I love autumn so much that I figured it deserved a second entry and maybe a third and perhaps a fourth. I also felt that I didn’t clarify how my love of autumn, pumpkins, soup, and homemade bread meshed with being the wife of a deerslayer. Part of the excitement that comes with cooler weather is knowing that the beginning of deer season is about to begin. With that, a great deal of preparation becomes part of our daily lives. All things camo must be found and distributed to various sizes of deerslayers. Guns, ammo, binoculars, camp chairs, coolers (lots of coolers. You can never have too many coolers!), and cans of Ranch Style Beans are thrown onto piles. It is my job to make sure that the cans of Ranch Style Beans are never opened! My own “hunting list” includes but is not limited to: wine, pots & pans, wine, goat cheese & gourmet crackers, wine, several nicely tailored and flattering courdaroy shirts, wine, magazines, books, and wine. I like to think of myself as a valuable part of the hunting experience. An integral cog in the works, if you will, of the effective hunting party.
It is my job to have at my disposal all that is necessary to prepare the celebretory feast for my deerslayers if they drag some of God’s bounty into camp. Our traditional meal includes chicken-fried deer heart or backstrap, garlic mashed potatoes with cream gravy and something in the vegatable category. (Use your imagination and the preferences of your deerslayers!) In addition to my previous list of requirements, I always have on hand:
flour, Tommy’s secret salt & pepper mix*, cooking oil, eggs, fresh garlic, butter, potatoes, milk or cream, salad or some other vegetable, paper plates, disposable plastic plates, meat mallet, potato masher, whisk, steamer basket, a cast iron skillet, 2 pots, one with a lid, and a small saute pan.
Deer heart is really cool but not to everyone’s liking. The meat is rather “to the tooth”, if you know what I mean. If cooked too long it can become rubbery, but is similar in texture to chicken giblets. (In my neck of the woods, this is pronounced “jiblets”.)
My junior deerslayers love to clean the heart in the sink squeezing water through the ventricles and squirting it out. (Excellent lesson for homeschoolers!) The heart should be sliced about a 1/2 inch thick. The top 3/4 inch or so is tough and can be thrown away. Create a work station with a paper plate that has a couple of scoops of flour in it. I keep flour in a mason jar out at the lease for these joyous occasions. The flour can also be used for pancakes. Next to that, whisk a couple of eggs in a pie plate or a disposable plastic plate with deep sides. Sprinkle the remaining slices of heart with salt & pepper mix and dredge in flour. I usually use disposable plates to ease the clean-up. Even the deerslayer’s wife needs a little bit of a break! Dip in egg mixture. Dredge in flour again. These coated slices of heart can be set aside on a cutting board, foil, or other surface. Heat some cooking oil in a cast iron skillet, just enough to cover the bottom. The slices of heart can then be fried in the hot oil until each side is nicely browned, about 4 to 6 minutes per side depending on how hot the oil is.
Once the steaks are ready, you can prepare the gravy by pouring out most of the oil, leaving a couple of tbsp. and the crusty bits in the skillet. Whisk about a quarter cup of the flour that was left over from the meat preparation into the oil mixture until it is the consistency of thick paste. Return to low heat and add enough milk and continue whisking until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Add salt and pepper (or Tommy’s secret salt & pepper mix) to taste. We like lots of course ground pepper in our gravy!
We always accompany our chicken-fried game with garlic mashed potatoes and the aforementioned cream gravy. See below.
Oh, yeah! Don’t forget a green veggie or a great salad.
The only thing better than a productive hunt is sitting around a camp fire after dinner. That’s one of my favorite parts of the hunting trips. Everyone is well-fed…… thanks to the fabulous deerslayer’s wife. When there are young deerslayers (and even when there aren’t) this is a great time to bring out some marshmallows to roast. I’ve always been a purist. A perfectly roasted marshmallow is hard to beat in my book. But I have to admit that home-made marshmallows are the best things i’ve ever experienced. I found this wonderful recipe from Mary Jane Butters. You can change it up by adding cocoa powder, peppermint oil, coconut!!! Better than the marshmallows, the wine or beer, are the stories.
They always start like this: “Do you remember when we were hunting over Thanksgiving in Uvalde and it was pouring rain and the Airstream leaked right over the stove and it dripped on Mom the whole time she was trying to fix Thanksgiving dinner?” Rhetorical question. We all remember very well. It brings grins to every face, even mine. It’s funny how even stories like this seem not as horrific as they did at the time, when I was trying desperately to make a good impression on my mother- and father-in-law. Even I chuckle now. I’ve finally come into my own as “the deerslayer’s wife”. But there’s more……… “Do you remember when Dad ran over the rattlesnake on the way to the lease? And he threw it in the back of the pick up, and when he got to the hunting camp draped it across the step to the Airstream and sent Uncle David to get something out of the camper?” Once again, rhetorical but very, very funny since no one was bitten or had a heart attack.
Chicken-Fried Deer Heart or Backstrap
1 deer heart, tenderloin, or backstrap (Other cuts of meat can be substituted for the tenderloin or backstrap. Most people simply don’t know how to process the meat so that almost all of the meat can cooked and enjoyed as much as the more commonly used tenderloin or backstrap. I will provide instructions later in the season.)
flour, several scoops
Tommy’s secret salt & pepper mix*
2 eggs, lightly beaten in a pie plate or deep-sided plastic plate
Backstrap should be cut into 1/2 inch steaks and pounded thin with a meat mallet. I usually place a couple of steaks in a gallon sized zip-lock bag to prevent meat bits from flying. Steaks should be seasoned liberally with salt & pepper, dredged in flour, egg, flour again, and set aside. Heat enough oil in a skillet (preferably cast iron) to cover the bottom. Fry steaks long enough to brown evenly on both sides just about 3-4 minutes per side. It’s fine for the meat to be medium to medium rare. Venison has little fat and quickly becomes tough and dry. Set aside and prepare gravy.
Skillet with crusty bits from frying steaks
3-4 tbsp. cooking oil from frying steaks
flour (left over from dredging meat)
Tommy’s Secret Salt & Pepper Mix
Pour out any remaining oil except for 3-4 tablespoons and leaving crusty bits add a little flour and combine with a whisk to create a roux (paste). Slowly add milk, whisking all the while until gravy becomes smooth. Heat on medium until gravy begins to thicken and bubble. More milk can be added if necessary. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
One red potato per person plus one extra, cubed
fresh garlic cloves (one per potato)
1 tbsp. butter per person
1/2 cup cream (more or less depending on desired consistency)
salt & pepper
I usually prepare one red potato per person plus one extra. These are washed but not peeled. I hate peeling potatoes, so I just never do it. It creates a rustic, down home meal! Coarsely chop the potatoes and boil until the potatoes are soft. Drain and add two tablespoons of butter. Mash as you wish. Some people prefer creamy mashed potatoes. I, on the other hand, go the rustic route, as previously mentioned. I have to admit, this is my favorite part. At this point, you should just go ahead and pour yourself a glass o’ wine and savor the moment because this is the point where you peel two or three cloves of garlic, chop them finely. Toss them into a little skillet with some butter and saute the hell out them. The hunting camp will smell wonderful. Everyone will love you! But I digress. Don’t get too caught up in the moment or the garlic will burn. Add it (and the extra butter) to the mashed potatoes and pour in some cream until you reach the desired consistency. Season with salt & pepper (or Tommy’s mix). If you REALLY want everyone to love you, add some bacon bits, chives, grated cheddar. The sky’s the limit.