From moor to microwave: Chartered surveyor, 43, launches ready meal range turning game birds she kills on shoots into cottage pies and lasagne
- Sophie Bagley shoots pheasants in Yorkshire and then plucks them at home
- The 43-year-old then cooks up a storm in her kitchen before packaging them
- Sometimes plucks more than 100 pheasants a day in order to create the meals
A chartered surveyor has launched a ready meal range which sees the 43-year-old plucking pheasants she kills on shoots, before cooking them in cottage pies and lasagne.
Sophie Bagley goes out on shoots to kill the British game birds before cooking up a storm in her stunning countryside cottage in north Yorkshire.
Sophie plucks more than a hundred pheasants a day which she turns into hundreds of posh ready meals every week.
She has ditched beef, lamb and chicken for the more unusual meat which she sources from the beautiful dales and moors of Yorkshire.
Throughout the hunting season Barbour-clad Sophie tours the county’s rolling countryside in her Range Rover and picks up dozens of birds from shoots.
Sophie Bagley (pictured above), 43, takes pheasants from moor to microwave with her wild game ready meal company
Tuck in! Picture of Sophie Bagley’s wild game ready meals. She plucks the birds herself at home
Sophie said she picks up the birds in her land rover before taking them home and putting them in the fridge
And she isn’t averse to shooting the birds herself if need be – but says she rarely pulls the trigger as she is such a dreadful shot.
The birds go from moor to microwave within two days with Sophie preparing them every step of the way for her business, Glorious Game Ltd.
She swears that pheasant is the perfect ingredient for a locally sourced, healthy ready meal – with a far lower carbon footprint than other meats, making it great for the green-minded consumer.
The game meat is leaner, lower in cholesterol and more protein-rich than chicken.
She says they have also led a better life than farmed chickens, spending their time scampering across the moors.
The meals are perfect for people looking for more local and sustainable food sources – and to cut the air miles out of their eating.
‘I’m very much a country girl, born and bred, and have always been frustrated at the bad press pheasant gets,’ Sophie said.
‘Everyone’s default is chicken, but pheasant is much better for you. It’s had a better life, it’s free range and sustainable.
‘It’s definitely far better than a chicken which has been cooped up in a cage all its life.’
Quintessentially British, pheasants have been shot across the nation for several centuries, but in recent years have rarely been eaten outside countryside communities.
Preparing the bird: Sophie is pictured left cutting the bird and right plucking the feathers to prepare it
Proud as punch. Sophie said she sometimes serves friends and family pheasant and they have no idea
The rich, gamey flavour sometimes puts off diners, but Sophie is a passionate advocate for the taste and health benefits of the birds.
She has overcome this by adding the meat to family favourites and allowing customers to get used to the flavoursome game.
Sophie came up with the idea for ready meals in January 2018, when playing a trick on her husband Matthew.
He had always insisted he didn’t like pheasant, much to his wife’s frustration.
Out in the wild! Sophie is pictured above carrying her birds through the fields after a shoot
Country girl at heart! Sophie said her upbringing in the Highlands had helped her with her new business
Sophie had grown up in the glens of Scotland, where pheasant and other game were regular dinner-time meals.
‘We used to have a freezer full of pheasants all throughout the year, which had been shot by my father and grandfather,’ she said.
‘It was one of the most common meats we ate growing up, there was always a plentiful supply through the season.’
But despite her hunting heritage, she could not persuade her husband to try it.
‘I thought if he doesn’t know it’s pheasant, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,’ Sophie explained, laughing.
‘I made him a pheasant lasagne, and he said that’s the best lasagne we’ve had for ages.’
Up close and personal. Sophie said you can trick people into eating pheasant by disguising it as something they recognise
And Matthew, also 43, actually refused to believe that Sophie had used game in the Italian dish.
She eventually had to fish the pheasant feathers and carcass out of the bin to prove it.
‘I’ve come across a huge number of friends who have been the same, and refused to eat pheasant if I’ve cooked it for a dinner party,’ Sophie said.
‘So I’ve been experimenting on them and not telling them.
‘Half the time, if you turn it into something that people recognise then you can almost trick them into believing it’s what they think it is.
‘They are not expecting these meals to contain anything other than beef, lamb or pork.’
