I spent an entrancing two days working in Co.Down and Co.Armagh a couple of weeks ago. Intense meetings were balanced by journeys between Newry and Downpatrick in deep conversation with Peadar who told me about the history of the area – his homeland – and the magic in the landscape. Today the weather forecasters are describing deep snow on those hills but as we drove along the valleys dotted with deserted flax mills on those two days – Moyallen Road, Gilford Road, stopping at Scarva for an unexpected coffee sitting outside on a warm spring morning, beside the Sustrans National Cycle Track, then on through Tandragee, Pontyzpass – the hills rising steeply either side of us were alive with signals of spring; soft grey willow, trees in bud, daffodils, broad sweeps of aconite on the edge of standing water, green moss topping stones and the brightest and most heavenly greens that can only be experienced in Ireland.
Peadar is a wildfowler and we shared stories about the flavour of game and bird. He described trudging through the glens and over the hills in contemplative mindfulness. A steady pace. Maybe never raising his gun to the sky the whole day, but returning home a satisfied man – a man at one with his landscape. I will never forget his story of an old man he knows who split the tender breastbone of a woodcock with his thumbs and took out the liver. Offered a morsel, Peadar took it an pronounced it good. Nectar. To some this might appear unnecessarily basic. To me it somehow connected the man to the very soil and the air which was his history and his blood, and I find no fault in it.
On my homeward journey Peadar promised me a wild goose and a Teal. My only worry was getting them through Customs at the airport (no hold-luggage, just hand-luggage). Sure as eggs, I watched my bags diverted into a siding after they passed through the xray machine. A stern finger beckoned me over. Are these your bags madam? Yes. Would you mind explaining the bag of bones in your hand luggage? Not at all, it’s a goose and a Teal. Did you pack your bags yourself madam? Yes. Did you pack the goose and the Teal? No I didn’t. They were given to me by a friend straight from his freezer. At this point my rational brain started to kick in. Frozen meat with cavities. No I didn’t pack it myself, I was given it. I can see why they were beginning to look suspicious. Would you mind unpacking the bag with the goose and the Teal madam? Of course. So I unpacked the wildfowl so carefully wrapped by himself. In newspaper. Six separate carrier bags with knots. Finally the poor birds were revealed, all frozen and bare with their little legs and wings tucked underneath and a dark blush of what had been feathers spreading across their breasts. Still frozen solid it was impossible to see if anything was buried inside them. I was ready for them to be confiscated. Shame.
However, not enough to expose the poor birds, I too then taken aside and suffered the same indignity. And more. You can imagine. It took a while……. and then it was all over and I was released, as were the birds, and we were reunited. I repacked them in their newspaper and plastic bags and was sent on my way with a smile. Or was it a smirk?
I’d just like to say that the Teal has yet to be eaten but the goose? It was the tastiest little wild goose on the planet. Roasted quickly after an overnight bath in olive oil, garlic, crushed juniper and caraway. Served with creamy mashed potatoes and dark greens and a reduction of juices. Heaven on a plate.