The autumn breeze is warm, but a bit crisp, and hints of the winter to come as the sun shines through leaves of the maple in front of me. It sings the warm thoughts of pumpkins roasting with spice over crackling fires and cast iron pots with venison bones braising, the beginning of venison stew.
This is my setting right now! I’m feeling pretty proud today. It’s bow hunting season and my son brought down his first deer. We’re able to share in this moment of the hunt and cooking the day’s catch! His smile and joyous energy is exciting to me in his desire to learn how to break a deer down to provide a meal for the day, and for days to come.
It’s a sense of achievement to hunt and provide dinner. It’s a trait that is embedded in the heart of a hunter, in tradition and learning, and passed down through generations.
Throughout the centuries, people have struggled to provide food for families. Their survival depended on the hunt. Civilization had to procure for the year and create different recipes to prepare for long winters.
What I see today is civilization has taken a new road in the struggle for families in affordable food and to provide daily meals. Much of the new hunter gatherers are coupon clippers for frozen, boxed, or canned foods that are highly processed for quick consumption. But low cost and quick consumption has a price. They’re made with high amounts of sodium, sugar, and preservative chemicals that can ultimately affect the health of those who consume them.
Is it coupons that compel people to purchase large quantities of food and products they may likely have never bought had it not been for a coupon and the idea of “saving” money? Or is it due to a matter of convenience that people stock up on frozen foods and pantry items in such large quantities that instead of making it to the dinner table, the long past Best Used By date sends it to the landfill?
I ponder these questions often, as one’s relationship with food, food purchases, and a society’s eating habits fascinate me. When I’m a guest in other homes, I always offer to prepare a meal. I call it Mystery Pantry Pickers, my riff on the TV series Chopped and American Pickers. I’m surprised at what I find in pantries and freezers and my motto, “I can cook anything, anytime, anywhere” occasionally leaves me guessing. I wonder if I’ll be able to prepare an authentic great meal from what are now regular, but uncommon, ingredients that come from shrink-wrapped or cardboard food boxes, cans, and frozen dinners. Many of which are well beyond the Best Used By date. 😳
In areas such as Panama, it’s easy to cook anything, anytime, anywhere. I’m working with fresh, unadulterated food and my only concerns are cooking vessels, utensils, and heat. Where I find the most difficulty in making a dish taste perfect is a typical pantry, due to all the sixteen letter ingredients used to preserve food and the lasting flavor of the packaging.
I feel as if I’ve struck gold when I come across food canned in glass jars. I adore food in glass jars. It’s naturally preserved and holds the flavor of the food, not the packaging. I taste tin from cans and I can even taste cardboard in a container of steel cut oats.
I believe canning is an expiring art for the majority. It can be incredibly rewarding and a family experience. It allows for the enjoyment of great food made together and eaten later in the year when out of season. A great tomato sauce or a marinated fresh tuna taste so much brighter when preserved or canned in glass jars. Storing food in glass in general also seems to be an expiring concept. Manufacturers strive for the best eco-friendly and recyclable containers, but what’s more eco-friendly and instantly recyclable than a glass container?
But, I digress. I generally shop or procure ingredients each day. It affords me the thought of what I might prepare. I seek out freshness and quality so it results in a proper, great tasting meal that is nutritious, healthy, and low in sodium and sugar. I do, however, find it encouraging to see the new “fad” diets are essentially a return to fresh home-cooked meals.
My personal excitement of food lies in the pleasure of wild food. Part of it is in the find and the hunt, but it’s more about it being healthy, clean, and nutritious. These days, hunting and foraging for dinner is a way of life for a handful of people, but not the majority. Yet another expiring art. Going shopping for your next meal in the woods, stream, or ocean is another rewarding experience. On the day of my son’s hunting expedition, for example, we also found some black walnuts and edible wild mushrooms.
We found some unedible mushrooms , like the red Sickening or Vomit Mushroom , 🤮 and some questionable, but interesting mushrooms too. Only those we were sure about made it to the cooking pot. When it comes to wild mushrooms, if you’re unsure of the ID, let it be!
Even cooking together, using grandmother’s or Aunt Dorothy’s time honored recipes, can be rewarding as well. Passing along the family tradition when shopping within nature, or using fresh food, creates an abundance of healthy nutritious meals that can be canned and shared. But most importantly, it creates memories that last longer than the Best Used By date and maintains traditions so they never expire.
Like my son’s first deer. Teaching him how to break it down into various cuts and later, cooking together and enjoying a venison stew from the fruits of his labor are memories that will never be forgotten and, as a father, I hope he passes down what he learned from me to his children.
Congratulations Alex I love you!
Father’s Venison Stew (can sub beef for venison)
- 1 large onion, halved
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3-4 large carrots
- 2 bell peppers, halved
- 1 bunch cilantro fresh
- 4 tomatoes, halved
- 1 herb sachet (nutmeg black pepper corn, thyme, marjoram, mustard seed, bay leaf, cinnamon stick)
- 8 quarts water
Grill venison bones and vegetables, add water to 10 quart stock pot. Bring to slow boil add bones and vegetables and herbs and spices and let slow simmer for two hours. Strain in fine mesh strainer, return broth, and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer over medium heat and reduce stock by half. Cool and reserve.
Ingredients for Stew
- 2 quarts venison stock
- 2 lbs cubed venison meat
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups white wine
- 1 large diced yellow onion
- 1 pound large dice potatoes
- 3-4 large diced carrots
- 1/2 cup large diced fennel
- 2 cups quartered white mushroom
- 2 cup quartered tomatoes
Bring stock to a boil and reduce to simmer in 5 quart pot. (After the stock comes to a boil, it can be transferred to a large crock pot if you’d like. ) Add venison meat cubes, wine, and butter, and let simmer for one hour or until meat becomes tender. Then add potato, carrot, onion, and fennel and let simmer until tender. Lastly add tomato and mushroom and simmer for an additional thirty minutes.
Season with salt and pepper and serve with a hearty brown bread or pumpernickel around a cozy fire with friends and family.
Until next time, Cheers!