About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Puddle Turkey

I've always had a lot to be thankful for and with Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) right around the corner, I find myself thinking about some of the big family gatherings we had when I was a child.  The magnificent spreads my Grandmother always laid out.  How, as children, we would wait to see how quickly "Uncle Jimmy" would fall asleep on the couch after the meal (as he invariably did every year), snoring so loud that the walls of the old farmhouse almost shook. The year that it snowed so hard our family could barely make it the one mile back from my grandparents' farm to our house.  The sad first Thanksgiving after my grandmother, the perennial culinary ringmaster of family gatherings, passed away. 
Some more recent Thanksgivings also stand out.   
2000: A Bachelor Thanksgiving
For our very first Thanksgiving after having moved here to the Ranch in 2000, we had barely gotten running water and rudimentary off-grid electricity going.  The kitchen was effectively non-functional and Kathryn had to travel to Kansas to see her family.  The "bachelor Thanksgiving" ended up being a pre-gurgitated turkey roll, instant mashed potatoes, fake gravy from a powder and a store-bought mince pie, eaten all by myself.  It was completely pathetic. 
1998 The Neighborhood Event
Then there was the time in Tucson AZ in the late 1990's when we invited all our neighbors who "didn't have family" to dine with us.  It was a huge feast for which I prepared four types of turkey (traditional roast, smoked, deep fried and grilled)  plus dozens of sides, salads and relishes, assorted breads and rolls, all followed by 3 types of pie (pumpkin, mince and apple - with ice cream)  - all home made, from scratch, of course.
And speaking of different ways to cook a turkey, here's one Thanksgiving that will always be remembered in our family...
The year of the Puddle Turkey
We were all gathered in Cornwall CT in the early 1980's.  I was put in charge of doing the turkey and stuffing for the family gathering.  Others were taking care of the sides and rest of the meal.
My mother had reminded me that there’s almost never enough stuffing to go around for the requisite third helpings or for leftovers and to make sure that there was plenty.  Now, I have something of a reputation for over-doing my cooking quantities and this was one of the few times I can ever remember anyone in my family actually cautioning me not to make too little of anything and I was up for the challenge.  
My mom was right (of course!); there is almost never enough stuffing.  Many, many years before, a family holiday tradition was born in order to help alleviate this problem.  Realizing that the whole problem was that the darned turkey birds were just too small inside (never mind that we never cooked anything less than a 24-pounder) to hold enough stuffing, somebody had the brilliant idea of making “Outside Stuffing” as well as the traditional “Inside Stuffing”. 
Granted, warming up a pan of stuffing is nothing new (restaurants almost never actually cook any stuffing inside a bird for numerous logistic, timing and health & safety reasons), but my ancestors decided that the Outside stuffing should be something special.  What they did was cook it slowly for a LONG time, so long that the top half inch or so of the crust dried almost completely into marvelously crunchy bites, almost like herby croutons - only better.  When mixed up, the Outside Stuffing was a real adventure for the mouth, each bite a mix of moist, buttery bread intermingled with crispy herbed crunches that explode against the teeth.  Another big bonus of the Outside Stuffing is that it can hold a lot more gravy (another turkey dinner accompaniment of which there is seldom enough!) without getting soggy.  Wonderful good, that Outside Stuffing is!
Even with that one approach to the stuffing shortage problem already accomplished and still I had been warned not to run out.  What to do?  Well I figured the only other thing to do was to make more Inside Stuffing.  But how to do that?  I mean a turkey is only so big on the inside… or is it??  I had an idea!
I had heard about a Paul Prudholmn specialty called “TurDucEn”.  It was a Boned-out turkey, stuffed with a boned out duck, stuffed with a boned out chicken, each of the birds also stuffed with a different and appropriate stuffing.  Paul’s trick was to bone out each of the birds without breaking the skin, or cutting it apart in any way.  In culinary school I had seen a weathered old black chef de-bone a chicken without breaking the skin (“keep da meat on da meat and da bone on da bone” he would mutter over and over as a mantra as he worked) so I even knew the rudiments of what to do.  All I had to do was apply what I knew about doing a chicken to de-boning a 20-something pound turkey whole, fill it up with stuffing and voila!  With all the bones gone there would be lots more room for stuffing right?  Hey!  Even a bonus, I could brown up the bones, make a stock the day before the big meal and be able to make extra gravy to boot.  Great Idea!
Well, things never really go as one plans do they?  As it turns out turkeys are a lot tougher than chickens to work with.  I mean their bones can be BIG and hard and inflexible, much more so than those in a chicken.  I’ve done this exercise on chickens since then several times and they are a piece of cake compared to that turkey.  I swear it fought me every step of the way, but I kept the “meat on the meat and the bone on the bone” as the old chef had taught me and eventually it was done.  Every single bone from that bird, except those in the drumsticks and wings, was in a pile on the counter and I was left with…  
