The first book I read as a student newly arrived in Provence, France, to teach English for a year, was by the famous novelist Marcel Pagnol.
Its title was La Gloire de Mon Pere (My Father's Glory) and it was all about how the young Pagnol learned to hunt wild boar in the mountains of Aubagne. Given to me by a teacher at the lycee I'd been assigned to, it was intended as a way of immersing me in the local culture: wild boar, or sanglier, was the most celebrated dish of the region. On returning to the area on holidays, a Daube de Provence has become my husband's all-time favourite dish. We've often wished it could be adopted in Scottish cuisine; after all, haggis and black pudding also have their roots in French "cuisine paysanne".
Mind you, we also discovered that the wild boar isn't friendly. Walking in the hills of haute Provence, we felt the rumble of his hooves underfoot and heard lavender, rosemary and olive branches snap as the mighty beast ran. We never saw him, but got that this is not animal to mess with (they can weigh up to 14 stone).
Terrified residents of the area surrounding Aberfoyle are finding the same thing right now, as around 20 boars have escaped from a nearby country estate, causing damage to their gardens. Officials have warned it's an offence to release a non-native species into the wild.
Yet wild boar were once native to Scotland, and only became extinct in the 17th century. Before that they were regarded as animals of great importance, reserved mainly for the chase from the 11th. In his essay on Historical Wild Boars in Scotland, Thomas Wallace writes that a Latin manuscript giving the history of the Gordon family, dated 1545, stated that in 1057 a wild boar had been slaughtered by a member of that family in Huntly Forest. And records of the old cathedral of St Andrews say that in 1520 a gigantic boar was killed, which had slain both men and cattle. Boars' tusks were found during the construction of the road on the south side of Edinburgh Castle, and in the caves at Oban.
The animals were hunted not only for sport but for food, particularly as a celebrated Christmas dish. In medieval Scotland a slain boar's head flavoured with rosemary and mustard would be placed on the table "with great ceremony and much rejoicing" while nobles, knights, and ladies sang.
Typically, though, they were so prized they were hunted to extinction.
Now they're back, having been reintroduced to the Highlands in 2009 to help cut back bracken and encourage the growth of native trees and woodland flowers.
There are roughly 1300 wild boar in captivity, held across 13 sites in Scotland. In addition, there are almost certainly three hybrid populations living and breeding outside of captivity. It's not illegal to shoot wild boar, but as they're elusive, nocturnal creatures, humane killing is a skilled and time-consuming task.
Highland Meats of Stirling was the first to introduce wild boar to the area, primarily to aid forest and woodland management. They offer a 350g pack of diced boar steak for £6.80.
Anyone for a nice plate of Daube d'Aberfoyle?
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