God Bless friends. EC
Preserving Your Bounty
You’ve put in the work, prepared, seeded and weeded your garden all spring and you’re beginning to reap the harvest. So much so, you begin to have far more than you can eat before starting to go bad. There’re a few different avenues that can be taken with this situation. Depending on what the produce is, could determine what process is best. Some fruits and veggies are best canned. Others do well with blanching (quickly cooking in boiling water to preserve color and texture.), shocking or cooling rapidly, vacuum packing and then freezing. Lots of items can be done both ways as well. Canning is by far the method that gives the longest shelf life. In many cases it can be years. It is basically the same concept and process as what happens with the canned goods bought at grocery stores. Just with different materials. It is important to note that when choosing to can fruits and veggies, to do so as close to when you harvest it as possible. As time passes, most produce will begin to lose its nutrients once picked. So it is important to do a little planning with timing and having the correct materials. There are thousands of online tutorials of the canning process. You can do anything from jellies and jams to sauces, ragu’s, pickles, salsa’s, stewed vegetables and so on. The possibilities are pretty much unlimited. Another preservation method that is very useful (and delicious) is dehydrating. I like to do so with mushrooms as well as fruits. Berries are good to puree with a sweetener and thickener and then dehydrated to make a fruit roll up of sorts. Herbs, garlic, onions and most roots/tubulars also lend well to being dried. If I know that I’m going to want to eat something in the near future, then I will go the freezing route. Peas, beans, corn, berries and fruits all do well with freezing. Although just about any produce can be frozen, some just need to be made into a sauce or filling of some sort. Others can be blanched and frozen as is. My favorite thing to freeze is sweet corn. If done properly, you can enjoy that delicious, sweet corn all year. In years past, I have always just shucked the corn, blanched/shocked it and then packed and frozen it whole. As I’m writing this though, I think I will try blanching in the husk as is from the stalk, cool it quickly, dry slightly and then pack and freeze in the husk. It would make for more work on the back side when using it, but I would think the silk and husk would give an added layer of protection against getting frostbit. Thus, giving a longer shelf life. I’m definitely going to try that one and report back on it, if anyone has done so or has any other tips, tricks or recipes for preservation methods, shoot me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org Regardless of your method of choice, make sure you don’t let all of your hard work go to waste. With a little prior planning and preparation, you can be enjoying the fruits (and veggies) of your labor's year around!
God Bless friends. EC
With spring knocking on our door, it’s time to begin planning a summer garden. I’ve talked a lot about wild game meats, but I wanted to shift the focus. With a freezer full of delicious wild game meat and deer season well behind us, it’s time to start thinking about those yummy veggies and starches to go with it. Along with hunting as a kid, I cannot remember a year that we didn’t have a garden. Back then, it definitely didn’t have the significance and value to me as it does today. It just meant picking up rocks and raking out dirt for what seemed like forever. Today however, It’s far more than just hard work. And it doesn’t even have to be hard work. It’s all about knowing what you're eating, having high quality food to feed your family, to be as sustainable and self-supporting as possible and a sense of accomplishment knowing you do not have to rely on a supermarket full of marginal products to survive. With just a little leg work and sorting out what will work best for you, all of those things can be accomplished. There are many different routes one can go about growing a garden. First it is good to figure out how much space you have and where you will have your garden. Another important factor is to evaluate how much direct sunlight your available garden area receives in a day's time as well as what time of day it gets the sunlight. You want to make sure what you are intending to grow gets enough sunlight but also isn’t going to get scorched in the hot summer months. Knowing these two key factors will help you determine if it’s best to do raised stationary beds, an in-ground garden or portable pots or buckets that can be moved to follow the sunlight. It is also important to know what zone you are in for the last frost date. There are many different resources online that will tell you what that date is. Planting date is also something to keep in mind. This will vary based on what it is you intend to grow, that plant's basic needs and the length it takes for the plant to fully mature. I find it helps to make a list of the things I want to grow and then make a diagram of my gardening area, mapping out what will go where and the date it will be planted. Most seed banks and nurseries will have information regarding the planting dates along the length to maturity of what you plant. There are many very reputable seed banks out there that have loads to choose from. Once you have planned everything out, it’s time to begin getting the garden ready for planting. Regardless of what your choice of growing method is, good quality soil is a must. Whether you are doing raised beds, pots or an in-ground garden, you want to make sure and supply your plants with the correct nutrients they need to thrive. I prefer to use a pre-bought mix in my raised beds I built out of landscaping timbers. After planting, make sure to know a plant's need for water. Some need lots of water and some only a small amount. It is possible to overwater plants, so I like to include water needed for each item I grow on my diagram or garden journal. Once all of the leg work is complete and all your seeds have been planted, it’s time to start counting down the days to fresh and delicious produce! Whether you go big or small, it will be very rewarding once you begin to harvest the fruits (and veggies lol) of your labors! If you have never tried your hand at gardening your own produce, I strongly encourage it! You will be happy you did!
