Kitchen Essentials and Venison Sausage

Eating locally and seasonally in Connecticut is a hard task unless you plan ahead.  Making things and storing them for future times is essential to a happy cook and a well-stocked kitchen.  In order to put up produce and meat, sauces and fruits, I have some essentials in my kitchen that I could not live without.  Below you will find a list of must-haves for preparing for leaner times. 

Freezer

I can’t say enough about investing in a good chest freezer.  The simplest way to store meat, vegetables, and fruit is to freeze them as soon as possible after picking or harvesting.  It maintains the vitamins and nutrients far better than canning or other methods, and in most cases keeps the food safe for months or even years.  It is the easiest and fastest way to put up a harvest at its freshest, and to store produce for the winter months.  I have a deep chest freezer that I bought new from Sears for about 350.00, and I store thousands of dollars’ worth of fresh meat and vegetables in it every fall to last through the winter months.  If you don’t have one, don’t want to incur the cost of a new one, there are several online sites where you might shop for a used one for much less.  So much of the excess produce from my kitchen garden goes into the freezer right after picking, and it is such a delight to browse the shelves for a cooking idea knowing that my choices are ripe, delicious, healthful, and clean.    

                Canning pot or Pressure cooker.

A canning pot is a lovely thing to have, and very useful for storing jellies, sauces, broth, fish, and some veggies.  Not all veggies are suitable for canning fresh, so we can mainly prepared foods, like chili and tomato sauces, sweet butters and jellies and cooked vegetables like sauerkraut.  We use ours most often during the fall months when we make and can sweets and sauces to give as gifts during the holidays.  We also jar hot sauces and pickles of all sorts, chilies, beans, corn and tomatoes.  If you lack a proper canning pot, take some time to look for one at your local thrift or consignment store, where they can often be picked up for a few dollars.  Without one, you can still make many canning recipes in a regular sturdy pot.

                Juicer

I love my juicer.  It was given to me by a dear friend who lived off the grid.  He had a generator for electricity, but every time he tried to juice he would blow a fuse.  When he parted with the juicer, he made me promise to make him juice anytime he came to visit, and even though he still lives at about 10,000 feet, deep in the mountains of Colorado, with no phone,  I’m still waiting to make good on my promise.  The juicer is a Champion, and very old and outdated.  It is essentially a big motor connected to a shaft that drives a shredder and some plastic implements to strain the juice, but it will juice anything.  I could put a potato in and get potato juice.  I use it for fresh fruit and veggie juice during the summer months, (carrot beet apple is my favorite) and in the fall I juice leftover kale and spinach, freeze the juice and add it to soups and stews during the winter to add flavor and green nutrients. 

                Dehydrator

Anyone can use their oven for a dehydrator, but it’s just so quick and easy to use one made for the purpose that this is on my list as well.  With the dehydrator there is no need to turn the produce, as it gets evenly dry in a much shorter time than using the oven.   We use ours to dry fruit for snacks, beef jerky, dried fish to be used in soups, and most especially mushrooms.  Dried and then frozen, mushrooms can be stored for years in the freezer, but they never make it that long.  Wild mushrooms are a treasure and  we hoard them in season and use them sparingly for the rest of the year.  I’m learning more and more about the wild world of fungi and I’m excited for a season of mushrooming this summer and fall. 

                Grinder/sausage maker

When you hunt or gather the majority of your own protein, having a grinder is a blessing.  Meatloaf, hamburgers, hash, and meatballs all require the meat to be finely ground.  The added benefit is, with a small attachment, ground meat can be stuffed into casing to make delicious sausage!  I love venison sausage, and many of our friends and family have come to love it as well.  It’s one of the things we give as gifts during the holidays and it is always well received.  My husband makes a garlic cheddar sausage that is mouth-wateringly good.  The recipe follows.

                Cheddar Garlic Venison Sausage

4 Lbs. Venison, ground fine

1 ¼ Lb. Pork fat, ground fine

8-10 cloves garlic, chopped fine

½   Lb. Cheddar cheese

2+ Tbsp. Crushed red pepper, depending on your spice tolerance

½ cup white wine

2 Tsp. Sugar

1+ Tbsp. coarse ground Black pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

5 feet medium sausage casing (you can get this from a butcher).

 Mix the fat and meat together and then mix in the remaining ingredients.  Mix by hand until everything is uniform.  Stuff the casings with the mixture into 4 to 5 inch lengths.  Allow to settle in the fridge for a day or two, to allow the flavors to blend.   Cook in water or stock, on a grill or pan fry over medium low heat.  These can be used like any sausage, served alone or with pasta, in a salad, or on sandwiches.  They freeze remarkably well.   Try substituting any game meat.  We made them with caribou once and they were just as delicious.

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Grandma Sadie’s Deer

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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.

Grampa

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.

INGREDIENTS

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.