Cooking Wild

Within our little community we have diverse interests and participate in various outdoor activities. Obviously there are many common interests as well. One of the great common pleasures (I suspect) is in cooking fish, game, etc that we gather in our time at the lake. Think of the diversity of the offerings from Perch Lake and the surrounding area. During our 2 week grouse and woodcock hunt in October our wild meals consisted of venison, bear, grouse, woodcock, perch, walleye, blackberry cobbler and morel mushrooms. At least half of our evening meals consisted of wild fish and game that was harvested (politically correct!) in the area. The list of delights we did NOT have is very extensive and includes homemade maple syrup on blueberry pancakes, brook trout, mallards, bluebills, geese, crayfish etc. A fishing trip to Lake Superior would expand that listing to include steelhead, lake trout, salmon, smelt, cisco, and whitefish. There are many edible mushrooms but I need to have a reference book in hand to avoid the inedible ones so I have not ventured past morels and giant puffballs. The various available berries are really extensive. Take a look at the offering from the monks at the Jampot in Eagle Harbor. They have a Keweenaw Wild offering that has 12 different wild jams and jellies made in their kitchen all picked from the area.

I suppose a psychiatrist, anthropologist or maybe a different “ist” would be able to explain the details of the great joy and appeal of consuming what you have caught. Self sufficiency, simplicity, health, taste, and back to nature are potential reasons. Sharing your catch with friends takes on an added pleasure as long as those friends appreciate the taste. I remember well the great red raspberry pie Bonnie Swatek made years ago and shared with our family. The October grouse and woodcock meals we have at the cabin are always memorable as are the blessings from the “The Rev”. He always expresses gratitude for those great game birds!

Cooking wild game is different than grocery store comparables. The flavor and tenderness of meat is enhanced by aging it in the refrigerator for a few days. Grouse breasts fall into this category. Venison loin roasts are marinated with spices and olive oil for several days before quick grilling them. Generally, medium rare is best for most wild meats. Venison loin roast or woodcock breasts should be a little bloody. Grouse can easily be overcooked. Fish is best when kept in the live box until dinner time. I never freeze brook trout as they lose their subtle favor-I usually eat them as soon as possible or release them. Big game animals do not have marbled fat, as domestic ones do, and the flavor of the fat varies a great deal. I love the taste of bear and moose fat, but remove fat from any deer before cooking or freezing. During the seasons of plenty it is important to properly store, freeze, or can for future meals. Eating any of these wild foods certainly eases the time between trips to the lake.

I can’t help but list a few of my favorites. Woodcock breasts on baguette bread with balsamic vinegar roux, walleyes fried in cornmeal batter, grilled venison loin roasts, crock pot bear sandwiches, morel mushroom soup, fresh fried brook trout and blueberries eaten as you pick!

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