Although ornithologists find the concept of a partridge sitting in a pear tree pretty ridiculous (they are not passerines – perching birds – but rather denizens of open country), but to my mind there are excellent culinary reasons to associate these little game birds with Christmas . . .
Thanks to The Twelve Days of Christmas, after the robin, the partridge must be the bird most closely associated with the festive season. There are good culinary reasons to link it with the season of gastronomic over-indulgence, for it makes great eating and is particularly abundant on butchers’ slabs at this time of year. This is mainly because millons of the French or red-legged variety are released every year to be shot by sportsmen who find its whirring flight irresistible. (Unfortunately the native grey variety is in serious decline at the moment – so much so it is listed on the Government’s official Biodiversity Action Plan.)
The demise of so many partridge is obviously unfortunate for the birds, but great news for gastronomes, for they make excellent eating – much better than the bigger, better known, pheasant. The latter area bland in comparison, while the partridge is truly unbeatable when seasoned lightly, dressed with a couple of strips of streaky bacon, with a few sprigs of thyme inserted in the cavity before being quickly roast and served on a slice of toast.
Of course the true wild food buff should always shoot their own bird, but for those lacking the skill or facilities to bag their own, little oven-ready birds are widely available in butchers and even some supermarkets. The latter are ridiculously expensive, but the reverse is true in traditional game merchants (last year I paid £4 for an oven-ready brace).