Field to table

by | Sep 24, 2023 | What's Happening

Another New Zealand hunting season has closed. Another season where we have appreciated nature firsthand, like no other outdoor activity can offer. The harvest of wild game is the great bonus but most essential is the many hours we spend in wilderness, as witnesses and participants. In Norway we had a very interesting philosopher, a mountaineer called Arne Næss. He insisted that the key to live a rich and fulfilled life was to be capable to find joy in the smallest things in nature. This has become the greatest part when we set out on our hunting trips. Sometimes we may not bag any game but we’re always grateful for the experiences this lifestyle provides us. Running classic bird dogs adds another dimension to being a small game hunter. Our two-year-old setter Bentley has thrived during these four months of hunting. His athleticism is another thing to marvel at. 

The German forester (Jägermeister) Oskar von Riesenthal wrote some of the great German literature on hunting and gamekeeping. The first stanza from his poem Waidmannsheil (Hunter’s salute, from 1880) is printed on the label of the Jägermeister bottle. I’ve put the original German text and the English translation below (actually the image was made by wife Hayley). It is the perfect representation of a responsible hunter who cares about and honours his game.

We have done well on pheasants this year in different spots around Northland, some that we hadn’t hunted previously. The quail shooting has been hard as we in general have only found them around tall trees and heavy cover. We have still bagged a few birds but it has also made it trickier to put the finishing touches on Bentley, having to deal with genuinely wild, running forest pheasants and coveys of quail in heavy cover. In great Northstream style he has got to do some brilliant retrieves. A few weeks ago I shot an old California quail cock bird, the last one of the covey to set off on his escape into the trees. He was very fast but I could see that I hit him but didn’t see him go down. I started searching with Bentley about 60 meters further ahead but couldn’t find it. Bentley then went further towards where the rest of the covey had disappeared, some 120 meters ahead in some really thick stuff. Aidan and I couldn’t walk much further into that, so I called the dog and waited for him to come back and join us. When he appeared Aidan shouted out that he had the bird in his mouth! There have been a few other memorable retrieves too but that one in particular I thought was a lost cause. Another was a winged pheasant that Bentley powerfully smacked through gorse at high speed to grab and deliver to hand. 

Now that the hunting season has finished, we can enjoy the privilege of having a freezer full of nice wild game. The greatest pleasure many of us get from harvesting from our nature is to prepare good dishes of food from it. I come from a family with strong traditions of making food from hunting, fishing and farming. This great interest has also been passed on to myself, my brother Knut and cousin Øyvind. Many of my good friends, like Geir and Jørn, are doing the same and enjoying themselves in the kitchen. My mate Tommy, a moose hunter in Sweden, did the genius thing and married Maria who is passionately into cooking. Her moose carpaccio with Nobis sauce is one of many outstanding dishes she has served on our visits to Umeå. (The Nobis sauce was created by the famous chef Werner Vögeli and served at the classy Operakällaren in Stockholm with a beef carpaccio. Using moose instead takes it up another notch!) On a visit to New Zealand Geir asked if I had any wild game that he could cook, so I gave him some quail and a peafowl that he made into a feast. Quite different to his normal ingredients. Talking about peafowl, the first time I cooked it I put some filets on the BBQ and was amazed at how good it was. (Preferably use young female pea hens, very similar to a pheasant, rather than the peacock.) Once I also did a very old recipe where I stuffed quail with chopped up peafowl meat.

For many years here in New Zealand quail and ducks have been my main game. With the addition of pheasants, turkeys, rabbits and hares. I am primarily a small game hunter and because of my bird dogs it’s in particular birds. That said, I’ve hunted larger mammals like moose, deer and roedeer. Aidan has a greater interest in that and has shot both deer and goats. Venison and grouse are some of my favourite foods.

Two photos above of a young goat leg roast, after Aidan went hunting in the Tangihua native forest. Also pictured Maria’s moose carpaccio, my rabbit ragu which I regularly make served with pappardelle or fettucine, and some very interesting savoury waffles. Last year Aidan, Knut and I had these waffles made from black oats, when we visited the cafe at the Hamsun Centre (a favourite author of my brother and I). Served with smoked Arctic char, dill cream and spring onions they were quite a revelation. Black oats were cultivated in Norway since before Viking times but nearly disappeared with the arrival of white oats from Germany nearly 200 years ago. Interestingly, what kept the product in existence in small measures up until today was that it was used to feed some of the elite harness racing horses. A farm in the south-east of Norway is now growing and offering this for human consumption.    

As mentioned before, duck hunting is one of the most popular forms of hunting in New Zealand and it’s been a big part of my dogs work. With Bentley we have very much prioritised the upland game hunting but still made sure to get him out for a few outings on ducks. He loves water and retrieving from water; ponds, rivers, ocean, he’s keen regardless! I’ve got a few favourite dishes, tried and tested over the years, both for breasts and for whole birds; grey ducks and mallards. Roasting wild duck is a very different thing to raised birds. They’re much leaner and easy to overcook. Roasting wild ducks I now always cook them at a very high temperature for a shorter period. It seems to me the best method for a guaranteed good result. 
A lot had happened since the last updates on this site. In addition to having a good hunting season, in the midst of it the entire family went to Australia for a week, primarily to visit the Swedish Embassy in Canberra. Aidan and Finn finally applied for their Swedish passports and they’ve now picked them up from the consulate in Auckland. We also spent a couple of days in Batemans Bay, indulging in some Aussie seafood, and three days in Sydney which is always great. As soon as we came home Finn had his school ball and the run-in of the football season. His team won both the league and the cup/plate. Aidan and I also drove to Rotorua for a long weekend, hoping to catch some good size trout to make gravlax (or in this case more correctly “grav trout”) but also Bay of Plenty has had a lot of rain this winter, which meant the water levels in lakes and rivers were abnormally high. The fishing was therefore nothing like we had expected. But we will be back! Some rainbow trout roe above.
We finished the hunting season strongly, bagging several more birds in forestry across Northland. Bentley was going really well and it all felt a bit of a shame when the season came to a close at the end of August. After a couple of weeks of poor weather and not very favourable ocean conditions we finally got ourselves out for a day of free diving. The main target was crayfish. We found several and managed to bag a few. I also found a good size John Dory, always a great bonus, and Aidan shot a snapper around 8lb in addition to some Butterfish. That was a great outing and more to come in the next few months!
Lastly, my old friend Noel Allen in Whangarei passed away recently. In my early years in New Zealand we spent a lot of time together with our dogs, hunting, training & field trialing. His kennel name was Berry Field, taken from his foundation blood lines from Captain Parlour’s Sharnberry and Leon Mortensen’s Wingfield. He was also the co-owner of Chywoon Entrepreneur of Jonsmae (“Woody”) that Leon imported from the UK. Initially trained and handled by Leon but later Noel did all the running of the dog. He is the only dog who won the North Island, the South Island and the New Zealand Championships in the same year. Sadly, in recent years Noel suffered badly from dementia. 

Noel in November 2002, having won another trial with Woody.