Crusader may not have been the role Sophie Bagley had in mind when she started selling her oven ready meals under the moniker of Glorious Game, but it sits nicely with her when I mention it.
“It’s not a word I’ve used before,” says the chartered surveyor and freelance residential development consultant, who was born and bred in Angus and grew up “in a glen in the middle of nowhere, where there were lots of sheep, pheasants, grouse and very few people”.
“My grandmother always cooked game whether it was pheasant, grouse, partridge, pigeon or venison. Most people still don’t realise that game such as pheasant is so healthy. It is low in cholesterol and high in protein. Everybody’s default is chicken, but pheasant is better for you and the British Game Alliance has gone to the trouble of showing all the figures.”
Sophie starts the preparation of all her Glorious Game meals, that can be cooked from frozen in either microwave or oven, from her garage in a village near Boroughbridge. Around this time of year, now in her second full season, it is a hive of activity.
“I collect from two lowland shoots. It was only one last year. I will have something like 200-300 birds every week for around 16 weeks and as I also have my consultancy work that means a lot of long nights burning the midnight oil.
“It’s all worth it, especially with the feedback I’ve been getting from the village markets I attend in Hovingham, Sheriff Hutton and Coxwold. One lady who bought one of my meals came back the following month to buy again saying it was the best meat she had ever tasted; and one young man who had never tasted pheasant before said it was absolutely beautiful. It’s wonderful seeing people keep coming back.”
Sophie’s range of meals currently includes cottage pies, bolognese, goulash, lasagne and pheasant in Black Sheep ale, in Yorkshire Heart wine and in cider. She understands that those who perhaps had their first taste of game about 20 years ago may be hesitant in trying, but those without that kind of ‘baggage’ are more willing to give her meals a go.
“There was a time when pheasants were hung for weeks and that is what brought about the much more distinctive flavour that is not to a mass market taste. I think there is a very small market for those who like it hung for that kind of time and I don’t hang the pheasants at all. I pluck them all within a day of collection.
“The quicker I can collect them the better. I keep the breasts and the legs, and I have a couple of ladies who turn the feathers into art or such as fascinators.
“I batch cook everything, so sometimes I just need to dice for a casserole or mince if I’m preparing a chilli or bolognese. Once I’ve prepared them in packs they are frozen and then I take them to the markets in coolboxes.”
In order to introduce new customers Sophie prepares what she calls her fake pork pies or scotch eggs or a crispy duck style pheasant.
“Some people will say they don’t like game without even trying it. Perhaps they’ve had an experience of it from some years ago when it had probably been hung for weeks, but if they’ve never tried it, I wonder how they know they don’t like it. That’s one of the reasons I came up with my fake pork pies and scotch eggs. I’ve had people say ‘that beef was delicious’ or that they enjoyed the duck where I’ve prepared the crispy duck style pheasant, but when I’ve told them it was pheasant they’ve said ‘are you sure?’
“I even catered for a shoot lunch last year where friends congratulated me on my beef. When they couldn’t believe it was pheasant I said: ‘I’m glad you enjoyed it but why would I buy expensive beef when I’m getting pheasant from you?’ Personally, I don’t think it’s like beef but maybe because it is prepared in ale people think that way.
“I’m more than happy for people to try the samples on my stalls at the village markets, that’s why I prepare them.
“I think the healthy meat story is something that is a real winner and also, when you think of the life a pheasant has had as opposed to a chicken cooped up in a shed and hardly seeing the light of day I know which has had the better life.”
Sophie also believes the industry behind her new business venture deserves a better rap than it receives from some sectors of the general public.
“I think there is a real misconception of shooting being seen as just a day out for toffs. A recent BASC (British Association for Shooting & Conservation) report shows that £2 billion is put into the countryside every year through shooting and there are 74,000 jobs reliant upon the industry.
“Areas such as Middlesmoor for instance wouldn’t have much tourism at this time of year without it.”