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A New Year, A New Nilgai

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Last year’s bull was pretty big. This year we were glad to get a younger animal to compare the amount of connective tissue and fascia.

The Deerslayer household has been blessed to start 2015 with our second nilgai in the freezer. It was a pretty big deal… comparable to when our daughters were born. It was a goal that Deerslayer had set for himself during this hunting season.  Mission accomplished.

Working with our first nilgai was quite a learning experience.  It was a relatively large bull that was harvested.  We assumed that the meat would be just like venison, but bigger!  We discovered that there are some real differences in the make-up of the meat and in the initial dressing of the animal as I posted here.

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Three big Yeti coolers full of meat!

Unlike venison, nilgai muscle is sometimes layered with fascia within the larger muscles themselves which is tough to chew if prepared rare to medium-rare as in grilling and searing. For this reason, fewer of the muscles are good for these applications.  A real lover of wild game won’t mind cutting around and discarding the chewy bits, though.  Luckily, the tenderloins and backstraps are HUGE and the one small, special hindquarter muscle that’s great for searing or grilling still works just fine for that.

Since this was our second nilgai, I had the presence of mind to document a few steps of the dressing process.  For hunters who haven’t skinned a nilgai, I think think they will find interesting the difference in the amount of connective tissue between nilgai and deer.

goose, nilgai, 2015 035 While this part of the process isn’t  exactly my cup of tea, I’m hoping that some of you may find it informative. It really helps having access to a pulley system like this to hoist an animal of this size to get it ready for the coolers.  Deerslayer made short order of skinning this guy using a pair of hunting knives that I got him for our anniversary.  More on that in an upcoming post.

Is was right about here in the proceedings that I remembered that something in the camper needed my immediate attention… a glass of restorative wine!  Don’t judge me.

goose, nilgai, 2015 038We spent much of New Year’s Day processing and packaging up the three coolers full of meat that would fill our freezer.  We started with backstraps and tenderloins.

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We deliberately chose to leave the fascia on the backstrap to provide added protection against freezer burn. It can easily be cleaned prior to cooking.

 

Deerslayer decided that he’d like to leave a backstrap intact and grill it for a family get-together.  We agreed that a perfectly seared backstrap with some delectable mesquite smoky flavor would impress the entire clan. I’ll get back to you on how this turns out.

In years past, while we own a vacuum-packaging system, we chose to use the Zip-Lock bags with the little sucky thing.  The process was less complicated. We’ve discovered, however, that we were getting a little freezer burn on the meat where air was getting in.  We think it was due, in part, to small dings in the bags that occurred by moving them around (and dropping them).

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This year, we dusted off the Rival vacuum system and let ‘er rip. The continuous length of bags enabled us to slide an entire backstrap in and seal it up.

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I can’t decide if I’m more like Wilma or Betty.

The hind quarter was the next “big thing” to tackle.  The muscles were huge!  This year, for the first time, I set aside the bones for making stock.  I’ll let you know how that turns out.  The femurs reminded me of the Flintstones!  Deerslayer used his meat saw to cut through the bones so they’d fit into my stock pot.  We also set aside some scrap meat to add some additional flavor.

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As Deerslayer began to separate out the muscles, we carefully set aside the muscles that we know will function like a tenderloin in searing and grilling applications.

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Notice the lighter color and finer texture of the muscle on the right. It is found on the hind quarter and is extremely tender. The piece on the left can be cut into steaks and pounded out for Nilgai Parmesan, Chicken Fried Steaks, etc.

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Here’s another picture of the very tender cut of hind quarter.

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It’s good to know not only what meat you’re taking out of the freezer but exactly what you need to do to it.y

Last year, we didn’t save the shanks. In an effort to use as much of the animal as possible we’re going to try to cut through those bones and make osso buco.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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Is Rib Meat Worth Saving?

Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 008As most of my readers know, Deerslayer and I were blessed with a harvest of South Texas nilgai back in January.  Other than elk, it provided more meat than anything I’ve ever encountered.  With careful packaging (and three freezers) we were able to accommodate ALL of it.  I’ve always felt very strongly about using as much of a harvested animal as possible which is why we grind our own meat, cut our own steaks, roasts, and scrap that can be cooked all day until it falls apart into deliciousness that can be used in countless recipes.

Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 018We’ve never bothered with venison rib meat, though.  So little meat, so much work.  With nilgai, however, it was a different matter.  Clearly, there was enough meat between the ribs that I didn’t want to waste it.  Fifteen pounds, to be exact.  Deerslayer was happy to cut the meat from the ribs so that I could package it up into three 5-lb. packages. The amount of connective tissue surrounding the muscle prevented it from being used for anything other than “cook-all-day” applications.

There is a distinct difference between venison and nilgai meat and the processing thereof.  Of course, quantity is the most obvious difference.  But we were surprised by the difference in the amount of connective tissue.  From skinning the critters to separating the muscle, nilgai is MUCH more difficult than venison because of the amount of fascia, silver skin, etc.  It just seems to adhere more than venison.  There was no pulling the skin from the muscle during field dressing.  It required cutting with a very sharp knife every inch of the way.  The preparation of backstrap has required more labor-intensive removal of fascia and silver skin, as well.  Don’t get me wrong!  The extra work involved has definitely been worth it!  The meat is delicious and worth every minute of extra labor required in prep time.

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I grabbed my labelled packages from freezer and set them out to thaw.

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Notice the large amount of silver skin on the meat.

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All fifteen pounds went into my turkey roaster, liberally seasoned with my go-to salt, pepper, garlic powder mix and into a 350 degree oven for about six hours, checking for liquid and turning the meat periodically.

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Tender, flavorful, gooey, pull-apart, melt-in-your-mouth heaven-on-earth!

 

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More Snakes! Grab Those Fabulous Snake Boots!

jerky, rattlesnake, roasting pumpkin 012In the two years that we’ve been hunting at the ranch in South Texas, Deerslayer has killed 4 sizable rattlesnakes, the one pictured being the smallest. Living with snakes is just part of life down here.  It was after finding the first and largest rattler that the fine line between fashion and function became blurred to include Cabela’s jaunty and ever-so-chic snake boots.  I’ve come to appreciate the rich earth tones, the fashion-forward suede and zippered accents, the fact that I can walk through the grass and not be killed by a snake bite..

IMG_1974The largest rattlesnake that we’ve seen on the ranch was as long as Deerslayer is tall, about 6’5″.  The shortest was about my height, 5’4″.  Spotting a venomous snake really brings to mind  thoughts of instinct, self-preservation, and survival of the fittest. The heart starts to pound.  Breathing becomes fast and shallow.  I found myself sputtering things like, “Run over it with the truck!  Run over it again!  It’s still moving.  Shoot it. Squash it with a rock.  No, use a stick.  Don’t get close.  It’s still moving!  Run over it again.  Shoot it again!  It’s still moving!”

 I suspect that in earlier times, I wouldn’t have been considered one of the “fittest”.  

Back to our most recent encounter, before Snakeslayer placed the slithering monster in the back of the truck, the head was removed. While I’m sure everyone knows this already, it bears repeating:  A dead snake is just as dangerous as a live one as long as the fangs are intact.  People have suffered serious injury and, I’m sure, even death as a result of snake bites from snakes that were already dead.  Don’t mess with the head of a venomous snake even after it’s dead.  The mouth can still open of its own accord.  Nasty business, just don’t!  That said, let me continue.

 The rattler continued to writhe and thrash about, headless, for at least an hour and a half. With the tailgate down, it slithered off the back of the truck.  When Snakeslayer decided to save the skin, there was quite an episode.  The decapitated snake thrashed, and wrapped itself around my beloved’s arms as it was being “dispatched”.  My job in the proceedings was to gesticulate wildly and suggest poking it with a stick or perhaps run over it with the truck, or shoot it again.  

It made for interesting stories to share at the hunting camp that night. I was asked by several of the other hunters whether I was going to cook up the snake.  I guess I better start looking for recipes.  Everyone had their own stories to tell.  Eyes got big, smart phones were brought out and pictures passed around.  Arms stretched in all directions to indicate size and length.  When referring to snakes, I guess size really does matter.  There’s just something about big snakes that reminds us of our place in the grand scheme of things.  Thank God for snake boots!

