As someone who was a vegetarian by choice at the tender age of 10, it seemed unlikely that I would be picking up dead pheasants from the road and eating them. However I am in my 50’s now and not vegetarian. I have always intended to face the hypocrisy of a meat eater who doesn’t have to kill his own meat but I have never yet caught any wild meat.
So when my partner Sarah said, ‘There’s roadkill, a freshly killed pheasant outside on the road, do you think we should eat it?’ I just had to acquiesce. Sarah, who is as girly-girl as they come but still goes camping and walking in muddy fields with me, had eaten roadkill before, she kind of – put me to shame. So she hung the pheasant by its feet in the shed for a couple of days, (as it happens the wrong way up). There is a cock pheasant around here who visits our garden regularly, with a flock of seven or so females – mates or daughters – I wasn’t sure. This was one of the girls. Six now.
Late Sunday I got round to making a roadkill dinner and I stiffened myself up for the gutting with a couple of glasses of wine. I had gutted fish before but never something with feathers. ‘Insert the knife in its bum’, she stifled a giggle, ‘and cut up to the chest cavity – are you sure you don’t want to take it outside?’
Fully buoyed with Dutch courage, I had laid down a plastic sheet for the wet work and plunged in with the knife, splitting the beast open to reveal oh my God, what’s that smell? Far more horrific than the sight of guts was the smell of going-off pheasant offal. I ran outside with the chopping board and put it on the composter by the barn.
Sarah, still trying not to laugh at my pathetic, lily-livered attempts to eat righteous meat, proffered up a bucket for me to scoop out the guts with my hand. I got most of them and she scooped out a kidney and a gloop of something else before I had to run inside and wash the slime off my hands. I felt tainted by the smell and must confess I let her skin it while I watched her point out the ‘croup that shalt not be broken’ and helped her with snapping the occasional bone.
It wasn’t long before it was in the oven and I consulted Hugh Fearnley’s ‘Cook on the Wild Side’ for roasting times, which I failed to find. I poured another glass of wine and switched on the internet. About 50 minutes later the bird was (over) done and I got into a tiz making bread sauce and cooking the 9 sorts of veg that needed using up.
I didn’t recover from the smell and only ate a bit. By the time I got it together it was just to late to eat roadkill. The taint seemed to be following me around because all the innards were sitting in a bucket in the yard. The next day I put them out in a field for the foxes and made the meal into a stew which was, untrammelled by odour, very tasty. The flesh is like a condensed chicken meat and the ‘stew’ replaced the tenderness I had roasted out.
So this is guilt-free meat? There are no food miles as it walked around our house and was randomly killed outside the door. No slaughtering because it was an accident. No farming since it was a wild beast. I can hear the pheasant cock out there making its noises in the orchard. I can’t help wondering if it knows that I ate its wife / daughter? I do know though that I don’t feel like rushing out there at the thought of free meat to bring an end to its life. I feel much happier that I purchased a free-range chicken breast from the village stores for my next portion of meat.
But I do feel happy knowing that come the great collapse when all the shops are empty that I will be able to survive on roadkill (as long as petrol lasts out) or wild meat – if, of course I can work out a way to catch it. Sarah won’t let me have a gun. As she reminds me since the unfortunate accident with the thick-skinned butternut squash: ‘I’ve seen what you can do to yourself with a vegetable peeler’.