’s a textured, padded silk cover, based on a sepia-toned photograph of a wild bird’s feathers. The inside pages are printed on heavy matt stock, which lends an attractive ‘retro’ feel. In contrast layout and typography are bang up-to-the minute, logical and easy on the eye, helping the reader to follow the recipes. Everyone I’ve shown the book to says ‘Loose Birds & Game’ would be a lovely book to own and they are dead right.

There’s a Foreword by Michel Roux and an Introduction by TV personality/chef Brian Turner. From then on the exuberant enthusiasm of author Andrew Pern takes over. Andrew is the chef patron of the Star Inn at Harome, North Yorkshire, now the recipient of a Michelin star. Loose Birds & Game is the  follow-up to Andrew Pern’s critically acclaimed, multi-award winning first book, Black Pudding & Foie Gras. You soon find, if you hadn’t guessed after reading the ‘nudge-nudge’ title, that Andrew is one of those chefs who believes in living life tothe full, ‘work hard and play hard’ seems to be his mantra. He’s a Yorkshireman, a countryman, a denizen of the moors and fells, ‘coveys of grouse whistling overhead’ and ‘the honeyed perfume of coarse heather’ are a huge part of his heritage. On to the recipes, many of which involve local products like the kiln-smoked Yoadwath Mill ham that Andrew combines with Rievaulx red-legged partridge and Cumbrian speck. Though the presentation is ‘cheffy’ – unsurprising as this is the food that won him his Michelin star there is little that a reasonably competent home cook couldn’t manage. I don’t think this is a book for culinary virgins anyhow – those who are currently cooking their way through Delia or Rachel Allen’s repertoire are unlikely to be tempted to cook game but there are abundant thought-provoking ideas for the keen cook to mull over. I’ve already wowed guests with an adaptation of Andrew’s pan-fried wood pigeon breasts with fig tatin, prune and bacon rolls and spiced juices. When my own figs come in to season in early September I foresee this dish getting a regular outing. Next up is the smoked pheasant, savoy cabbage and beetroot terrine. There are are few innovations, too. I’m itching to make the liquorice gravy Pern used in his fallow deer pie. Plus one or two interesting drinks – like the gooseberry spritzer and wild cherry chocolate brandy. Nor has Andrew Pern left out finned game – there’s a particularly appealing sea trout ballotine. And I like his game pie.

If I have one small quibble it’s that the gorgeous photographs – mainly by Drew Gardner of whom I hadn’t heard – would be done more justice by printing on at least semi-gloss stock. But that’s a personal thing and, overall, Loose Birds & Game is a book I’d be more than happy to own, one that I’d get good use of, as would anyone who likes this rich, properly textured flavoursome food.

Loose Birds & Game by Andrew Pern is published by Face at sterling £39.99 or you can save £12 by purchasing from the website