There are two types of partridge in Britain – the native Grey Partridge and the Reg Legged Partridge, sometimes known as French Partridge. The Red Legged Partridge is believed to have been introduced by the Romans, but the first known records point to them being introduced into Britain from Spain, probably into Suffolk. This attempt, at some point pre-1700 and probably during the reign of Charles II, doesn't appear to have been successful. In 1770, another attempt was made, using chicken-reared birds from France. This process involved bringing eggs into the country and using laying-hens to rear them until they became independent. They would then be released into an area set aside for shooting such as Windsor and Richmond.
They both are traditionally found in lowland arable areas (and not in pear trees!). As to why there is a partridge in a pear tree in the first verse of The Twelve Days of Christmas it's been suggested that the twelve days of Christmas were a time of feasting and that the partridge was a popular main course at one of the feasts. In fact, the first 7 stanzas of the song involve different types of birds that would have been served during the feasts (the 5 gold rings refers to ring-necked pheasants).
Another theory is that the partridge symbolizes Christ and the pear tree the cross. This fits with the idea that the song was originally used by English Catholics to secretly teach the faith to their children during the period when the Catholic faith was illegal in England. Others have pointed out that the French word for partridge is perdix, pronounced as pear dree, and that this is where the verse comes from.
Nick has been running a series of blogs on old fashioned – and economical – cuts of meat and recipes with wine, and I thought that this dish sounded delicious. It's made using a Slow Cooker (which are rapidly coming back into fashion).
Pot Roast Partridge and Salsa Verde
2 partridge, jointed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 oz butter
1 onion, cut into wedges
2 leeks, thinly sliced (keep white and green separate)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large glass white wine
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 lb baby new potatoes
7 oz carrots
1 ½ pints chicken stock
5 oz broad beans
salt and pepper
For the Salsa Verde
1 oz flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar
Turn the Slow Cooker to High. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan, add the partridge and fry until golden brown. Remove to one side. Add the onion and white sliced leeks and fry for 5 mins. Add the garlic and cook for 2 mins, stir in the wine and mustard, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Put the partridge into the Slow Cooker, tuck potatoes and carrots down the sides of the bird. Pour over the hot onion, leek and wine mixture and add the stock, covering the potatoes and carrots. Cover and cook on High for 5 – 6 hours until the partridge is tender.
Remove the partridge from the Slow Cooker, wrap it in foil to keep hot, add the green sliced leeks and broad beans to the Slow Cooker and cook on High for 15 mins. Mix the Salsa Verde in a small bowl. Spoon the vegetables and some of the stock into serving bowls. Add the partridge and spoonfuls of Salsa Verde.
Why not try this dish with Chateau Toumalin (£9.29) from Canon Fronsac? It's a shining, ruby red colour with a strong, pleasant bouquet with hints of roasted wood, blackberries and blueberries. Toumalin is a silky wine with refined tannins and is a little gem!