Traditional country pursuits reimagined for a modern world
Sarah Monier-Williams explains how game can provide the answer to the wedding day dilemma.
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Who doesn’t love a stiffy? That welcome bit of weighty card on the doormat to brighten a rainy Tuesday in February inviting you (plus one) to a knees-up in a (probably rented) marquee or country manor. Take a closer look. Carriages at 1am? Words to strike fear into the heart of anyone over 45. The sentiments of a rather dishy French ski instructor, a seating placement for which I shall be eternally grateful, echoed in my mind, “I ’ate eight-hour weddings!” Funny, that. I’d been ’ating that particular one too until he’d slalomed his way through the tables to become my neighbour.
With kick-off at midday and still no sight of any food by 8pm, the guests were mostly drunk and getting tetchy. Without exception, every child present was crying. Not the best combination, even in such a delightful corner of the Languedoc. By 10pm the groom had given a 45-minute speech of spectacularly embarrassing gushiness and guests were awkwardly glancing at their timepieces and trying to get a signal on phones under the table to order pizza. I half hoped Fréd could magic up an emergency fluff-covered Rucola pastille from his pocket. He and I were firm friends by now and thoroughly enjoying our opportunity to ignore the left/right dining rule as there were, quite simply, no courses to turn with.
“The world has changed!” I hear you cry. “Surely it’s all about what the bride and groom want for their special day?” No, it’s not actually. With the cost of the average wedding in the UK running to around £150 per head, it will actually be costing the bride and groom (or their parents) £300 to invite me and my plussy. Apologies for talking about money, but let’s do some wedding maths. New outfit, travel, accommodation, the last respectably affordable gift left on the list and we’ll be shelling out the equivalent of a week in Mauritius. Throw in a stag weekend drag-racing in Warsaw, and that’s easily a fortnight. And by not attending we’ll be saving the youngsters starting out £300.
Beef or salmon? No, not the National Hunt equine star, the ubiquitous wedding menu dilemma. There is no such entity as ‘the done thing’ nowadays when it comes to putting a ring on it. Historically the wedding breakfast was just that, the first meal the newly married couple would be sharing together as husband and wife. With no chance of co-habiting back in the 1800s, they were sure to wake up hungry and horny, having fasted the evening before. In 1923 Mrs Beeton predicted the demise of the traditional morning wedding breakfast following a church service, deeming it “likely to become a thing of the past as it has been superseded by the tea and reception which usually follow afternoon weddings.” Such foresight! She does point out that wines served will depend greatly upon both the menu and the means of the host. No change there then.
Today’s bride and groom – or groom and groom/bride and bride, for that matter – no longer need to follow convention, although the sight of a bouncy castle at a wedding reception does make me feel a bit twitchy. Don’t get me started on releasing doves, butterflies or ruddy sky lanterns. Or no wedding list, just a ghastly brazen request for money dressed up as a gesture to assist with the honeymoon. No, we’re not going to cough up for your week in Cancun when you simply had to make an entrance in a horse and carriage once rented by Katie Price even though Uncle Nigel had generously offered to drive you there in his Aston Martin.
So you’ve biffed off his V8 and told him he can’t bring his offspring, but even Uncle Nigel will agree that wherever you choose to host the meal once you’ve tied the knot, it’s probably not going to be an egg and bacon bash, despite the breakfast moniker. The food served may be dictated by the venue chosen, but if you’ve got free rein then why not consider some tasty game options? There were a few raised eyebrows at the M-W reception when plates of perfectly cooked grouse breast with game chips and watercress were placed in front of our guests. Yet all 68 guests tucked in and no one sent us a dentist bill. Sixty-eight? That’s a small number. Yup. We were ruthless with our no cousin policy as this would have added another 27 guests.
Why serve up beef when it could be venison’s healthier option? Or go large and stuff some foie gras into a Venison Wellington with truffle mash on the side. Chicken? An offensively mind-numbing choice for such a special day. How about partridge or pheasant goujons to dip into a delicate saffron mayonnaise? Or blow the budget because of course, you can when there are only 70 faithful guests and no dodgy cousins. Those grouse breasts were a memorable and astounding success; any professional chef and their team will take care to extract all shot.
Be brave and wave goodbye to that flabby whole farmed salmon of dubious origin which you know has been sitting in the marquee all morning getting cosy with bacterial friends snuggled under a cucumber and aspic blanket; say hello to some fresh British trout or line-caught sea bass and serve it up alongside foraged samphire and local potatoes dripping in salty butter. Craft your own beetroot-cured gravadlax from wild Atlantic salmon if your favourite river doesn’t have a catch and release policy. Freezes beautifully too and lasts for ages. Got a winter wedding coming up? Bag yourself a catch of wild Dorset Billy Winter prawns, go rogue and pile them all up into an enormous bowl for your guests to gorge on. And guess what – it’ll all look fabulous on Instagram too, which as we all know is the most important thing for anyone under 30.
Second time around? Usually a smaller do, the fare and the plonk up a notch or two as there’s probably more in the pot to splash on the event. But first-timers will probably still want to go the whole hog (quite literally in my niece’s case as she’s booked a hog roast) and be pressured by the parents into inviting too many guests, hire a car and driver, blow the dress budget and have a fight with someone over the kids/no-kids policy. To be honest, I’m looking forward to my niece’s upcoming nuptials. Vows, food and dancing all in the same Instagram-friendly Dorset barn, 80 guests, and Mr M-W providing the wine. Just don’t make us wait eight hours for that pig.
Traditional country persuits reimagined for the modern world
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