As always, please reach out with any thoughts, comments or suggestions!
Know your prey.
I came around the bend as my headlight began to reflect off of the red brake lights on the truck that was parked in my usual spot right off the highway on a piece of public land. Dang it I thought, that's the first time all year there has been anyone here! As I slowly drove past, my brain was running through my other options for my morning hunt. I went down to the first turn off and turned around. As I thought it over, I decided I would go to the spot as planned but park on the north side and access my downed tree to the south. I knew the area the other hunter was most likely in, and it was well south of where I planned to sit. With a south wind in my face, it seemed like it might work out after all. By then, it was right at legal shooting light and roughly 20 degrees. We had got a decent snow a few days prior, and this was the first day it was going to break above freezing. The snow was the reason I was even sitting in this spot to begin with. My tree stand was about 400 yards up the ridge to the west. Two days prior I was headed into it when I noticed a major trail junction 30 yards in the woods from the access path. I noted it and proceeded on to my stand to no avail. On my way out, I prepped this spot in the form of a downed tree for this morning's sit. As I stepped foot into the timber from the access path, I heard something heavy jump and then vanish. I thought dang, there he goes…I hope the other hunter gets a shot. I froze for a few seconds and then proceeded another 30 yards to my spot. I quietly stepped into the fork of the tree, unfolded my chair and sat my bag on the ground. As I began to stand, I heard a twig snap about 40 yards to my southeast. I lifted my head to see the white a deer’s rear. Quietly I hit my knees as I got my crossbow over in position. About the time I get in place, a mature buck begins to make his way directly past me at 20 yards. I found my hole through the trees as he stepped into it. I grunted to stop him, but he could have cared less. Not wasting any time as this would be my only shot opportunity, I squeezed the trigger. Sending 575 grains straight through his lungs. I watched as he crashed through the timber out of sight. I was quite in shock. I had been scouting, hunting, and learning for 7 years on this piece of land to figure out the habits of a mature buck and here I finally shot one in less than a minute. I gathered myself and arrowed another bolt as I reflected on all of the hunts and lessons that had led me up to that moment. It’s not the antlers I was after though, it was the knowledge of the habits and behaviors of a very elusive animal to hunt that I was chasing. I realized as I reflected that I was thankful for all of the failed attempts and lessons I learned along the way. It definitely taught me how to be a hunter of the prey I seek and not just be in the right place at the right time. I let 30 minutes pass or so and then went to check my arrow. It had stuck into a small cedar 5 yards behind the point of impact. With the ground still covered in snow, the track job was pretty easy. Bright bubbly blood and that unmistakable pop at the moment of impact told me it was safe to proceed. It didn’t take long to find my first mature public land whitetail buck piled up in a small ditch. He didn’t make it 70 yards. I’ve harvested many deer in my life but this one was really special. I had hunted hard for many years to grow and learn as a hunter. Much of my younger years were spent hunting family land in tree stands that had been there for years. This was the first time I actually got out on public access and taught myself how to go in and find the deer others could not. It was an amazing feeling of accomplishment and one I hope to continue to pursue for many many years. I will also say, I’m ultimately after meat over horns but the mature bucks do pack the most bang for your buck meat wise!
