It makes for a memorable experience says Alasdair Mitchell
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person engaged in fieldsports must be in want of good sustenance. And it always seems to taste so much better when it is taken in the field. I am not exactly sure why the location is so important, but I suppose we can count farm sheds and Land Rover cabs as falling within the necessary category. In this age of COVID-19 restrictions, the lavish indoor shoot lunch is definitely out.
Sitting in a parked vehicle and opening a flask of hot coffee to release its aroma, while the windscreen wipers clack-clack wetly on the misty windscreen, is one of the most soothing rituals I know. It always seems to ignite the hope that the weather is about to clear — even if experience and the weather forecast suggest otherwise. Out on the hill, the lunch break is the most relaxing point of the stalking day. We have found ourselves sheltered from the strongest wind in a place that was, moments before, occupied by resting deer. It is extraordinary how relatively minor bumps and wrinkles in the land can offer a haven. To look at it from a human perspective, you would never imagine that merely by sitting down in a faint hollow the wind would skim over you. But generations of deer have learned this and return to such places time and again in certain conditions.
In Africa, the need for shelter is very different; it is the sun you need to avoid during the daytime. Out there, one of the best places for outdoor eating is beneath the spreading branches of a fever tree, a type of acacia that looks somewhat like our beech. The name is unfortunate; these grand trees tend to be found along riverbanks and it was the water that harboured malaria and misled early settlers into blaming the tree. At night, the glory of the African safari is the campfire, accompanied by ice-cold beer, unlikely stories and the eerie whooping of hyenas. No protein goes to waste in Africa and I have fond memories of juicy eland steaks sizzling on a leadwood fire. Even more evocative, perhaps, are the sights and sounds of the awakening African bushveld at dawn. To this day the scent of a rooibos teabag reminds me of happy days spent playing in the Pleistocene.
At the opposite end of the scale of outdoor eating, perhaps, is the shoot lunch in a pole barn, sitting on bales while trying to fend off the dogs. I recall countless episodes when somebody’s sandwiches were ‘Labradised’. When it comes to laying siege to a potential food source, hyenas have nothing on a pack of hungry gundogs. Then there are those lonely breakfasts in a goose hide, jammed into a ditch or a stand of reeds, eyes and ears alert for any sign of the quarry. We always used to joke that it you wanted geese to arrive, there was a scale of probability attached to certain actions: pouring a mug of coffee would probably draw a few geese within range; unwrapping a sandwich would attract more; setting out a picnic would see a whole skein coming in, causing chaos.
Come to think of it, some of my most memorable days of shooting, fishing or hunting have involved simple food eaten outdoors, in the company of like-minded people.