Well, it’s kind of hard to accurately describe what a big fully de-boned bird looks like if you haven’t seen one.  My wife had certainly never seen one and it was at this time she strolled into the kitchen.  Kathryn is something of a traditionalist when it comes to holidays (aren’t most of us?) and Thanksgiving is the kind of holiday where things are supposed to be “just so” and not to be messed with.  I had not told her of my brainstorm for stuffing survival so she had no idea what I was working on when she came in.  For the longest time she just stood there staring at the cutting board and the pink and white blob sitting there.  After a bit her hand came to her mouth and she said “OhmyGawd! That’s the TURKEY??!!”.  
I did what I could to reassure her that it would turn out OK (though my own confidence was a bit shaky by this time).  I mean it really looked BAD.  I explained my whole plan and after taking it all in she finally said she could see the potential of the project.  Eventually we were laughing pretty hard about the poor bird’s sorry/saggy looking condition.  Kathryn then came up with the less-than-complimentary (or so I thought at the time) name for the dish of  “Puddle Turkey” because of the way it looked on the cutting board.  The name has stuck to this day.
We played with the bird for a while, lifting up the different parts, peering through the gaping hole in it from one end to the other, waving its wings around etc.  Eventually Kathryn says “Gosh, that’s really going to take a LOT of stuffing to fill it up, don’t you think?”.  I hadn’t really looked at the size of the opening until now and I saw what she meant.  There was a LOT of room in there.  The whole plan had been to be able to re-assemble the bird, truss it up and roast it so it looked like a normal holiday bird.  Nobody was supposed to be able to tell it was different until I, with a flourish of the carving knife in front of all the guests, sliced clean through it’s middle, exposing all that wonderful stuffing.  Surprise!
Now I was a bit worried.  We had stocked up on Pepperidge Farm Herbed Bread Stuffing.  (Let me interject here that I am an unabashed and complete stuffing snob.  There is no other stuffing in the world as far as I’m concerned and if you come near me with any of that stove-top crap I’ll likely throw it right back at you!  So there!)  Anyway we had 4 or 5 bags of stuffing which I quickly made up and shoved into the orifice.  It barely began to fill the void.  Oh-oh.  Kathryn was good enough to go out and buy up the remaining stock of PF Stuffing at the nearest store, returning with 8 more bags.
I made up two more batches of 4 bags each and started working in earnest on the bird, getting the stuffing into every nook and cranny, making sure to pack it solidly.  I worked steadily and as quickly as possible, trying to judge if Kathryn might have to make another stuffing run (she had already called and confirmed the availability of 7 more bags between two different stores within reasonable driving distance).  I thought things were going pretty well when I realized something.  The stuffed turkey was getting bigger than the whole un-stuffed one had been.  The darned thing was STRETCHING!  It was puffing up like a balloon and getting all out of shape.  NOW what was I supposed to do?  I wasn’t even sure it was going to fit in my roast pan anymore.  Arrrrrrrrrrgh!
A short time-out and a quick glass of wine later and I was calmed again but no easy solution came to mind.  The bird was getting harder to work with, kind of floppy even with all the stuffing in it, I was getting really low on more stuffing AND it just didn’t look right at all.  Kathryn then made some comment about the poor thing needing a face-lift, tummy tuck or maybe a botox treatment.  And I got another idea (Ain’t she a great inspiration?).  I gently rolled the bird over and did a big tuck on the backside, gathering up several inches all along where the backbone had been and tied it together with twine, taking up most of the slack in the body, in effect giving it a lift!  It worked pretty well.  With a little more stuffing and some minor trussing it did look mostly like normal stuffed turkey.  It fit in the roast pan with just a bit of persuasion and it even still fit in the oven!
The cooking time was a little different than on any of the charts, taking longer than usual because bones apparently conduct heat through the body during the cooking of a normal turkey.  I was prepared for this and it got to the correct internal temperature and it came out, on time, with everything else.  After transferring it to the carving platter, I trimmed up a few strings and brought it to the table.  Nobody, at least, laughed or said, “What the hell happened to your bird?”  I really don’t think anybody noticed anything different about it at all.
As planned I parted the beast right down the middle with a single clean slice of the knife to the ooooohs and ahhhhs of everyone around the table.  The bird was well cooked and flavorful, the stuffing tasty and more than plentiful.  As a matter of fact there was actually too much stuffing, not really a surprise having used 12 bags!  Everybody thought it was a novel and creative way of solving the stuffing dilemma but no one actually asked me to do one ever again (which was most definitely just fine with me).
2010 Thanksgiving
Nowadays, here on the Ranch, we grow almost all of our own food.  From the heritage beef, whey-fed pork, and free range chickens we raise and butcher right here, to the bounty from our gardens and greenhouse, every meal is a kind of harvest festival for us but Thanksgiving is still a special holiday. This year I think we'll go uber-traditional all around and leave the Puddle Turkeys to someone else.

