Stalking The White Tail...

By: 
Shirley Prudhomme

Can you believe it? The High Holy Days of Deer Season in TIMESLand are upon us. Thanksgiving is just a week away, and after that, Christmas is just a month in the future!

On Friday afternoon and evening the highways will be jammed with carloads of armed hunters (mainly men) heading north, and on Saturday morning, most of them will be out in the forest, hoping to get a deadly shot at Da Turdy Point Buck! (A few will have celebrated too much the night before, but that’s their problem.)

Roads shoud be good. Long-range weather forecast so far say there won’t be any tracking snow this year. They’re telling us to expect somewhat mild temperatures and clear to partly cloudy skies through opening weekend, then some drizzles on Monday and a nasty rain and snow mix on Tuesday before things clear up again on Wednesday and Thursday.

Glad the Weatherman doesn’t appear to be preparing anything nasty for Thanksgiving eve, which is often one of the highest traffic days of the year here in Marinette County, where the deer outnumber humans  by at least two to one. For many years, my drive home on the eve of Opening Day or Thanksgiving or both, was a hazardous slide on sheets of ice.

GATHERING OF THE CLAN

Gun deer season in our family isn’t just about getting horns for the wall or venison for the table, although that certainly makes it better. The special week that starts with Opening Day and has Thanksgiving in the middle always has been the time for a special gathering of the clan, a time for relatives and friends to get together, a time for men to tell old stories, and for boys to listen, so some day they can pass those same stories on to their own sons.

It has long been a time for women to relax and shop if they stayed at home while the menfolk went north, or for them to exchange photos, swap recipes, share chores and admire each others’ kids at the family homestead if they and the hunters were headquartered there.

Everyone at hunting headquarters got to eat lightly cooked fresh venison tenderloin slices on toast for breakfast If the previous day’s hunt had been successful.

ON THE SOAP BOX

KEEP THE WORDS

Read recently that we need to make more effort to keep the “thanks” in “Thanksgiving”, and more “Christ” in “Christmas.” Thoroughly agree. Let’s make a promise to one another here and now that during the coming Christmas season we won’t be exchanging wishes for “Happy Holidays,” but for a “Merry Christmas.”

If those who worship some other God, or no God, are offended, so be it. Better that they be offended than the almighty God that Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about.

And let’s remember, when the family is gathered around the Thanksgiving table, to bow our heads offer a few words of thanks, no matter how brief.

QUESTIONING THANKSGIVING

Seems like the scholars of our day are trying to destroy everything we believe in. Now some claim the Pilgrims never held a Thanksgiving feast in Autumn, but they certainly had at least one after their first harvest in 1621, unless someone made up the first-hand account said to have been written by Edward Winslow, one of the Plymouth Rock Colony’s leaders.

That feast would have been held in their first Autumn, on the North American continent, less than a year after they landed at Plymouth rock on Dec. 21, 1620.

The Pilgrims were an extremely devout people, and it’s hard to believe they would not have offered a special thanks after a harvest substantial enough to offer hope that the coming winter wouldn’t be a repeat of the horrible first year of starvation in the New World. And I find it hard to believe that after all that starving they would celebrate by fasting, as some claim. That just wouldn’t happen!   

Winslow, quoted in “Mourt’s Relation”, said: 

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

From his account, we know they had plenty of food, and it sounds like they relaxed and had a bit of fun. According to other accounts, in addition to the venison provided by the Massasoit and his friends, there was enough wild fowl to supply the village for a week. The fowl included ducks, geese, turkeys and even swans. How wonderful for people who had been starving to death a few months earlier!

Maybe those Pilgrims weren’t as dour and sour as we’re led to believe. Maybe that came later. 

Since there were no large buildings in the colony it’s reasonable to assume the feast was held outside. The exact date seems questionable, and considering the latitude, it seems likely it was earlier than November, probably sometime in October. 

How beautiful it must have been. Forests ablaze with colored leaves, Pilgrims and their Indian friends rejoicing together, in a nearly untouched land, sunshine during the day and camp fires at night, probably Indian TeePees all around. And two totally diverse peoples getting to know and appreciate one another.

GRANDMA’S GOOD ADVICE

Several years ago, when  Coleman School District Administrator Doug Polomis was discussing the value of hard work, he recalled some words from his grandmother, who was obviously very wise.

“Work hard and you may get blisters,” Grandma told him. “Blisters turn into calluses. Calluses turn into memories of what you’ve done to get to where you are.”

She also admonished him to remember two four letter words: “hard” and “work.” “Put those words together and you get wherever you need to go!”

COOKIN’ TIME

TATER TOT BREAKFAST CASSEROLE

This is supposed to serve eight, but it depends on how hungry they are. Great recipe to make ahead for transport to deer camp, or to feed early-morning hunters when you do not want to get up and moving.