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Nilgai? What the Hell is That?

Nilgai Excitement

Adult male nilgai

These guys are very difficult to catch on film. This photo and my info came from http://www.nps.gov/paal/naturescience/animals.htm.

I received the text from Deerslayer shortly after 7:00 a.m.  He wanted to know if I wanted to get some snapshots of a Nilgai for my blog.  It was short and to the point but it spoke volumes.

The unwritten meaning behind the text was:  “Oh, my gosh!  I got a nilgai.  I’ve been stalking them for two years and I finally got one.  Whoop, whoop!  Let’s fill the freezers.  I think we should buy another one and dedicate it to the keeping of my nilgai, exclusively.  Perhaps a shrine should be erected!”

I hadn’t headed out to the hunting camp with Deerslayer on this particular weekend.  It’s only about an hour and a half from door to door.  Deerslayer headed out after work.  Over the past year and a half,  he’d decided that one of these creatures would fill the freezer nicely.  At 500 to 750 lbs. of lean, flavorful meat, I had to agree.Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 016

These creatures have been around South Texas since the 1920’s, when the King Ranch imported them from India to keep as exotics and have available for hunters. They are members of the antelope family.  The males are sometimes called “blue bulls” because of their coloration.  Escaping through breaks in fences and roaming the area without natural predators, the nilgai population has continued to grow in the region.  While they are unique looking animals, (not much to look at if you ask me), they are really big and skittish.  Getting a glimpse of one is a rarity.

As I’m sure you know by now, I’d never processed or prepared the meat of a nilgai.  My first experience came on the night of the big celebration.  It’s gonna take some time for me to wrap my head around how large the muscles are on this beast.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  But when Deerslayer (nay, Nilgaislayer) said he was bringing the tenderloin into the camper for me to prepare, I wasn’t expecting this:

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This is one tenderloin, at least 20 inches long and bigger around than my upper arm. (I’m not particularly robust, keep in mind.)

I liberally seasoned the meat with salt and pepper mix and  seared it in a cast iron skillet with a drizzle of olive oil.  There is practically no fat on the meat which means that it can either be prepared quite rare or cooked all day in the oven or on the stove.  After letting the meat rest for 15 minutes, I cut the seared tenderloin into bite-sized pieces and served it up as an appetizer to the nine hunters who had gathered around the fire.  It was hugely popular.  I’m gonna call it a success.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be learning the nuances of nilgai vs. venison.  How will it cook up?  How’s the taste?  It’s gonna be fun.

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Nilgai sport a jaunty beard and some interesting coloration. This one will be named “Smugly” and will hang in our library.

 

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What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger (or Surviving Bees)

What started out as an eagerly anticipated road trip to our hunting camp ended up as something that would’ve made even Alfred Hitchcock shudder.  That’s the way things often roll for the Deerslayer clan. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” “God never gives us more than we can handle”.  Well, we must be pretty damned strong by this point ‘cuz we’re not dead yet.  It’s the reason that Deerslayer always brings every tool he owns on any road trip, and several changes of clothes and a roll of toilet paper…. because you “just never know when you might need these things”.  I no longer question his logic because God has determined that we can handle quite a bit.

I used to scoff.  I would complain that we really needed to pack lighter for an overnight trip.  Over the years, however, after several blowouts on the camper on a single trip, unfortunate spills, dangerous burritos, rolling a pick-up truck on black ice, and rattlesnakes, I learned to trust my Deerslayer’s  judgement in the matter of packing for trips.

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The full extent of the bee situation wasn’t captured at the time. Abject fear prevented me from grabbing the camera at that moment! This is just a small remnant of what we encountered.