One thing I have always enjoyed is jerky. Whether it be beef, venison, turkey or whatever meat you prefer, there’s just something about that intensified flavor that can't be duplicated. As you remove moisture from a food, any seasonings and flavors within the food will become more intense. With that though, comes a not so easy task when gauging the amount of seasoning and flavors needed in the beginning to have the perfect tasting jerky when dehydrated. Once you nail it though, it’s worth its weight in gold! Since jerky making is so tedious and takes quite a large amount of time as well as being made of protein, it can be pretty expensive. That said, it’s much easier than you may think and if you are already processing and grinding your own wild game, it requires minimal added equipment.
This year I decided to buckle down and dial in my jerky game. I’m definitely still working on the “perfect seasoning and flavors” but I have at least developed a process of making it as well as preferred methods. I’ve also managed to not completely mess up any of the batches. To start, I wanted to focus on the basics…. cuts of meat, fabrication of the meat (ground or whole muscle) cooking temperature and cooking time. Those elements are the biggest battle when making jerky in my opinion. If it’s so tough, you can't chew it or if it’s too under cooked then you can't even begin to assess the flavor. During this stage, I decided to just go with a pre-packed seasoning and cure from Hi Mountain. However, I will be beginning to create my own seasoning blends and cures now that I have a process, I’m happy with.
I have used both whole muscle and ground meats and I personally like using ground meat with a jerky gun. This is my first year to do so but I am certainly glad I did! What I have found to be the best is using my ground venison mix with bacon (4:1). I did also try a batch with just ground venison, no bacon. I liked it but it was considerably more tough compared to the jerky made with fat ground in. The batch without fat, I also only ground once through the coarse grind. The batches with the bacon ground in, I grind once through the course with the bacon. Then I run it all through a second time using a finer grind. The fine ground venison with bacon added in is by far my favorite and will be what I use as I develop flavors and seasonings.
The process is quite simple once you have your ground meat ready. I take 2 lbs. of meat and place it in a glass bowl. (Metal bowls can give a metallic after taste if used) I take one packet of Hi Mountain seasoning, 2 tablespoons of Hi Mountain cure and mix in ⅔ cup of warm water until dissolved. I then add 1 ice cube to cool the liquid back down. I do this because it gets the cure and seasoning evenly distributed throughout the liquid so it will mix evenly in the meat. Once mixed and cooled, I pour the mixture in with the meat and thoroughly mix in with my hands. The meat will become sticky and hold shape once mixed all the way through. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. Once it’s marinated, I use a jerky gun to make my desired shape and size and then dehydrate at 160*F for roughly 3.5 - 4 hours. Cook time will depend on the size and shape of the jerky you're making as well. Honestly, I think 175f - 200f would work best but my dehydrator will not go that high. Once cooled, I like to store mine in Ziplock bags.
As always, email me at epicchef424@gmail if you have any comments or questions.
Call into Foraging
If you’re like me then this time of year is all about bow hunting. Whether it’s a buck in velvet, a rut frenzy, a thanksgiving turkey or a doe on late season food sources, If I’m not working, I’m hunting! However, I’ve learned over the years that there are many other gifts from God out there that go quite well with any wild game harvest, especially deer and turkey. When talking about mushrooms, many people (Including myself for many years) tend to think of spring when it comes to seasons. Although there are some really delicious and plentiful species in the spring season, there is usually a greater chance of success with larger hauls in the fall for me. Cooler weather mushrooms tend to be meatier as well, which I like for cold weather food. There are a number of mushrooms that grow well into November here in Missouri, making them prime candidates for spotting while deer hunting.One of my favorites and one of the easiest to find/identify is the Hen of the Woods mushroom. They usually grow on the base of oak trees and tend to grow on the same tree year after year. They have been known to get as large as 25 lbs and have a strikingly close resemblance to the breast of an old hen chicken. Although they can get very large, I’ve found that the ones about the size of an actual chicken breast are the best. Another favorite of mine this time of year is the oyster mushroom. Like the hen the oyster is associated with growing on trees but rather up in them instead of at the base. I've seen these delicious beauties all through the winter and have even found them in the snow. There are many other species this time of year including the lion's mane, coral mushrooms, chicken of the woods and many varieties of boletes to name a few. It is very important to