And the results were great, diners loved Sophie’s secret pheasant dishes.
She explained: ‘My husband, and a couple of friends said, you might be on to something here.’
While several butchers were doing game pasties, no one was creating healthy ready meals from the birds.
But she thought wrapping up the meat in pastry, or deep frying it, lost the health benefits.
Time to tuck in! Sophie is pictured above with what looks to be a Italian style dish which she has cooked up
Sophie continued: ‘Pheasant is readily available, relatively inexpensive, and no one wants to do the gory bit – the plucking and everything else.
‘So I thought present it as something people recognise, and they’ll be more likely to give it a go.’
Sophie set up her business and began approaching shoots.
It was an environment she was very comfortable in due to her Highland upbringing.
Her father still shoots regularly, and her grandfather shot as well.
She quickly agreed a deal with two local shoots – one near Ripon and the other at Easingwold, both North Yorks.
The day after the hunt, Sophie drives down in her old Range Rover and fills up the boot with the birds.
Sometimes she will pick up just a dozen and other times almost 200 pheasants.
The number depends on the skill of shooters and also the weather.
‘They are not too pongy, as all the birds have been in chillers,’ Sophie explained.
She lugs them back to the beautiful, detached cottage she and Matthew share with their two cocker spaniels near Boroughbridge, North Yorks.
Sophie then begins the arduous task of plucking and gutting them in the garage.
This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 10 hours depending on the number of birds.
But Sophie keeps herself entertained.
‘The wonders of technology mean I can rig the iPad up in the garage, and watch TV while I’m doing it,’ she said.
Unsurprisingly, she watches cooking shows to while away the hours spent plucking.
The first dish Sophie came up with was the lasagne she used to trick Matthew.
She also makes bolognese, cottage pie and chilli con pheasant.
Particularly popular are the Black Sheep ale and pheasant casserole, and also coq au vin with local wine.
She batch cooks all of the dishes in her Aga, before packaging them up ready for the microwave.
Over the hunting season – from October to February – Sophie says she makes hundreds of ready meals.
‘I think it can work in anything, it’s so versatile,’ she said.
‘Back in the day, people would hang the birds for a couple of weeks and it would have a much stronger gamier flavour.
‘The majority of people’s palettes these days aren’t particularly up for that.
‘The boozy ones in particular do very well.’
Sophie has lots of tasters at the Yorkshire markets she sells the ready meals at.
She cooks a pheasant version of crispy duck, which is especially popular.
‘When people do stop and try it, they tend to buy it,’ she revealed happily.
In the age of heavy industrialised meat production, Sophie’s method harks back to simpler times when Brits ate what they hunted from the land.
The meals are also far more sustainable than domestically farmed chicken, being sourced from the Yorkshire dales just half an hour from her front door.
Many chefs across the UK are now looking to reconnect with the British countryside by using more game in their dishes.
British Game Alliance founder Tom Adams said the birds were a good option for those wishing to lower their carbon footprint.
‘As well as enjoying a longer, better quality of life, wild game also has a lower carbon footprint than most mass-produced meats,’ he said.
‘The industry is essential to the management and maintenance of countryside environments.’
The UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, explained the sport is worth £2 billion each year to the UK economy, and supports 74,000 full-time jobs.
Spokeswoman Debbie Collins said: ‘Game meat is great – pheasant not only tastes delicious but is also healthy and sustainable.
‘It is low in fat and loaded with protein and vitamins.
‘It is a seasonal, local, versatile and nutritious food source.
‘Initiatives to open up the market and encourage more people to try it for themselves are welcomed.
‘Sophie’s recipes sound delicious. Good luck to her.’
And growing up in the glens of Scotland, from a family of shooters, the industry is close to Sophie’s heart.
She added: ‘There’s often this perception that shooting is just for toffs, but the money it ploughs into the economy is staggering.
‘It really is a way of life for a lot of people in the countryside.’
At the moment Sophie’s tasty game ready meals are only available at markets across Yorkshire.
But after this season ends, she will begin working on a website to deliver them across the country.
Eventually she hopes to stock her ready meals in supermarkets and reach a wider audience of the wonders of wild game.
And if she can convince her husband to eat pheasant regularly, then many more diners are likely to enjoy these unique ready meals.
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