Last week my Dad sent this email to my boys.
Dear Nate & Simon:
Your Great, Great, Great Granny Sadie Smith (your mom’s dad’s mom’s grandmother) lived on a farm in southern Quebec. One crisp fall morning, all the men went out hunting and left Sadie at home with the kids and the chores. Later in the morning, she spied a large buck out by the edge of the garden. Taking a rifle in hand, she snuck out onto the back porch and dropped the deer where it stood. She gutted it and managed to drag it into the barn and hoist it up.
When the men returned from hunting, they complained that the deer were scarce and it would be amazing if they got any venison this year, at which Sadie told them not to worry, there would be no concern about that.
The men started to argue with Sadie and tell her that they knew the woods and they knew the hunting and they knew about the scarcity of deer in the area and that she should tend to her chores and her obligations.
She agreed to do that and advised them that her chores did not include butchering the big buck in the barn so: THEY should get to their chores and finish them before they could eat any supper.
Love you all.
This fall I proved to be my great, great, grandmother’s, er…..great, great, granddaughter. I got a tag for private land deer in Connecticut and filled it with a small buck that I shot early one morning from the back porch. I shot the deer while I was expertly concealed in a rocking chair behind the climbing hydrangea, ensconced in camouflage, under which I still had on my jammies. I had spent the previous four mornings in a tree stand out at the pond, seeing nothing and freezing my butt off. It was a lovely shot, and felled the deer instantly. Before school Nathan and I gutted it and dragged it back to the house. We hung it to cure under the porch. I was very pleased with myself. It was the first whitetail I had ever ‘hunted’.
I’ve been a hunter for most of my adult life. I have hunted elk in Colorado, caribou and moose in Canada, pheasant, chuckar and partridge, even squirrel and rabbit, and now deer in Connecticut. The first large animal I killed was a young caribou in Newfoundland. Afterwards I cried. I still cry. And then I pray.
I kill animals to eat them and to feed to my family. Do I like to kill? No. It’s the worse part of hunting. Do I like to hunt? Yes. It’s great fun. I hear so many people bash hunting and hunters while gobbling a hamburger that it makes me sad. Choosing to eat animal flesh and tricking yourself into thinking that you have no part in the death of animals lying to yourself. It’s like putting a bag over your head and telling yourself no one can’t see you. If you eat meat, you participate in the killing of animals, just indirectly. And participating in something you condemn indirectly, in my mind, makes you a coward. Worse of all, in most cases it’s participation in abhorrent practices, like the American beef industry. How can any person watch the documentary Meet your Meat (I won’t put the link because it’s too gruesome) Or Frankensteer, (http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Frankensteer), or even Food Inc. (https://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Food_Inc.) and still choose to purchase beef in the grocery store , while condemning hunting at the same time is beyond me. It indicates the extreme alienation we have from our food. Choosing to kill animals, whether domestic or wild, and therefore taking responsibility for yourself, or becoming a vegan, is the only sane response. In choosing to hunt I can have some control in the death of the animal, and strive to make it as humane, painless and respectful as possible. My killing is done with skill, honor and gratitude for the lives I take. It’s not easy either. I’ll probably always cry.
But enough about that! What’s for dinner?
VENISON STEW (makes about 6 servings)
Here is a recipe for venison stew that is an old standby because it is so easy and versatile. Stew likes to cook long and sit, so make it in the early part of the day. It’s perfect for those days when you have a busy evening schedule and don’t want to end up stopping for pizza on the way home. This stew comes out differently every time, depending on what you have and what you add. Feel free to experiment. I’ve even used a half cup of bourbon instead of the wine.
3 tbs Olive Oil
1.5 lbs Venison, Chopped into small cubes 1/2 inch
Salt and pepper
1 Large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic or more if you like it, chopped
1/4 cup organic cornmeal
Some old red wine (a cup or two will be enough) The flavor will be different depending on the wine, but it’s all good.
Dash of Worcestershire
Broth (chicken, beef, turkey, vegetable.) enough to cover the meat and vegetables completely and then another 2 cups. Perhaps 5 cups total
Bouquet garni: either fresh or dried. If dried, I make a spice packet and put it in a empty tea bag. Just fold it up and staple it again. Use 1/2 tsp. each of rosemary,parsley, basil, oregano, bay leaf.
Vegetables, chopped into small bites. (here’s where you can get creative) Use what you have in the fridge. This can include parsnips, turnips, white potatoes, carrots. For green vegetables try green onions, celery, leeks, peas, parsley. You don’t need a wide variety, but make sure you have about 4 cups of vegetables total.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy cast iron pot or dutch oven on medium heat. Salt and pepper the meat generously . Add half of the cubes of venison and fry until browned. Remove from the pan and repeat with the rest of the meat, saving the juices. Next, turn the hear down to medium low and add the onion, cooking until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and soft, but not browned. Replace the meat and juices in the pan with the onion and garlic. Sprinkle the cornmeal over the meat and onions and stir. De-glaze the pan with the wine, and add the Worcestershire sauce . Then add the vegetables and enough broth to cover the food plus another two cups. Add the herbs, and turn the heat to high. When the stew boils, put it onto the smallest burner on the stove and turn the heat down to low.
Now leave the kitchen and do all the busy things you have to do for the next 3 hours. If you happen to think about the stew, give it a stir. Make sure there is enough liquid in the pot that the vegetables and meat stay covered. Later, when you smell something wonderful coming from the kitchen, turn the stew off. It’s fine to leave it to sit on the stove for the rest of the day. It must cook for at least 2-3 hours, but can be cooked as long as 5 if you happen to forget about it. Serve the stew with a green salad, crusty bread, cornbread, or even crackers.