Wild Meat

An average day

How many types of plants do you eat in a day? I tried to count the daily variety of plants in my diet, and the number is on average around 15 a day. I included a couple of pieces of fruit, a salad with 6 vegetables, and a diner that includes 5 more, for example a side dish, onions, garlic etc. I guess if I included spices it would be higher. I didn’t count things like flour or sugar, as those things aren’t really like wheat or cane anymore. So lets call it 20 on a good day.

Recently I’ve been reading about things like polyphenols, curcuminoids, flavonoids and things like food combining for bioavailability. Spell check doesn’t even contain these words yet, because they are new terminology for new things no one even knew about 3 years ago, and they go way beyond your daily vitamins. You won’t find them on your USDA food plate. Suffice it to say, there is a whole lot going on behind the scenes when it comes to our relationship with food and health. My take away so far is….we don’t know the half of it.

What I do know is that in almost every instance, a variety of things is healthier than a whole bunch of only one thing, in the garden, in the kitchen, in life. I know that things grown in a natural manner are healthier than things grown artificially. I know that, when we eat something, our bodies take on the benefits of that thing, in the form of nutrients and energy and satisfaction, and, I’m certain, in ways we have yet to discover. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that eating a wide variety of foods, the widest possible variety, would give you the broadest spectrum for health and wellness?

A wild ruminant can consume over 200 species of plant life in a day. 200! And they eat tons of things that you couldn’t even chew, let alone digest, like lichen and tree bark. Imagine what unknown flavonoids could be lurking in those funny red berries you saw in the woods last fall (that you should never eat without properly identifying!) Maybe the deer will eat them.

I think we really have no idea what’s going on at all when it comes to our food relationships.

That said, I’m going to stagger my odds and try to capitalize on those 200 plants. I’m going to eat the deer that eats them.

Below you will find many other healthful reasons to eat venison. If you are wondering where to get some, ask any hunter. We love to share! Don’t know a hunter? Go to a gun store and ask. Believe it or not, hunters are really friendly people.

On the table is Corned Venison, in honor of St. Patrick’s day next weekend. I poached this recipe directly from honest-food.net, my favorite wild game chef. Thank you Hank Shaw!

Corned Venison

Prep Time 20 mins, Cook Time 3 hrs, Total Time 3 hrs 20 mins 

1/2 gallon water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 ounce Instacure No. 1 (sodium nitrite) Don’t leave this out! You can order if from Amazon

1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds

6 bay leaves, crushed

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 cinnamon stick

5 chopped garlic cloves

A 3 to 5 pound venison roast

Instructions

  1. Add everything but the roast to a pot and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover, then let it cool to room temperature while covered. This will take a few hours. Meanwhile, trim any silverskin you find off the roast. Leave the fat. Once the brine is cool, find a container just about large enough to hold the roast, place the meat inside and cover with the brine. You might have extra, which you can discard.
  2. Make sure the roast is completely submerged in the brine; I use a clean stone to weigh the meat down. You can also just flip the meat every day. Cover and put in the fridge for 5 to 7 days, depending on the roast’s size. A 2-pound roast might only need 4 days. The longer you soak, the saltier it will get — but you want the salt and nitrate to work its way to the center of the roast, and that takes time. Err on extra days, not fewer days.
  3. After the alloted time has passed, you have corned venison. To cook and eat, rinse off the meat, then put the roast in a pot just large enough to hold it and cover with fresh water. You don’t want too large a pot or the fresh water will leach out too much flavor from the meat — it’s an osmosis thing. partially cover the pot and simmer gently — don’t boil — for at least 3 hours and up to 5 hours. The meat itself will be cooked in an hour or less, but you want the sinews and connective tissue in the roast to soften and that takes time.
  4. Eat hot or cold. It is absolutely fantastic with good mustard and some sauerkraut on a sandwich.

One final tip: When you are done with the corned venison, leave it in the cooking broth. Store that in the fridge. Why? The broth keeps the venison moist. Without fat, if you leave it out of the brine it can get very dry and even crumbly.

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Down Time

Ah, January. One of my favorite months. Not only because its often snowy and sunny at the same time, like today, but because I don’t have to be doing doing doing every minute of every day. I’m speaking as a gardener when I say there is always something to be doing in the garden. Except in January.

This is my down time. The time when I get to relax and just think about the garden. I can plan what steps I need to take in the spring. I can lay out my vegetables on my garden plan. I can shop seed catalogs. I can daydream about it, or not, but I don’t have to show up every day and get my hands dirty.

Sure, there are other things to be doing in January, like shoveling snow, but I don’t feel the urgency of things needing to be done yesterday, the crisis of time passing while weeds are growing, that I feel in the warmer months. It feels nice to relax.

It’s also wrestling season, another one of my favorite times. Well, not the wrestling part, actually, that isn’t terribly pleasant. The part I love is watching my 17 yo son kick some booty on the mat. That part is super fun. He’s really good.

Since this blog is about gardening and eating (mostly), you’re probably wondering what is on the table at Winter Farm this snowy season. Well, we are enjoying the moose meat that my son, (also a world traveling hunter) brought back from Newfoundland this fall. We have a bunch of duck, goose, pheasant and venison in the freezer too. I’ve been having fun cooking from Hank Shaw’s cookbooks Duck Duck Goose, and Buck Buck Moose. https://honest-food.net/ He’s a terribly clever chef of wild game.

So what am I doing with all my free down time? I decided to write a novel. Ha ha, I know. I can hear you all laughing. As you should. I don’t really know how to write fiction, and so I’m learning as I go. Playing catch up and realizing it is nothing like I though it would be. Hard work. I have a whole new respect for authors. Anyone out there with advice for a wannabe author?