properly identify any mushroom harvested in the wild. This step MUST be followed as there can be deadly consequences if not. That said, many of these are easily identified and have no dangerous look-alikes. Just be cautious! One of my favorite dishes to make when I have successfully harvested a deer along with some wild mushrooms is a venison wild mushroom stroganoff. I either take cubed backstrap or ground venison along with the mushrooms and pair it with onions, garlic, stock, red wine, cream of mushroom soup and finish with a little sour cream. I like to eat it over a hearty egg noodle but rice or mashed potatoes works well too. So, whether you're out bowhunting, cool water fishing or just enjoying a scenic hike…be on the lookout for some tasty treats! As always, please email with any questions, content suggestions or for any recipes at email@example.com. EC
Trigger to Table (part 3)
The final piece of this trio is the timeless art of drying meat…making jerky in today's terms. I suspect the process of drying and preserving meat has probably been around about as long as fire. However, we have definitely come a long way over the centuries! Making venison jerky is one of my favorite ways to process and consume my harvest. The flavor combinations are endless, pretty much any muscle meat on a deer can be used to make it and it keeps for a long time lol. Combine that with mobility and it’s just downright delicious and nutritious and you have my dilemma each year….how much of the harvest do I devote to jerky? When using the off, tough cuts and you tenderize them, you get a really nice piece of jerky. If you use any portion of the hind quarter, a more tender cut…it goes next level! And I don’t know about anyone else, but I love to snack lol. So I can really put away some deer jerky in a hurry and just using the lesser quality pieces of meat just isn’t enough lol. Once all of that is sorted out, there are many more decisions to make in this process lol. Smoke the meat, use a dehydrator or an oven (if a consistent temp of 165-170 can be reached) and the flavors and seasonings are quite endless. To some, there may be only one way to do it and others (like myself) usually don’t do it the exact same way twice. That said, I definitely have my tendencies and preferred methods. In recent years I’ve pretty much moved to using a dehydrator most of the time. I do like to use the smoker though if work and time allow. It doesn’t take anything fancy with a dehydrator, but I will say you get what you pay for with these. An electric smoke could essentially be a smoking dehydrator as well if capable of holding the lower temps. Those tend to be quite a bit pricier though. I’ve found you can get a quality dehydrator for around $100. Possibly cheaper if you time a sale. As for marinades and seasoning…as I’ve mentioned, the possibilities are endless. However, one of my favorite base marinades is:
I usually like to marinade for about 36 hours or so. Balance is definitely key when making jerky though. When pulling out all the moisture in a piece of meat, it will concentrate any flavor that has been absorbed. So, if you use anything salty or strong in flavor, it has the possibility of being overpowering if not diluted at least slightly as well as if soaked for too long. I always set my temp to 165F at the minimum when dehydrating, thus ensuring any bacteria will be killed. The temperature danger zone for any perishable food is 41F - 135F with an emphasis on 70F-135F. I definitely eat medium rare venison, don't get me wrong. In this application though, it’s important to follow this if preservation beyond a day or two is desired. If making large batches, I like to keep all but a couple of days' worth in the fridge in Ziplock or vacuum sealed bags. If you're interested in more recipes or have some you would like to share, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. EC
Trigger to Table (part 2)
Since the last article summarized the benefits of processing your own game meat, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into a couple of the cuts of venison I like most as well as how I like to process my venison. All of the examples I give here have been done with White Tail Deer, however, this can be applied to most big game animals. One of the most famous and sought-after cuts of any big game animal would have to be the backstrap. This is the equivalent of a striploin or strip steak with beef. This is one of the least worked muscles on an animal with little fat or connective tissue, especially with wild game…. resulting in a very tender cut of meat. It is also one of the easiest cuts to remove and process as well as cook, if done correctly. I pretty much only do two or three things with a backstrap. Once fully trimmed of all silver skin and fat, I like to cut into 1-inch-thick steaks and grill to medium rare or cut into chunks for steak tips/kabobs. I also like to slice steaks about half an inch thick, pound it out to a quarter inch and then bread and fry as country fried steak served with biscuits and gravy and fried taters. I call it my redneck benedict. It is important to not overcook the backstrap though. With the lack of fat and connective tissue, the meat will dry out quickly if cooked too long.
