Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kind of Gamey



I spent a large portion of my life being vegetarian. It started when I was 14 and didn't end until I was 23 and pregnant with my second child. Even then I wasn't so committed to being a meat-eater and often went back to being vegetarian. Recently (I'm now nearly 34), I have been much more of a meat-eater since going gluten-free. There's only so much you can give up at one time. So, not really having so much experience with the cooking of meat, I wasn't quite prepared for one of the biggest lessons I've learned since moving to my mountain home a few months ago. But, I can tell you now, I have a much better idea of what one does with a dead deer.

One day I heard a distant gunshot and thought very little about it at the time. Shannon's daughter Avia was visiting and maybe that was them doing target practice. You never know out here. Later, however, I got a phone call and soon was taking a walk to their house carrying a giant stock pot. I've actually taken part in the killing and prepping of a chicken before, so the turkey ordeal was not so very unfamiliar. He was just bigger than the chicken. The three of us, Shannon, Avia and I, spent a great deal of time plucking feathers out of this enormous bird that evening. It started to remind me of plucking eyebrows strangely enough. This led to a discussion of electrolysis as a form of feather removal. Really, what else do you talk about while relieving a dead turkey of it's foliage? I ended up taking the turkey home with me and finishing up a creepy yet satisfying meticulous search for the rebellious feathers that only popped up after slightly more boiling. Finally it was recipe time. I attempted to cook the turkey legs as one might prepare chicken legs, only they are larger and so need more time. This proved to be slightly unappealing and led me to the discovery of the true meaning of a "gamey" taste. I was unsure how to improve the toughness of the meat other then stew (which is what I did to the rooster I killed a couple years ago). Then began the endless turkey stew. Each night I added new things to the leftover stew of the previous evening. It got better and better. Several nights of dinner and the strange late night of dead bird prep was totally worth it.

The next wild animal adventure was fish. To be exact, a small-ish wide-mouthed bass. I walked home from Shannon's house with this dead fish, head and scales and everything, with no clue what I was to do with it or if I had the tools I needed. But some strange faith led me home regardless, feeling like I had a plan I just didn't know about yet. This time I had in my possession Storey's Basic Country Skills, a book I had on loan from the Livermore library that has proven to be a very very great thing to have around at a time like this. The children read to me the instructions by flashlight as I followed step by step as best as I could. I started to wonder if I needed new knives during this process. I also entertained the children by, shockingly, making the dead fish talk to them with some very simple manipulation. That was kind of fun in a somewhat gross sort of way. Terran was intrigued with the whole ordeal and wanted me to extract the fish's brain and let him keep it and the eyes. I opted to not allow this at this time. Perhaps later I will learn the fine art of fish-brain-extraction, but not today. At the end of our fun, we had morsels of tasty fish with rice and veggies while listening to Prairie Home Companion on the internet. Yum.

But, our wild animal adventures were not over yet! No, by some strange twists of fate and circumstance, a dead deer ended up in the hands of Shannon and I. Now the third animal to be dressed for dinner! It was late at night and we were totally unprepared to deal with this large animal, yet here it was and not following through seemed to be a waste. By the light of car headlights and with insufficient kitchen knives, we skinned and gutted the enormous buck. Neither one of us makes a habit of hunting and/or eating deer, so this was all very new and strange. Somehow we did it though and there it was, a whole lot of red meat to be dealt with. Back to Storey's Guide I go looking for answers... Here is where I become absolutely certain that I need a better set of knives! We managed to get a large portion of meat off of this deer with a lot of help from Jamie and other people he recruited to help him. I spent a long day cooking a yummy Venison Stew for a gathering of people. It got great reviews and was gobbled up quickly. We made cat food out of the gristly bits and packaged up the good meat to be stored in my fridge and freezer. Yet still a nearly whole deer carcass remained in the cooler. Several trips from town to bring back ice and many more hours spent removing meat and prepping it for storage. My knives were not keeping up and life was just giving me too much other stuff that had to be done right away. And then... then, of course, my fridge runs out of propane while I'm gone and the meat in there goes very, very bad. All that is left is the stuff in the freezer that stayed frozen. And now, the remains of the deer in the cooler are not going to be ok for use. I just ran out of time. Thankfully, though, we got a few dinners already out of this animal and my freezer has packages of venison prepped for jerky and for grinding. I plan to make some venison jerky for Shannon in thanks for all of the meat he's been bringing to us. I'm also going to grind the rest of the venison to make it easier for eating. We've found the red meat difficult for the kids and I to eat, and especially for Maia whose braces tend to complicate her eating. So we'll eat Venison burgers and I will have mine on gluten-free bread. :)

I have concluded from all of this that it is a very good thing to be prepared for anything. I'm looking into a better set of knives and more tools for preparing food from the abundant wild animals that inhabit these mountains. (My birthday is next month, btw.)

And, this post is made possible by my dear friend Shannon who looks out for me and the protein content of my diet. :)

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