Game has played an important part in Emma Whittingham’s life.
She grew up stalking and eating it, moved on to cooking it, supplied game recipes to a local newspaper and ended up selling it.
So it should come as no surprise that the 48-year-old has now written a book about it.
Game On Northumberland is a collection of easy-to-follow traditional and modern recipes featuring everything from pheasant to venison, rabbit, grouse, mallard and partridge.
Emma hopes the 44-page book will inspire people to look afresh at the plethora of high quality, richly flavoured but sadly underused game, available from England’s Border County. “Game used to be popular. I grew up eating it and was taught by my mother how to cook it. I still serve game regularly and will in all likelihood be having venison for Christmas this year.
“But while game is low in fat and cholesterol and very healthy for you, it has fallen out of favour, I think because people either don’t now know what to do with it or for those between the ages of 30-60 they have bad memories of being forced to eat one too many jugged hares or its ilk.
“Yet game is so versatile. There are so many dishes you can create beyond simply roasting.”
Game on Northumberland proves the point very ably. Among the recipes are two for pigeon risotto and venison curry. Some are Emma’s own developed through trial and error over the years (“one of my favourites is pheasant with orange, red wine and haggis. It came about by accident on one of those days when you find yourself scrabbling around in the kitchen for ingredients.”), while others have been donated by friends and other Northumberland-based game enthusiasts.
The book is about more than recipes, however. There are also details on where to buy meat, when shoots take place, game storage and seasonal vegetables.
Emma, who was born and raised in Alnwick and attended what was Our Lady’s Convent High School in the town, has a lifelong love of food and local produce in general. So much so that the mother of two teenagers was instrumental in helping get the now hugely popular monthly Alnwick Farmers’ Market off the ground, which she then managed.
“It used to annoy me that we had so much produce on our doorstep and we weren’t eating and promoting it,” she says.
Shoppers would often approach her for recipes and suggestions on how best to cook certain foods, like game.
Aware that Northumberland didn’t have its own definitive game cookbook, Emma decided to write her own – despite ironically never having owned a recipe book of her own. “My father shot and I learned about game from a very young age. My mother taught me how to cook and everything I know is up here (she taps her head), so it is quite bizarre that I have written my own cookbook.”
The project took her 18 months and she has launched her own company, Game on Press, to sell and market the book. The venture has been a steep learning curve. “I work in Barter Books now in Alnwick, so had some idea of the pitfalls I might face, but definitely not all. As an example, I had to have an ISDN number but you can only buy a minimum of 10, and I have had to set up my own business.
“I’ve had to invest my own money too – the whole project has cost about £6,500 – but I was lucky to get some sponsorship.”
Those who have backed the book include Oleifera rapeseed oil, Fentimans drinks, Northumberland Estates, Alnwick-based butchers Turnbulls, Brocksbushes Farm Shop and the Pilgrims Coffee House on Holy Island.
Celebrity chef John-Christophe Novelli, who appeared at the recent Alnwick Food Festival, has written the foreword. There’s also a message from Mary Manley, owner of Barter Books.
In total, 3,000 copies of Game On Northumberland have been printed. Priced at £6.99 it is for sale at Barter Books, Blagdon and Moorhouse Farm Shops and tourist information centres in Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth and Wooler, as well as online through Amazon.
Already around 500 copies have been sold. Emma has also found herself in demand to do public appearances and book signings, and will be at Morpeth Chantry on November 19 between 10.30am-2pm.
It beats standing around, often in the freezing cold, writing down game recipes for market customers.
Read more about local food in Northumberland.