Shooting and fishing: ‘Mum encouraged me to investigate run-over rabbit terrine’

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MY mother died last week. It’s fine. Mothers do. She was 91, in cracking form and playing bridge. We don’t know if she had a good hand, but there has been much irreverent talk about The Final Trump.

It can’t get much better than that; going out like a light in the village hall, amongst all your friends. Except, I suppose, for my father-in-law. He got to the top of hills he had shot over for 40 years, said, “It’s marvellous to be back here again,” and keeled over. Just like that.

My mother’s sporting prowess had extended to rifle shooting at school, a talent she inherited from her grandfather who had presented shields and cups at Bisley. My brother duly inherited her eye and shot for his school after distinguishing himself at an early age by putting an air rifle pellet through the butcher’s plate glass window.

(Our father, in cahoots with the butcher, called in the local bobby, PC Bull who put the fear of God into him and he still quakes to this day at the memory. Cue: “Fings aint what they used to be”.)

My mother’s idea of a productive day on the river was a good book and a roasting sun and very little fishing. She was a great walker but stomping about after pheasants in January wasn’t really her thing. She was too busy looking after everyone. She was never, however, averse to a bit of road kill. On spying the driver behind her stopping to pick up a pheasant she had just hit, my mother, to our embarrassment, leapt from the car and advanced on the felon, arm outstretched, with the words “My bird, I think.” Thus was I introduced to the culinary potential of the rabbits, pheasants and hares that strew our roads each spring.

She was, after all, of a wartime generation that survived by “making do”. It was she who inspired and encouraged me to investigate the construction of raised game pies (fruites des routes en croute), run-over rabbit terrine and, rillettes made with the cunning addition of smoked Polish belly of pork and goose fat. Her great piece of advice was that, on the whole, there is very little, with the possible exception of Hollandaise sauce that cannot be rescued by a dash of sherry or cream. Of course there was more to her than just road kill and sherry.

She had “done her bit” in wartime MI5, based initially in Wormwood Scrubs Prison, of all places. And she was a demon gardener. But it is only a matter of time before I reach for the phone to conduct one of our rambling chats about rabbit with rhubarb or the wind-inducing properties of artichoke soup in the over 60s, that I will remember, too late, that service has been discontinued.

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