Even our “worst case scenario” packing strategy didn’t prepare us for what we encountered upon arrival to our hunting camp, after an eight-hour drive.  We got to the camp about 10:00 at night.  We opened the door of our camper, ready to make the bed and fall into it.  The floor was covered with something, though, something that crunched when we stepped on it.  Remember the part in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” where there was a sickening crunching sound as Indy and Short Round cautiously walked through the cave?  It was like that…. Except it was BEES!  About an inch deep and smelled like dead bees!  I have to admit that, prior to this encounter, I’m pretty sure that I would not be able to tell you what dead bees smelled like. Sadly, I’ll never forget!   I’m not sure what made me wade in with a broom into a situation that, at this point, hadn’t been assessed to any degree, and start sweeping frantically. It’s what I do.  It’s not like I was able to put any kind of dent in the layer of death and stink.  We were too tired to think about anything except sleep at that point but we DID realize that stepping on dead bees or live ones bare-footed would result in a sting.  What we didn’t realize was that, as we waded through the dead bees, we were stirring up the thousands of live ones that were inside the wall of the bathroom.  There was a buzzing that was faint at first, then grew increasingly louder   By the time we had a firm grasp of the situation (that there were LIVE bees, and that it was a possibility that they could be Africanized) we were scrambling to get out.  Our only saving grace, at this point, was that it was dark out and the temperature was lower than 40 degrees which slowed the bees down considerably.

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This is our romantic nest the next morning. We slept under a moon and stars that were so bright we almost couldn’t sleep and listened to coyotes and wild pigs at the pond.

A decision was made at this point to grab everything we had already brought in and hightail it out muy pronto.  Deerslayer decided to grab our memory foam mattress which had stiffened with the cold and refused to budge.  Once again, I questioned the logic.  While I’m known for being laid back, cool under pressure, and flexible in all circumstances (NOT), Deerslayer was not able to detect that I was beginning to freak out about the bees, dead and alive, with my Epi-pen at the ready.  After much work we got the mattress out without any swarming and threw it into the back of pickup.  We drove about 100 yards away from the bee sanctuary, covered the mattress with sleeping bags,  and attempted to sleep out-of-doors, in nature, as it were.

Now, I may be the wife of a deerslayer, one who cooks wild game with gusto, camps in a camper, and sips wine at the campfire.  But this outing was the first of its kind for me.  If I hadn’t been covered in bee residue (and afraid) it would’ve been very romantic.  I have to admit that I passed up an opportunity. God never gives us more than we can handle!

As of this moment, we have not resolved the bee issue.  I’ll keep you posted.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2013 in camping, Hunting, Uncategorized

 

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Not Always the Cat’s Meow (Venison Marsala)

Not Always the Cat’s Meow (Venison Marsala)

Like every other deerslayer’s wife on the planet, as hunting season winds down, I come to the realization that, as much as I embrace my vocation, being the wife of a deer slayer isn’t always all that great.  Don’t get me wrong!   There’s no title I’d rather hold, except perhaps “Empress of Deerslaying”.  However, when the time comes to clean out the camper, wash the camo for the last time, and clean the coolers, I find myself starting to dwell on the negative.

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  I generally start feeling sorry for myself as I begin the cleaning and packing ritual that signifies the end of the season. I may even become, dare I say, cranky.  My sense of humor is lacking.

“How many times have I told you to get the pig tusks off the kitchen counter?  What are they doing in the dishwasher?”

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“Can I have my roasting pan back now?”

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It’s important to keep in mind that Deerslayers’ wives encounter situations unique to the title.  For example, I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I returned home to discover a box from UPS on my front door step.  I always get pretty excited about deliveries.

This time, however, much to my horror, I discovered that the package had been ordered by my Deerslayer.  It seems that we had become the proud new owners of a “buck boiler”, a contraption used to aid in the creation of a DIY variety of European mount.  For the novice deerslayer’s wife, a European mount is not a Kama Sutra position, but a trophy that hangs from the wall and includes only the bleached skull and antlers of a trophy buck, usually mounted on a polished medallion of wood.  With that background information, it’s no wonder that I reeled at the sight of the “buck boiler”.   I understood the implications immediately.  Boiling a buck’s head until no meat remains brings up the immediate questions, “Where is this going to be done?” and “How bad will it smell?” and “Should I throw in some carrots, onions, and celery?”

Now, this is where a deerslayer’s wife differs from the norm:  I was grateful, at this point, that one of the deer heads currently wrapped in a garbage bag and duct tape and occupying my extra refrigerator would find a new home.  Just as a side note, we DID ask an unsuspecting guest to go get a beverage out of the above mentioned fridge during a recent visit just to see his reaction.

