Let’s face it, despite having only just washed the coconutty aroma of suntan lotion from our summer clothes it’s slowly creeping towards that time of year when we make plans for the annual family invasion. Christmas will arrive before you know it and with it go the traditional arguments over how best to feed the hordes. In your house there will be a traditionalist who’s not happy unless they’re tucking into turkey, there’ll be someone who has a hankering for duck ‘just for a change’ and there may well be one lone voice (more likely than not a teenager) who professes not to care what is served up at the table because they’ll ‘just grab a sandwich’ in between Call of Duty sessions on the XBox.
What would happen if you were to dish out pheasant or venison or even fox and, furthermore, what if you’d scraped any of the aforementioned beasts up off the A59 earlier that day?
It would certainly cause more of a stir than most of the generally lacklustre festive television options. In his satire on the traditional American redneck hick, ventriloquist and comedian Jeff Dunham has his character Bubba J sing about attempting to run over a deer in order
to eat it on Christmas Day.
Roadkill Christmas plays on the cruel stereotypes of so called ‘hicks’ but the idea of consuming animals found freshly felled by traffic is gaining momentum with folk from all social strata extolling the virtues of its freshness, quirkiness and thriftiness.
The Mirror reported last year on Jonathan McGowan, a taxidermist from Bournemouth, who had planned his yuletide meal spread around what he found in the country lanes and worked out that it would cost him just 50p a portion. North Yorkshire artist Alison Brierley agrees; she regularly recycles found carcasses into festive fare, “I have used roadkill many times at Christmas, I even went down the path of creating an It’s Gonna Be A Roadkill Christmas recipe book, but created a baby instead” she laughs.
Neither Jonathan nor Alison fit into Dunham’s yokel pigeonhole. They are merely adventurous, thrifty and appalled by the amount of food that we throw away from shops in this country, let alone the potential choice cuts that line our roads that normally go ignored. “It seems like such a waste!” exclaims Alison. “This is an organic, free-range, pesticide-free, growth hormone-free and cruelty-free piece of meat – this is better than what you would buy in a supermarket!”
After years of learning taxidermy on roadkill, curiosity got the better of Alison. “I was in contact with lots of dead animals and the same question kept popping up – why can’t I eat this?”
So why didn’t she? “In most cases the meat was inedible, or my lack of knowledge about the animal and any diseases it may carry prevented me from eating it”.
Not wanting to give up on a new supply of food that was fresher than store-bought meat, Alison threw herself into researching safe practices for identifying and realising the potential of roadkill and soon put it into practice, “Eight years ago I saw the car driving in front of me hit a pheasant. It bounced to the side of the road. I stopped to pick it up. “Why couldn’t I eat this?” I thought. It was exactly the same bird you would buy in a country butchers but minus the lead shot! Butchers tend to ‘hang’ pheasants for about a week, so this was definitely fresher than those. It was perfectly intact so I took it home, and prepared and ate it. It was delicious and I derived a huge amount of pride and satisfaction from what I had done. I was living in the country but still felt like a ‘townie’ and this simple act made me feel more in tune with where I was living. I felt more akin with my environment. And it was a free meal! Bonus!”
If you’ve found yourself nodding along to the above and fancy giving it a go then Alison has some suggestions for a couple of simple recipes to start you off, “If I were to choose a versatile dish that could accommodate any kind of meat no matter how small, say a blue tit, then it would have to be, ‘Chinese/Japanese Dumplings’. Also a terrine or a pate are great for left over bits of meat that end up being boiled on the bones. You can not get simpler however than a delicate ‘one-pan’ fried breast of a bird or saddle or hare or deer with mushrooms, a touch of seasoning, garlic and a red wine reduction”.
Alison runs workshops on wild meats in North Yorkshire and beyond as well as consulting on their use for TV and radio programmes alongside her work as a school and community artist specialising in murals, mosaics and installations. Her website has some sound advice for anyone wanting to start off their roadkill adventure on how to make sure the meat you’re picking up is safe to eat.
See alisonbrierley.wordpress.com for more details.
For the record, apparently fox tastes a bit like pork and pheasant like turkey. Just see how the traditionalist takes to that on December the 25th!