If I can’t be fishing or hunting, I want to be in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Hunting can be a fraught topic. Some of my most favorite and least favorite people seem to do it. But if it is done honorably (not a la Cheney) hunters can be stewards of land and wildlife. As the editor of Covey Rise magazine, John Thames, writes, stewardship of “wild birds in wild places.”
It requires an attentiveness to the land and the season, as Chef Chris Hastings writes, “a knowledge of the moment you’re in.” Finally, a good hunter, like Thames’ grandfather, will waste nothing, dressing the catch and eating there or sharing it with someone who will.
Most of us have limited experience with wild food—maybe some venison ground for chili. A friend once gave me some rabbit that he hunted mostly because he loved to run his dogs. That became a rabbit pie served to a selected group of diners who could banish bunny thoughts. Another friend shared a haunch of wild boar that we researched before cooking, serving it with a Cumberland Sauce.
Game, which in this book includes gamebirds, but also fish, boar, rabbit, elk, and foraged ingredients like morels and reindeer moss, is a rare and wonderful thing. It can’t be heedlessly cooked like supermarket meat and this book will help you make the most of it offering techniques for cleaning and cooking it in earthy and elegant recipes. It will guide you in truly honoring the animal.
The book begins with the recounting of a Swamp Supper, the kind of party you dream about being invited to. An 80-year tradition, wild game meal for 200, centered on the burgoo-like Swamp Stew, where the gender divide still rules. Ladies contribute pies and cakes, men man the fire. Though, Lou Dailey makes cornbread muffins for 200 by starting with 30 pounds of self-rising cornmeal–nothing dainty about that.
The recipes, some gathered from chefs like Frank Stitt, David Guas, and Dean Fearing, have a certain character–big flavors like Elk Vindaloo, and Gamebird Posole Soup. They layer sweet, tart, and earthy flavors in a recipe like Pheasant on Red Cabbage and Cranberries with Roasted Vegetables and Wilted Spinach. Even if you had to substitute chicken, this sounds good.
The recipes feature alcohol, in Red Wine Gravy and Pheasant Applejack. Even the sides, like Aunt Esta’s Dinner Rolls, which are cooked in a skillet or the texture and slight bitterness of a wintery Chicories, Apples and Pecan salad, make themselves known. Desserts, like Fire Roasted Pineapple with Rum or Banana Sandie (kind of a sweet hobo pack) take advantage of the campfire and others, like Spiced Molasses Pound Cake or Grandma’s Wyoming Whoppers go all out for flavor–chocolate and spice.
Even without a ranch or a gun, with some creative provisioning, you can still capture field flavors.