Outside.  The boiling would take place outside.  Good.  Out of sight, out of mind.  My deerslayer promised me that the process would not upset my normal routine of homeschooling, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry and the like… except that the junior deerslayers and I needed to keep constant watch to ensure that the water level of the electrically charged and vibrating bucket did not drop below the antler line of the deceased.  It vibrated away all day, and all night.  The neighborhood cats came to watch the proceedings.   The entire process wasn’t as thorough as I had hoped, however.  I envisioned pulling a beautifully bleached trophy from the foamy mire ready to display proudly.  Not!  Without going into too much grizzly detail, suffice it to say that there was more “internal cleaning” that had to be done.  This required the use of my roasting pan and lots and lots of hydrogen peroxide… in my kitchen… on my counter! Continued soaking, bubbling, and bleaching in the sun resulted in a trophy that even a deerslayer’s wife would be proud to display.

Such is the life of the deerslayer and his family!  On the upside, we have three freezers full of fabulous meat that will provide us with wonderful, healthy recipes such as the following:

Venison Marsala

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1 lb. pounded venison steaks

Tommy’s Salt & Pepper mix*

A couple scoops of flour on a paper plate for dredging steaks

4 tbsp. butter

¼ cup olive oil

10 oz. baby Portobello mushrooms (crimini)

½ cup Marsala

½ cup beef stock

1 tbsp. cornstarch

1 package fettuccini or linguini

Finely chopped chives or garlic chives

Pound out venison steaks and season with salt & pepper mix*.  I always place my steaks in a zip bag and pound them out on a cutting board placed on a kitchen towel.  They seem to keep their shape better and the process is less messy. The kitchen towel provides a buffer between the cutting board and counter top.   Dredge with flour and set aside.

Begin boiling water for pasta. Follow package directions for pasta.  It should be ready about the same time as the sauce.

Preheat large cast iron skillet with olive oil on the stovetop.  On medium high heat, brown steaks.  Set aside in an ovenproof pan.  Place in warm oven, about 200 degrees.

In same cast iron skillet, sauté mushrooms in butter, scraping up crusty bits.  Combine Marsala and stock in a measuring cup.  Add to mushrooms in hot skillet, reserving about ½ cup.  Combine reserved mixture with cornstarch.  I usually pour my cool liquid and cornstarch into a jar, secure the lid, and shake until combined.  Add to mushrooms and liquid, turn heat to medium and stir constantly until thickened.  Return steaks to sauce mixture.

Pour pasta onto large platter.  Place steaks on pasta.  Pour sauce over.  Sprinkle with chives or garlic chives.  Serve.

*Find recipe in “Game Birds Interrupted”

 

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How to be the Queen of the Hunting Camp

(Percolated Coffee)

Things just aren’t the same as they used to be. In the old Westerns, the beautiful leading lady would ride up on a horse, her make-up fully intact, hair perfect. She’d slide off the side of said horse into the arms of John Wayne. He’d grasp her 18 inch waist and whisk her off to the camp site where she’d roll her own cigarette and make a pot of percolated coffee on the fire. Wow! Hold the phone! Everything else was lost on me. Percolated coffee? How the hell did she do that? Where did she plug that thing in? Surely camera magic was in play! Women used to be so amazing! (Sure, before I start getting hate mail, I know we’re still pretty damned amazing. We do more than percolate coffee. But you have to admit that there was something about those women…)
After years of apologizing in advance every time I arrived at any campsite for my embarrassing lack of knowledge of all things campy, I decided to take the bull by the …uh… horns, Master the campsite. Yes, I decided to become the “Queen of the Hunting Camp”.
The 18 inch waist was there (plus enough to make a few more leading ladies). I could master the make-up and a cute cowgirl hat covers a multitude of sins. I don’t smoke and rolling your own really leans toward the 70’s. Don’t want to give away my age.
However, I learned that any camp-goers will cheer and make a queen of anyone who will produce coffee in the morning! If that coffee is percolated, heads will reel, people will fall to their knees in awe and praise, everyone will want to have their pictures taken with the “chick who can make coffee in a percolator”.
It is within your grasp to don the title “Queen of the Hunting Camp”.

