This is at first glance a beautifully presented cookery book, but on further inspection, it is so, so much more.
Whilst the majority of the book is dedicated to meaty recipes, the first section of the book (about 100 pages) is a crash course in all things meat. Different breeds of pig, sheep and cow are discussed (amongst others); there are pictorial step-by-step guides to boning, stuffing and rolling a loin or pork, boning and rolling a shoulder of pork, preparing a cote de boeuf or cutting two joints from a shoulder of lamb; there is guidance for purchasing each type of meat in terms of what to look for visually - colour, signs of stress etc; British (and French) chicken labelling - I could go on.
This book has also been a real revelation for me in terms of seeking advice and guidance from my local butcher. In the past I have always felt rather foolish, as I am very aware that I am not very knowledgeable about which cuts are best used for which purpose (even though many of the terms are very familiar, such as rump, silverside, chump, topside, saddle etc.) I have lacked confidence in knowing what cuts are fit for a particular kind of cooking and I have been rather ashamed of it. Not only has this book helped me to understand why different cuts work differently (in terms of how hard they work), but it has also opened my eyes to what many may see as a fairly obvious fact, that that my butcher is there to help me and guide me (rather than to make me feel "sheepish"!) I am now going into my butchers with a good idea of what I want and then I am explaining that to him my plans for the meat and seeing whether he agrees with me! Very liberating!
The heart of the book, the recipe section, has been organised month-by-month, taking into account the seasonality of ingredients. However, there is a personal insight into that month's running of the farm at the beginning of each chapter. This is a really personal, human account, which together with the outstanding photography, captured by Kirin Perers, really transports you between the farmyard, the kitchen and the dinner table.
There is a plethora of information and guidance, from preparation and butchery of the meat and the seasonal availability of game in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland right through to a roasting table for temperatures and timings for everything from the relatively commonplace beef to the more unusual mallard or teal.
The recipes are nicely balanced, with recipes for homely favourites like Toad-in-the-hole or Tim's Roast Chicken to the more adventurous such as Braised Spanish Pork with Muscatel Raisins or Duck and Pistachio Pate. However, it is a practical book and the recipes are ones to make rather than just to read and with that in mind, the balance is more towards the homely and recognisable and most of the ingredients are readily available (I haven't yet found any Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) though!) and the techniques are believably achievable. It is great to have a book like this which if you are ever fearful of taking a recipe on, even stares your fear down on your behalf, like the recipe for wet-cured ham from scratch, which begins, "Don't be scared...." (I still am a little, but less so!)
If recipes such as Mutton Shepherd's Pie or Hungarian Pork Goulash, whet your appeitite (as they did mine) then this is the book for you. It would make a great gift for someone who likes to read cookbooks as much as they like to read novels - as it is nicely balanced tome of information, storytelling and food.