Berry Season

Summer’s heat is upon us, with temperatures climbing towards the 90’s, and with the heat comes the season of the berry. Blueberries and black raspberries are the first out of the gate in early July, changing almost overnight from pale green and rose to deep blue and black, respectively.

Wild black raspberries are one of my favorite summer treats. Of all the things I forage for in the wild, these luscious gems are a truly one of my favorites. Sweet yet tart, they are best eaten right away, or as soon as you can get them home and into a bowl of cream. They are very delicate and don’t hold up well to storage, unless you plan to freeze them. If you intend to make anything other than jam with the frozen ones, it’s best to freeze them in a single layer on a sheet. Otherwise they will end up as juice in a bag.

Picking black raspberries is no picnic, as they say, and this is one treat you have to work for. They mostly grow along hedgerows and by the sides of dirt roads, and are often laced with stinging nettle and Multi-flora rose brambles, neither of which feels good on bare skin. They like shade and the first ones to ripen are often under other plants. Plan your berry picking foray to include boots and long pants, as well as a wide brimmed hat to protect against the ever present gnats. A long sleeved shirt and some bug repellent go a long way toward making it a pleasant experience. Berries ripen over time, so if you want any quantity for jam or jelly, plan on picking every two days while they are in season.

Picking fresh blueberries is somewhat easier, especially if you have a well tended patch, as we do. I was just in the nick of time in getting mine covered against the birds this summer, as the day after I put up the netting they began to turn blue. Experience has taught me that the berries I deem to be “almost ripe” are perfectly edible to the host of birds hovering just over my shoulder waiting for me to leave. We have lost entire crops of the succulent morsels by waiting one too many days to put up the nets. The protective tent only helps so much though; almost every day I shoo out a hungry fellow that has managed to find a hole or sneak under.

Blueberries are very easy to maintain. They don’t require spraying and are not bothered by pests. They need little pruning and seem to winter well. We have not had any problems with the deer eating them. Harvest seems to depend more on the weather than any other factor and this year they are ripening early. Ours have grown slowly over time, but are abundant producers and we average about 5 gallons a year from 10 bushes. Pie, and more pie, is our first choice for stored berries, especially in the winter months. They freeze well, but I can’t tell you how long they keep because they don’t last long!

Berries are one of natures super-foods, and wild berries even more so. Packed with antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, they not only taste delicious but are really good for you. Everyone should save a spot in their garden for a blueberry bush or two, and if you don’t have a garden, try growing them in pots. It’s well worth the effort, for your taste buds as well as your health.

Cattails. Yum!

I wonder how many people have said or thought that in the last 50 or 100 years.  Not many, I’d bet, but perhaps I’m wrong.  I’d like to be pleasantly surprised and find that it’s more than I think.  I know there is a semi-secretive but emerging group of wild food specialists out there, but I thought they stayed mostly to mushrooms. 

Speaking of pleasantly surprised, I was after my recent cattail adventure. 

Our pond is overrun with cattails, and up to a few days ago I looked on them with disapproval mingled with despair.  Our pond wants to be a swamp again, and the cattails are the first determined step it is taking to revert to its natural state.  In the past we have used a backhoe to dig them out when they got to be too abundant, and on occasion my husband will don full waders and attack them with hoe and shovel, but it seems to be a futile attempt: they continue to populate at an alarming rate.  Well, yesterday I got my revenge.  I went out to the pond, sharp knife in hand, and cut all the new shoots just emerging from the shallows.  I peeled off the outer green stalk, took them home and ATE THEM!  HAHAHAHA!Image

The surprising thing was that they were actually good.  Really.  Good. 

Cattails can be great fun, especially for kids.  Bashing each other with the cigar-like heads and creating a haze of cattail spores is a treasured summer pastime for those with ponds nearby.  The heads can also be used as impromptu torches.  They smoke wildly and make a terrific mess, but it’s still fun.  Then recently I was killing time reading a book called Foraging New England by Tom Seymour and learned that cattails are edible.  I thought I’d give it a try. 

Eating something entirely new can be a daunting experience.  For a few minutes after I ate them, I thought I might get a stomach ache.  Not because I felt funny, but because they were so entirely different.  If someone had served them to me on china and called them something fancy, I might have relished them right off the bat, but plucking them out of the mud and scraping off the tough outer layer, then slicing them on a salad, made me a bit skeptical of their authenticity as food.  I tried to remember the first time I had had endives, or leeks, as they have a similar flavor, but I couldn’t come up with anything.  Then I remembered trying fiddlehead ferns for the first time.  Earthy, delicate and entirely delicious, fiddleheads are one of those strange spring delights that my children anticipate, harvest, cook and serve to us each year.  Finally, after not getting sick, and realizing they tasted pretty good,  I decided that they might have a place in my repertoire of “wild things I eat.”

First I tried them raw.  As I had been thinking about endive, I started there, and made a salad with celery, Bibb lettuce, endive, and sliced cattails.  For protein I added some chopped grilled salmon and some bacon, and topped it with a crumble of chevre and pine nits.  It was entirely delicious.Image

Then I decided to try them cooked.  Everything (in my opinion)  goes with eggs, so I decided on an onion and cattail scramble, served with salt, pepper, and a dash of hot sauce.  (My favorite is homemade, but Cholula is a good store-bought second).  That was a success. The cattails held up well, and didn’t get mushy as I feared.  Next time I’ll try sautéed fennel and cattails with garlic cream sauce as a side.  I even served them to a young friend of my son in a salad and he gobbled them up, not even noticing they were there. Image

 

If you have any nutrition information for cattails, or any tried and true recipes, I would love to hear about them!