Here’s what you need:
A GOOD percolator! I bought 2 different cheap ones before I invested in a good quality model. It really doesn’t pay to buy a super cheap one because they have a multitude of problems that might make you want to give up and head for the nearest Starbucks. (Don’t do it. Your reputation is at stake!)

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Look for these things:
stainless steel construction throughout (including the insert) – I’ve seen some really nice enameled percolators. These are fine but usually don’t have an insulated handle, glass button top, or sturdy construction of the insert. If you find a great enameled one, look for these elements (and let me know)! They’re really cool and retro. I just haven’t found one that has everything I need.
a sturdy insert that doesn’t wobble, and (this is really important) a lid that fits securely on the insert basket so the grounds don’t spill out

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an insulated handle – It gets pretty hot. Mine is made of wood. Keep in mind your heat source. If you are intending to use a campfire or the like, you won’t want any plastic or rubber parts. By the same token, medal handles will require you to have a pot holder or cloth nearby.
a glass button on top – This allows you to see how your coffee is progressing as it perks up through the stem.
When purchasing a percolator, you also need to consider how many cups of coffee you will be preparing. When we go to Wyoming for the family camp trip, there are usually 40 to 50 people at any given time. I was tempted to get a huge honkin’ percolator from Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, or Army Surplus to accommodate them all. When we head out to the hunting camp, however, there’s usually just my immediate family, only two of whom drink coffee. I came to the conclusion that I can always make several pots of coffee for a larger crowd and that most of my camping during the year is for just a few people so I decided on the average sized percolator. Some of the larger models can, of course, do double duty as a hot tub.
Making percolator coffee
You will need:
coarsely ground coffee – I’ve made it countless times with regular canned coffee. The problem for me (maybe it won’t bother you as much) is that the grind used for automatic drip coffeemakers is slightly too fine for the basket of the percolator and grounds will inevitably end up in the coffee. By letting the coffee rest for a couple of minutes after it’s perked, and removing the insert before pouring, you can minimize the fiber from your coffee!  Most grocers have a “grind your own” section now. If grounds in your coffee bother you, you may consider going this route. Adjust the grind to “Coarse” and it will perc a great cup of coffee sans the stuff in your teeth!  My new favorite coffee of choice for the hunting camp is roasted right here in the great state of Texas, Brenham to be exact.  Jet Fuel is the variety. Deep, rich flavor. Independence Coffee Company (www.independencecoffee.com) is worth looking into.  I love to endorse local businesses!  I’m planning on a field trip to check things out (at Blue Bell Ice Cream, too, while I’m in the area)

good water – Bring several bottles of good drinking water just for your coffee. It really does make a difference in how the coffee disperses throughout.
a heat source – Know ahead of time what type of heat source you will be using; grill over a campfire, a camp stove, or a camper cooktop.

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Remove the insert from your coffeepot and fill the pot with water, using the coffee mugs from which you will be drinking to measure. Be careful not to fill so full as to reach the insert basket. Keep in mind that most coffee mugs are NOT 8 ounce cups. So a percolator that holds 10 cups will not fill 10 coffee mugs. My ruggedly cute enamalware mugs each hold 2 cups, for example.

Place coffee pot on your heat source so that it will begin to boil while you fill the insert basket.
Remove the lid from the insert basket and fill with one tablespoon of coffee grounds for each 8 oz. of water. Replace lid and place insert carefully into the percolator (it will be very hot at this point). Allow water to continue to boil for about ten minutes depending on how strong you like your coffee.* If using a camp stove or cooktop, once water begins to boil, turn down heat and continue to boil for ten minutes for strong coffee. You can check the progress of your coffee through the glass button in the lid.
I’d like to apologize for what may be considered unnecessarily drawn out and complicated instructions. Before I finally figured out how to be the hunting camp queen, I surfed the web and found many single paragraph descriptions for the perfect cup of camp coffee. They each seemed to leave out some important bit of info. Could it have been a conspiracy instigated by OTHER camping queens? Something to think about!

*Every heat source is different, as is each person’s preference for coffee strength. Sadly, this is really a trial and error endeavor. Don’t give up, however! After several tries, you will have perfected the process!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on December 26, 2012 in Hunting, Uncategorized

 

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