The difference lies in perishability; hardneck is lifted around July and good until Christmas if it has been dried, while softneck survives much longer. The third of an acre they planted three years ago has expanded this year to five acres, with plans to expand to double or triple the acreage next year.The warm-weather garlic that we know and love is most commonly what is known as softneck (Allium sativum sativum), and it grows best in hot, dry places. They managed to get hold of some seed, and a visit to the Ontario region convinced them this was the garlic for them. Research on the internet introduced them to a variety of winter hardy garlic called ‘Music’, of the ‘Porcelain Hardneck’ type which is grown in Canada. He and his wife Gilli, a cook by profession, wanted to try something different. Initial garlic-growing trials proved disappointing but they did not give up on the idea of garlic altogether. Glen Allingham, who farms 160 acres 15 miles east of Inverness, in the shadow of the Cawdor Hills, has year on year increased his yield of garlic, turning over land formerly given to producing potatoes.When Allingham took over from his father a few years ago, Craggie Farm grew 26 varieties of potato.
This pungent allium seems inextricably linked to the Mediterranean and beyond – in fact, to the food of just about every other country in the world except Scotland. Garlic from north of the border sounds as unlikely as Scottish figs, olives or avocados. As they carry on cooking while they rest, allow for this and undercook them slightly.Purists prefer their grouse on the bone I certainly do. Then you can pick up the bones, gnaw on the carcass and enjoy every last precious and glorious morsel.Birds in season Grouse 12 August – 10 December Snipe and ptarmigan 12 August – 31 January Mallard, widgeon and teal 1 September – 31 January Partridge 1 September – 31 JanuaryWoodcock 1 October – 31 January Pheasant 1 October – 1 February. If you have the kind of friends that go shooting you’re in luck, but that’s no comfort to most of us city dwellers.Grouse has that unforgettable flavour of heather and the highlands. It’s best not messed about too much and simply roasted with a traditional garnish of bread sauce and game chips. (I’ve suggested parsnip chips, though, which have a sweeter more interesting flavour.) Slices of bread can also be fried and put under the bird for the last five minutes of cooking to catch any juices.
If you are lucky enough to have the livers they can also be fried, chopped and spread on the toast.Young birds at the beginning of the season will be tender and moist and because of their rich flavour won’t need to hang for more than a day or two. They should be cooked rare to pink to savour the delicate flavours and juices Overcooked they’ll end up dry and spoiled. A few thin slices of streaky bacon or slices of pork fat (lardo, which is Italian for lard, is sold in slices like salami in Italian delicatessens, and it’s just the job) on the breasts can help to prevent them from drying out. But even this isn’t enough to prevent the damage that’s done if the birds spend too long in the oven. They won’t become more affordable until autumn is underway when they’ll be joined by other game birds at much more reasonable prices. Specialist game dealers will show off a few grouse in their windows at the beginning of the season but it will be a while before they’re readily available elsewhere. Grouse, and the rarer ptarmigan and snipe, are still very expensive with grouse costing at least Â£10 a bird.
Up the ladder, the 2000 Michel Torino Don David Malbec, (Â£7.99, Averys, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, London SW18, 020-8540 9979) is a voluptuous confection of concentrated berry fruitiness, while the 1999 Norton Malbec Reserva, (Â£9.99, virginwines , The Wine Society) is crammed with rich plum and mulberry fruit. Alta Vista’s Alto (Â£29.95-Â£33.95, Lay & Wheeler, Colchester, 01206 764446; Roberson, London, 020-7371 2121) provides a glimpse of the style and concentration of rich mulberry fruit of which low-yielding malbec is capable.. Bodega Norton also makes a good basic 2000 Malbec at Â£4.99 (Oddbins, Morrisons). Plantings are increasing at a rapid rate, which is good and bad news. While styles are becoming more diverse, quality is on occasions compromised by a few wishy-washy wines made from younger vines. It would certainly have had the means, because malbec, especially when made from old vines, makes a uniquely drinkable red wine with a pure taste of mulberry, strawberry and cherry and silky-smooth, palate-stroking textures.Malbec’s unique drinkability guarantees it a place not just in the sun but in our glasses. If Argentina hadn’t lost four-fifths of its valuable stock of old malbec, an area half the size of Bordeaux, it might be neck and neck with Australia today.