Bruce Anderson

Drink: Rules of the game

Bruce Anderson on the rules of the game

We should all eat humbly. There is no sense in foraying to far-flung continents in search of fancy victuals. We should be content with the near-at-hand: the harvests of our fields, hills, rivers, seas and moors. The Chinaman has his bowl of rice, the Irishman his cauldron of potatoes. At this time of year, our equivalent ought to be a grouse.

The grouse is a fascinating bird, and not just in the way that it swirls and swerves and, after a final jink, speeds by contemptuously. It can make even fine shots feel foolish, let alone those, such as your correspondent, whose marksmanship qualifies them for membership of the RSPB. But the grouse also raises theological and philosophical questions. These days, we do not hear much about the argument from design, but Christians who might wish to reanimate that supposed proof of the existence of God could do worse than cite the grouse.

The grouse season is a mighty bridge which spans autumn on its way from summer to winter. The pleasure of eating grouse, especially when preceded by oysters, helps to reconcile mankind to the passage of the seasons. The grouse is a sublime example of the beneficence of nature. Could it really have emerged from mere cosmic happenstance? Rarely has the case for intelligent design been made so powerfully, and so succulently.

Yet there are complexities. ­Isaiah Berlin reminded us that the great goods cannot always live together. This is especially true of grouse. It has two distinct flavours. There is the sweetness of a fresh young grouse. There is also the delicious gamey kick of a well-hung bird. The best way to combine the two is a 12 to 14 day hang. After that, the legs will fill your mouth with gaminess as you gnaw them, while there will be plenty of sweetness in the bloody breast meat.

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