Another prized cut for me is the heart. This tends to not be as glamorous to the masses as the backstrap, but it is as good if not better in my opinion. Once trimmed, split in half and rinsed thoroughly, I like to simply season and grill it or chunk it and make stew. I will typically make stew with it for the first night’s dinner after the harvest. Aside from the tenderloin (which is located just behind the ribs up against the spine on the underneath side) every other piece of usable meat usually gets turned into ground or jerky meat. I will occasionally keep a roast, but we use more ground than anything else by far. I will note here though, it is important to treat the meat going into the grind pile as good as you would the back strap or tenderloin. I make sure to trim away all silver skin and fat from all meat before processing or cooking. This is one of the main reasons commercially processed game meat tastes “gamey” resulting in a not so enjoyable meal. That being said, when stripping the meat of all fat, the fat really needs to be replaced when grinding. It will result in a moister and more flavorful end product. It can definitely be done without doing so but I prefer to add some in. You can use most any fat of your choice…I like to use a good pork bacon, preferably from a farm raised (not commercial) hog. I will typically do a ratio of 4 lbs of venison to 1 lb of bacon. If it is a really old buck or the deer was not killed cleanly, I will do a 3/1 ratio. When grinding it’s important to cut the meat and fat into suitable size chunks for your grinder as well as keep it all very cold right up until running through the grinder. This will result in a much better grind and texture. Hopefully if you don’t already process your own game meat, you will decide to give it a try this upcoming season. It’s easier than you may think, and the effort is most certainly worth it! As always, any questions or comments shoot me an email email@example.com Good luck and Good eatin! EC
Trigger To Table
With big game archery seasons as close as a month out in some states, I thought now may be a good time to touch on processing a big game harvest in house rather than taking to a processing plant. With a pretty reasonable upfront cost and a little bit of research, processing your own big game harvests can take the table fare from mediocre to crowd pleasing in no time. Not to mention, once set up…it requires very little upkeep cost year after year. I must say though, I do understand there are many people who take their deer or elk or whatever they harvest to their favorite butcher/processor and love every ounce of the meat they receive back. I’m just not one of them. All I’ve known since being a child is everything, we harvested being processed in-house…”trigger to table” if you will. I think it definitely makes a difference in the quality of the end product as well as costs less. But I primarily do so because it’s just all I’ve ever known. Plus, there is just something special about harvesting an animal and then making food with it all in the same day. Processing the meat also allows you to thoroughly trim away all unwanted fat and silver skin. Resulting in a much less “gamey” product than when mass processed. I’ve successfully served venison to a number of people who swore it off just by thoroughly trimming and properly preparing the cut.
It honestly doesn’t take much to get started processing your own big game and the equipment needed largely depends on what your end goal for the meat is. Many people tend to like having processed products made from their harvest such as jerky, summer and smoked sausages and meat sticks just to name a few. Others tend to lean more towards ground meats and steaks/roasts. Regardless of the desired outcome, it is all easily achievable. I would say the summer and smoke sausages would be the most labor intensive and require the most equipment but it’s still pretty simple. My family tends to eat more ground venison than anything else but we also do a fair amount of jerky and steaks. Aside from a designated place to hang, skin and quarter my deer, the only equipment I use are my knives, a meat grinder and a vacuum sealer for the actual processing and packaging of the meat. I will say, having a good cool dark dry place to age your venison for a few days is very ideal. However, coolers will do if that's not doable. As the meat ages, it begins to break down, thus tenderizing the meat as well as developing flavor. I always age my venison a minimum of 5 days and have done so for as long as 21 with great results. That's it….pretty simple. And honestly, I used only Ziplock bags for many years. I just recently started using the vac sealer. I will note that with those pieces of equipment I mentioned, it does not take the best piece money can buy but you do get what you pay for. I generally like to go ahead and pay a little extra for a midrange option which seem to bring the most longevity for my dollar. As always, any questions, comments or further detail, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be safe this upcoming season! EC
