Donald Hall was an American poet. And a really good one, too. When I was a teenager, I read his poem 'Maple Syrup'. It's about a man returning to his dead grandfather's house, with his wife.
In the cellar they find a jar of the maple syrup that the old man had made twenty five years earlier. The grandson opens the jar and dips his finger in. Instantly, he is transported back to childhood: 'the sweetness preserved, of a dead man'. That poem had a profound effect on me. The notion that we might - after death - live on, through our food, our recipes, and the culinary savoir-faire that we pass on to our children, is beautiful. And it's why I suddenly had something in my eye on Wednesday evening when my mate - and Wylde customer - James sent me the photo above and the recipe below. His French mother-in-law Martine died last Christmas. But when James cooked her 'biche bourguignonne' for his wife - her daughter - and their own daughter last week, the smells, tastes, textures and flavours were such that arguably Martine lived again. That's what I call an 'afterlife'. NickBiche Bourguignonne - or Burgundian venison stew - Martine’s cooking was absolutely of the Burgundy, and specifically Lyon, region. I always go a bit off piste when I make French food, but this time I cooked chunks of venison shoulder exactly like she would, and the results were fantastic. Toss 800g - 1kg of venison shoulder in a tablespoon or so of flour. Season liberally. Brown it a casserole pan. Use a good glug of sunflower oil because butter would burn, and they don’t touch olive oil in the region.As it is browning, add 1 roughly chopped onion. If you have a bit of celery, add that too. Soften the onions. Add a load of garlic. Then put in about 350g of roughly chopped carrots. Then fry in two crumbled beef stock cubes. Yes, I know. I never use beef stock cubes, but she insisted. She was right. Pour in two wine glasses of water (so about 350-400ml in total) and the same amount of wine. Decent Burgundy red, or a decent Beaujolais. Not a good one. A decent one. Bring to the boil.Bang into an oven at 180. After about 10 mins, turn it down to 150. I don’t cover it, as I want it to reduce. So it is worth stirring a bit so the meat at the top doesn’t get overdone. It’ll be ready in an hour to 90 mins. Be sure to check the seasoning. Martine would have served it with grâtin pate, which is a sort of Lyonnais macaroni cheese. But dryer, and less calorific. I don’t like macaroni cheese and I don’t really like the grâtin pate either, so I think it is best with green veg and potatoes. Anyway, it is quite rustic.It works with beef. I think it is better with venison.