Dad only hunted once, that I remember, in an attempt to connect with Mom’s brother and our closest neighbor.
He brought home venison in nicely wrapped packages from the butcher; and never went again. He said it was too cold; it would be more fun to hunt with a camera, in the summer.
I don’t remember anything except the sausages, diced small and added to beans or lentil soup. But that might have been beef — it all looks the same in that white butcher paper.
Years later, the year I left college and started working in a small Northern Virginia office, my boss brought in packages of venison harvested by her husband that she didn’t want to cook. I only tried roasting it; and they never got tender.
Today I have roughly 70 pounds of venison filling the fridge; and I’m starting to realize that I really don’t have a clue how to cook it.
JJ shot a doe Saturday morning, finally dragging it out of the woods and driving it home by mid-afternoon. She was big, and fat, grazing probably in the corn fields and gardens around the game lands all summer long. And since the hunting operation is as much about saving money on groceries as it is about sport, we decided to process it ourselves.
I helped him hang her up from a garage beam; and though I’ve worked with freshly-killed chickens, it was closer to my food source than I really care to be. It looks unsanitary, bits of dirt and hair clinging to the cavity left from field dressing, mud caked into the coat from the long drag through the woods. Her tongue hung out of her mouth like a cartoon.
I went to work then, about the time his brother came; and for once I was glad to work a night shift.
I really didn’t want to help anymore.
But it looks like meat now, 70 pounds (without bones) filling ziplock bags packed into the fridge. We bought a second freezer Sunday afternoon, waking neighbors out of Sunday afternoon football games to borrow a truck. And all evening we worked, listening to an audio book, struggling to sever the silver-skin from the meat beneath.
It’s supposed to make it taste less gamey, Google says; but whether because of dull knives, or inexperience, or odd cuts meat, it was slow, tedious work.
Four hours in and we’d finished maybe half of the job, freezing it in meal-sized packages as we went; there’s another half to go today.
I’ve started searching for recipes.
And though I’m glad I missed the more grotesque parts of the operation and I’ll happily leave the hunting up to him, I’m excited to really learn how to cook with venison. It’s bothered me for a while, the meat I generally use, bought on sale from supermarkets. I wonder what, exactly, is in that meat; what hormones were pumped into the cattle to promote tenderness, or fat content. When 30 percent of my ground beef melts away in hot grease, I wonder again.
My budget can’t support organic meat, or hormone-free meat, or any other specialty meat that’s healthier but also more expensive. Actually, it doesn’t support a lot of red meat at all.
So 70 pounds of the leanest red-meat you can find? Meat that, right up until the weekend it ended up in my freezer, wandered the hills, foraging for its own food from the woods and fields that cover these hills?
Why, yes, thank you. And doe season remains open through next weekend, so please, may I have another?