If I’m being completely honest, I would have to say summer is my least favorite of the four seasons God created. Over the years I’ve learned that I much prefer cooler weather over warm every day of the week. Don’t get me wrong, there are many summertime activities or products that I dearly enjoy and are seasonal to only the summer. Gooseberries, blackberries, many garden crops, various fish spawning and so on. One of my favorites is the pre-spawn for channel cats. I’ve actually planned my daughter and I’s summer vacation around it for the past three years. We take a 5-day camping/cat-fishing trip the week of Memorial Day. That week usually lands us smack in the middle of the spawn. Male channel cats begin coming in to find nests at about 72-degree water temp. Channel cats will spawn in large rock columns around bridges, muddy banks with holes, hollow logs or anywhere there is shelter and a crevice. Once the nest has been found the male will lure the female in to lay eggs. The female quickly gets run off and the male begins his 3–4-week journey of hatching and protecting the fry. It is very important to note though, male channel cats will not hunt or feed during that time. They will only attack if threatened. With the males not feeding and the females being run to deeper water…. fishing can get tough post spawn. That’s why it’s important to watch the water temp and hit pre-spawn and spawn as soon as it begins if possible. That time is almost always that week of Memorial Day for us. We have usually had many warm rains also, allowing for rising water. I’ve noticed I catch more cats when there is more water, and it is not falling drastically. We will usually track down to the bridge by the campground we use and set up shop on one particular side that has a channel break out in front of it. We will fish under a cork about 3 to 4 feet with a #5 circle and either worms, leeches or shiners. This year we brought back 19 with the most and biggest (10lber) to my daughter Alinea. This year she learned how to cast, hook and reel in all by herself. If you can catch it at the right time…the early catfish spawn is amazing…hit it too late and you will be singing summertime blues!
As I have aged and evolved in my outdoors experiences, I have really grown fond of what may be one of the most overlooked gifts from God when it comes to harvesting food from the wild. Foraging…..whether it be for mushrooms, berries, greens, shoots, tubulars, nuts, saps/syrups and so on. I absolutely love to forage at this point in my outdoors career. I don't know, there's just something very satisfying about going out and just by walking God’s earth, finding delicious food to eat. A wide range of it too in most areas. When I slated this series originally, I was going to run this segment solely on mushroom hunting but decided to broaden it some. That being said, mushrooms are my favorite thing to forage. Unlike most hunting or fishing these days, foraging requires very little equipment or cost. Armed with a few handy low cost tools and accurate identification ability, a person can find very tasty (and nutritious) fare for the table in every season in most regions of the US. The best part is, it really doesn’t take much more effort than a simple walk in the woods.
This time of year is probably my favorite when it comes to foraging. Early spring is the most popular with most people due to the short season of the coveted Morel mushroom. It grows in every state I believe, but for a very short period of time. Usually just a matter of weeks.Thus creating much interest in hunting for them when the time gets right. I agree with most, morels are delicious and something to get excited about. However, I’ve learned there are many other varieties of mushrooms that are equally as good (if not better) that grow for months and in mass numbers if the conditions are right. My number one pick by far would be Chanterelle mushrooms. There are several varieties of Chanterelles and all are easily identified as well as delicious. These tasty little morsels are usually a pale yellow all the way to a orangish color and have a slight peppery taste with a hint of apricot some say. I love to put them with pasta, eggs or in sauces for meats. One main perk about the chanterelle is there is really only one look alike (in my area) that is poisonous and it is not fatal. It can cause mild to severe abdominal pain. In my experience, mushrooms that are easily identifiable with few or no fatal imposters are the ones most enjoyable. That goes for anything I forage honestly.
The absolute most important thing when it comes to foraging for anything in the wild in my opinion is, if you are not 1000% sure of what you are harvesting/eating….DO NOT do so. There are certain very common mushrooms here in the midwest that one cap eaten can kill a grown man. It is definitely not something to take lightly. However, with some proper education and experienced friends/teachers, a person can really take their harvests from the wild to a new level. The second biggest rule for me in my foraging is to not introduce more than 1 maybe 2 new species per year into my repertoire. In my experience, it can be very easy to misidentify something when my whole basket is full of things I have not positively identified and personally eaten in the past. I realize this makes it much slower of a process in learning what mother nature has to offer but for me, its the safest and only way to go. We certainly do not stop at mushrooms in our family either. We love to forage for gooseberries, blackberries, wild asparagus and watercress to name just a few. So regardless of your preference on what to forage, with a little knowledge and some good walking shoes….you could be taking your vittles from great to EPIC!