The Glorious Twelfth is usually used to refer to 12th August, the start of the shooting season for Red Grouse (Lagopus Lagopus Scoticus) and to a lesser extent the Ptarmigan (Lagopus Muta) in the United Kingdom. This is one of the busiest days in the shooting season, with large amounts of game being shot. It is also a significant boost to the rural economy in moorland areas. The date itself is traditional, the current legislation enshrining it is the Game Act 1831 (and in Northern Ireland, the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985). Not all game (as defined by the Game Act 1831) have the same start to their open seasons – most begin on September 1, with October 1 for Woodcock and Pheasant.
Since UK law says that the start of the season cannot begin on a Sunday, it is sometimes postponed to 13 August, as in 2001 and 2007. Because grouse are not and never have been reared to any extent for shooting, their numbers fluctuate naturally from year to year. In recent years, the Glorious Twelfth has also been hit by hunt saboteurs, the 2001 Foot and Mouth crisis (which further postponed the date in affected areas) and the effect of sheep tick, heather beetle, the gut parasite Trichostrongylus Tenuis and severe flooding and bad weather. In some seasons where certain moors are hit by low numbers of grouse, shooting may not occur at all or be over by September.
A day’s shoot is as much a social event as a sporting one and the more traditional shoots will picnic in style at lunchtime, before resuming in the afternoon. The birds “bagged” are always counted in “brace” (twos) and in a good day’s shooting an amazing number of birds can be killed: the Duke of Westminster’s Littledale and Abbeystead estates in the Forest of Bowland still hold the British record for the largest numbers of grouse shot on a single day. On the 12th August 1915, no less than 2929 grouse were shot by 8 guns, that’s 1464-and-a-half brace if you want to use the jargon.
Choose the best
As grouse are wild birds, rather than farmed, they should all be of pretty good quality, though the way in which they’re treated after shooting does have an impact. Look for birds that are plump, with unblemished, fresh-looking deep red skin – avoid any that seem dry, or smell ‘off’. The younger the bird, the better the flesh – a pliable breast bone, feet and legs and sharp claws all indicate that a grouse isn’t mature.
First, you need to remove the wishbone. Pull back the skin from the neck cavity to expose the entrance, cut round it with a small, sharp knife and snip the bone free at the bottom. Then cut the grouse’s wings and legs at the second joint – this makes for a neater-looking bird. Using kitchen paper, wipe the outside of the bird and inside the cavity. Season inside with salt and pepper, then push in some flavourings – try some sage leaves or sprigs of thyme or slices of lemon or apple. Tie the legs together with string and season the skin all over, brushing with soft butter or oil. You can also wrap the breast with pancetta or Parma ham to prevent it from drying out.
Keep the grouse in the fridge, on a tray, covered with foil or greaseproof paper for up to two days. Make sure it’s on the bottom shelf so that any juices don’t contaminate any other food; it’s particularly important to keep the grouse away from any other cooked meats in the fridge.
- brace of grouse suitably tied (trussed), plucked and drawn
- 2oz butter
- 6 rashers streaky bacon
- 2 slices of white bread
- 2 tablespoons redcurrant jelly
- seasoning (salt & pepper)
- giblets from grouse (for sauce)
Preheat oven to 400F. In order to maintain moistness, rub a little of the butter into the inside of the grouse (making sure the bird is well washed and dried before starting). Spoon the redcurrant jelly into the cavities of the bird then season the outside of the bird and cover with the rashers of bacon.
Place these in a roasting tin and cover with foil. In order to roast thoroughly allow 15 minutes per pound weight of bird. Then add an extra 15 minutes to the overall time.
Toast the bread, remove the crusts. Place the giblets in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer until tender. Strain but keep the liquid to make the stock. Remove the giblets and mash them along with some butter, salt & pepper and spread on the toast.
Place the toast under each bird for the last 15 minutes of cooking time. Use the stock to either pour over the bird or use to make a bread sauce. Serve the grouse (with the toast still underneath) along with unsalted crisps or game chips as you will now call them.
Charlie the butcher