What Adam Smith Ate: Scottish Game

what adam smith ate hunting holidays

Renee Wilmeth for AdamSmithWorks

England was known for the goose – stuffed and roasted – but in Scotland, Adam Smith would most likely have sat down to a wild game bird like partridge or pheasant.
When we think of the centerpiece of the formal 18th century meal, we think about meat. Typically, guests would be served “a leg” or a “joint’ of pork, lamb, or beef, depending on what was available. But in the winter, especially for the holidays, the centerpiece of the table was often a bird. England was known for the goose – stuffed and roasted – but in Scotland, Adam Smith would most likely have sat down to a wild game bird like partridge or pheasant.

Hunting was an important part of English and Scottish life for nearly every social class, especially those who lived outside the city. Shooting animals was an important activity for those with country houses and it provided food the table as well as popular control. For the working classes, hunting was a way to feed families.

A deer could feed a family for weeks with the meat preserved, smoked, and dried. But it was more common that families might live on rabbit (hare) and a variety of game birds, especially in the winter months. Because they were so seasonal, they were popular on the holiday table.

Fall and winter shooting was a popular pastime for gentlemen of the day, especially when they were at their country homes. It was a great way for gentlemen to take in a long walk, tour their property, exercise their dogs, and bring something home for the table.  (Note from a terminology standpoint, “shooting” was killing birds or rabbits for food. “Hunting” involved hounds and horses, what we would call “fox hunting” today.)

Roy and Lesley Adkins in Jane Austen’s England note that 
“wealthier sportsmen concentrated on hunting, shooting, and fishing…. The abundant wildlife, farm more prolific than today, posed a real threat to crops, so there was a practical side to these sports.”  
Sportsmen would target partridge, grouse, and pheasant, all of which provided meat for the table. Unlike domestic geese, game birds are lean and have very little fat, but servants knew how to infuse the meat with fat using larding needles, farces, and other techniques. 

Elizabeth Cleland’s 1755 cookbook, A New And Easy Method Of Cookery has more than 50 recipes for game and non-domesticated birds including larks, curlews, quails, plovers, ducks, young turkeys, geese, partridge, pigeons, grouse, and pheasant.  Her recipes note the addition of fat, often liver – and other giblets – to the stuffing before roasting.

Today, modern hunters still shoot game birds for sport and population control. However, most home cooks today – especially in the United States – aren’t very familiar with cooking them. Pheasant or quail make occasional appearances on menus, but aren’t common, even at the holidays.

Geese are also not as popular in the US as in the UK for holidays, but available from your local butcher. They are quite different to roast than a game bird, so I’ve included instructions below.  If you’re cooking with game birds shot by a hunter, ensure they are field dressed properly. Game bird meat can be frozen until you’re ready to cook it.

Roast Pheasant with Onion Sauce

·         4 whole pheasants, field dressed, thawed if frozen
·         ½ lb butter, softened
·         ¼ cup finely chopped sage leaves
·         ½ cup finely chopped parsley
·         1 shallot, minced
·         4 cloves garlic, minced
·         ½ tsp salt
·         White pepper
·         2 white or yellow onions, quartered
·         8 sprigs thyme
·         4 cloves garlic, minced
·         1 cup white wine
·         ½ cup heavy cream
1.       Preheat oven to 350F. 
2.       Remove the wings and spatchcock each bird. (This means to remove the spine which will allow the carcass to lay flat.) Remove any visible buckshot from the meat. Pat the birds dry and let rest, refrigerated, and covered, for at least 2 hours.  Bring up to room temperature before cooking.
3.       Combine the butter, sage, parsley, shallot, garlic, salt and white pepper. Mix until the butter and herbs are thoroughly incorporated. 
4.       Spread the onion quarters two baking sheets and add the thyme sprigs.
5.       Place the birds breast side up on top of the onions and thyme on the two baking sheets.
6.       Thickly spread the butter on top of each bird reserving at least 3 tbsp for the sauce. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until the temp is 155F on a thermometer inserted at the thickest part of the breast. Do not overcook. Cover with aluminum foil if the backs are beginning to brown too much.
7.       When they reach temp, remove the baking sheets and remove the birds to a warm serving platter. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
8.       Put the onions and any drippings into a large saute pan. Add 2 tbsp of the reserved sage butter to the pan over a medium heat.  Saute until the onions begin to caramelize. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add 1 cup white wine scraping up any bits of onion. Bring to a boil and reduce by half.
9.       Lower the heat and stir in the cream.  Season with salt or pepper as needed.  Stir in the last tbsp of sage butter and let thicken just a bit.   Serve the onions and the sauce with the pheasant.  Wild rice makes a nice side dish. 

Roast Goose

For roasting a goose, you will want to do a little research for the time and temperature for roasting. Geese are incredibly fatty, so before roasting, you’ll want to carve out as much solid raw fat as possible. Most of this fat (which ranges from globby to solid white fat) is inside the carcass, around the tail area, and in the neck. Some may have some skin on it. Just trim it off with scissors or a knife. Reserve this fat to render. You can stuff the cavity with lemons, oranges, apples or onions. You will not get a lot of usable drippings for gravy, so plan to make a separate sauce.

Want to read more?
Sarah Skwire's "Adam Smith on the Country-City Debate" as AdamSmithWorks
Emerson on selecting the right gift to give at Christmas and New Year at the Online Library of Liberty
Anthony de Jasay's article, "Diversity Does It" on EconLib
Catherine Semcer on Poaching, Preserves, and African Wildlife on EconTalk