1 pound bacon, diced

1 (32 ounce) package frozen bite-size potato nuggets, such as Tater Tots

12 large eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4  teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Pre-fried sausage, diced onion, and/or diced green pepper, optional

Salsa or sour cream, for serving, optional

Gather the ingredients. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown bacon in large skillet, and then remove with a slotted spoon or turner and put it into a 9X12 baking dish. Spread to cover the bottom. Put the potato nuggets evenly in a single layer over the bacon. Beat the eggs, milk, salt and pepper together and pour over the potatoes. Top with the cheddar cheese and bake for about an hour, or until the center is set. Serve hot, or refrigerate and serve when you need it. Reheat individual servings in microwave, or the entire dish in the oven. This also freezes well.

VENISON HEART

It’s sad that so many people throw their deer hearts away, when this is one of the tastiest morsels the animal has to offer. Read somewhere that Native Americans ate the hearts to obtain the courage, speed and agility of the animal, and because wasting its meat is an insult to the animal. Heartily agree with them on that - no pun intended. If your hunters are successful, this would be a perfect addition to theThanksgiving table.

And, if you’re planning to toss the hearts of deer that you get anyway - please, please toss them at me! 

You must clean the heart as soon as possible after gutting the deer. Do this by running it under cold water and pumping the water through it to remove all the blood. Using a sturdy but thin bladed knife, remove the arteries, veins and fat from the top and exterior of the heart. Position the heart upright and stick your finger into the center of the heart which is the very muscle of the heart. With the finger still guiding you, run the knife over the large arteries at the top to remove them. Soak for at least an hour or so in cold water.

The heart also should be cooked or frozen promptly. 

Depending on how you intend to cook it, you can create a single cut from top to bottom to make it look like a butterfly, or cut it into smaller strips or cubes for sautéing or stewing. Or slice across the heart for steaks to grill. However, if you’re stuffing it, leave it whole. We prefer it stuffed.

STUFFED HEART

This recipe also works with beef heart, but it isn’t quite as good.  

1 large venison heart

1/4 cup melted butter

1 onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound Italian or regular sausage

1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs (or seasoned stuffing mix)

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 cup diced celery

1/4 cup olive oil

2 slices bacon

1/4 cup bell pepper, diced, optional

1 cup beef stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Clean and prepare the  heart as described above. Don’t make any more cuts than you have to. Set the heart aside. Heat butter in a non-stick skillet. Add garlic and onion and cook until fragrant and translucent. Stir in diced celery and minced bell pepper and cook for another three or five minutes or until vegetables become tender. Transfer this mixture to a mixing bowl and allow to cool for several minutes. Crumble the sausage into the bowl, add the breadcrumbs, parsley and and onion powder and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff the mixture into the interiors of the heart, using your fingers to push it down into all the cavities. Roll extra stuffing into balls and set aside. Use skewers, pointy wooden toothpicks or kitchen string as necessary to keep the stuffing in, but you may not need to since the heart will be kept standing upright. Roll extra stuffing into balls and set aside. Pour olive oil into a Dutch oven and heat in medium flame. Rub the heart with salt and pepper and position into the center of the Dutch oven. Place sliced onions around the heart, along with smashed garlic and sliced celery. Add the stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for two hours, checking every 30 minutes to see the level of stock. Add more stock if needed to keep it moist and be sure you have enough juices left for gravy. Check the heart at the end of the second hour. If it’s tender, place the reserved stuffing balls into the gravy and bake along with the heart for another 20 minutes. If not, bake another half hour or so and then add the stuffing balls. Serve with mashed potatoes, warm rice orbuttered noodles.

MUG PUMPKIN PIE

If your personal Thanksgiving feast is delayed, enjoy this on Turkey Day, and save the real pie for after the hunters get home. 

1 egg

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon white sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

Crack egg into a microwave-safe mug. Whisk in brown sugar. Add flour, pumpkin puree, white sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt; whisk until well blended.  Cook in the microwave on high until puffed and golden, about 1 minute 15 seconds. 

OLD FASHIONED PUMPKIN PIE

It is so easy to get hung up on new recipes that we sometimes forget about the old ones. Here is our family’s absolutely favorite pumpkin pie. Very simple, and simply delicious. For the full effect, serve it with real whipped cream, sweetened with 1/4 cup of powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon real vanilla per cup of whipping cream. I cheat lately and use bought pie crusts. Unfortunately, theirs are better than mine sometimes.

3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups solid pack canned pumpkin (15 or 16-ounce can)

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 can evaporated milk or light cream

1 9” unbaked pie shell

Mix ingredients in the order given. Pour into pastry shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for another 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Thought for the week: Lord, we in this land of milk and honey have so much to be thankful for. Most of us have never known true hunger. When we’re faced with illness and sorrow, You comfort us. You ease the memory of pain, but preserve the radiance of joys remembered. You have given Man dominion over all the Earth, and You have given us this beautiful and bountiful land to live in. Help us use it wisely. You have given each of us talents. Help us use them wisely. Grant us the wisdom and the humility to follow gracefully in the great Dance of Life and let You do the leading. Thank You, Lord, for all you do for us. Amen.

(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-291-9002 or by e-mail to shirleyprud hommechickadee @ yahoo.com.)

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