Here’s the full menu for T-day (subject to modification)…

·         Assorted Black Mesa Ranch goat cheeses with "sour doe" toasts.
·         Twin Roast Baby Turkeys*
·         Bread Stuffing w/ Apricots & local pecans ("inside" and "outside" versions)
·         Giblet Gravy
·         Buttery Mashed Potatoes
·         Fresh Yams with cinnamon and chipotle
·         Winter Vegetable Medley (carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas etc)
·         Brussels Sprouts w/ Mushrooms in Goats' Milk Sauce with nutmeg
·         Cranberry Sauce (2 kinds)
·         Deep dish Apple pie w/ homemade vanilla bean ice cream
·         Pumpkin pie, Bourbon whipped cream

* OK, these are not technically "baby turkeys". I've never cooked a turkey smaller than 22 lbs for Thanksgiving before (even if it was just the two of us) but the grocery store in town apparently got severely shorted on their bird order this year and the biggest ones they had were all under 14 lbs. So I got two. They look like big chickens to me but I was lucky to get any at all. 
Fair warning... It's getting into our crazy time here at the Ranch with the Holiday crush coming on fast.  This will likely be the last post for a while!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Caramel Dipping Day

Candy Season is moving into full swing here on the Ranch and I'm starting to get a lot of orders in from our regular wholesale customers.  The early part of this week was very busy on the Dairy/Cheese Making side of things (totally sold out again) and then we had some friends come up from Phoenix for a visit and to bring us our new Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) puppies (more on them soon).  Anyway, the end result is that I'm completely IN THE WEEDS with candy making for the week and will have to work double-time to get caught up between now and our next shipping day which will be next Tuesday.

Got some really good candy production in today.  Cut and hand-dipped about 850 caramels in dark chocolate and dipped another couple hundred apricots.  It's days like this that make us toy with the idea of getting a small chocolate temperer/enrober.  Now, I know that it doesn't sound like all that much production compared to what some shops put out but it's not like that was all we had to do today…
With the goat cheese dairy being our core business we had to do all of that work today and some general Ranch work  too.  That included milking the 30 goats twice (morning and evening), make a batch of cheese (today was fresh goat cheese), ladle and hang the curds from yesterday's cheese making, work with the feta from the previous day.
It's also breeding season so we had to cycle a few girls through with their designated bucks. 
We also worked outside on some more winterizing the compound area - it going to get into the teens tonight, so all the auto waterers had to be disconnected etc. 
The new puppies (just their third day here) needed an expanded run so we puppy-proofed the rest of the goat kid pen area for them.  The kid pen barn camera (a closed circuit video link we have run into the dairy and our living quarters) was not working right so we had to trace a wiring fault and repair that so now we can watch the pups and make sure they don't get into too much trouble in their expanded digs.  Moved a couple tons of feed for the does and got the bucks some more grass hay. 
Oh yeah, and do some candy work.

Cutting one of the caramel slabs

Some of the caramels, ready to dip

Dipping the caramels

Caramels ready for boxing

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Venison Swiss Steak

This is another recipe I developed after my truck vs deer encounter in 1987.  Much of the meat was very tender and needed only brief cooking but some of the cuts, naturally, were tougher so a few braised dishes evolved to deal with them.

True story...
We had my sister over to our house in Millerton NY for dinner one night and served my Venison Swiss Steak.  She liked it so much she asked for some venison and the recipe so she could make it for some guests she was entertaining in a few weeks.   I was happy to comply.

The day of her dinner party I get a call... 
"David, there's something wrong with my Swiss Steak.  It doesn't taste like yours".  My sister is not shy about calling me, her private cooking hot-line, whenever she has a culinary question and I try to help here out.  This time I just asked her to go through the recipe as she had made it, hoping to find where the problem was.  It didn't take long.  
"...so then I added the 4 crushed cloves", she went on.
"The what?" I asked.
"CLOVES, the recipe calls for crushed cloves".
"Ummmm... I don't think so.  Check again."
"Oh-Noooo!.  The recipe calls for 4 cloves... of GARLIC! I didn't read the whole line!"  "I thought that cloves were a funny ingredient for Swiss Steak, but wanted to follow the recipe".

Well you can't really get the flavor of cloves out of a sauce like that but it all turned out OK and her guests liked HER version of Venison Swiss Steak just fine. 

Venison Swiss Steak

2 lbs cubed venison leg steaks
well seasoned flour (salt, pepper, onion & garlic) for dredging
8 oz bacon fat (or lard)
1 lb diced tomatoes (canned is fine)
1 pt water
1 each large onion, copped
1 each medium bell pepper, thick julienne cut
4 cloves GARLIC, crushed
salt & pepper

  1. Cut steaks into serving-size pieces. 
  2. Season the steaks with salt & pepper. 
  3. Dredge the meat well in the seasoned flour.
  4. Brown both sides of meat well in the bacon fat (or lard). 
  5. Pour the remaining ingredients over the steak and simmer over low heat until meat is tender.  Add more water, if necessary, to keep the meat partially covered. 
  6. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Medallions of Venison with Port and Blackberries

 We were living in Millerton NY in 1987 when I had the truck vs deer encounter that yielded a freezer-full of fantastic venison for us. Coincidentally there was a huge blackberry bramble thicket that grew just behind our house and the following recipe is an adaptation of a recipe we were using for duck at a restaurant where I was working around that time.

Medallions of Venison with Port and Blackberries
1/2 cp    sugar
1/2 cp    red wine vinegar
1 cup     fresh blackberries
1/2 cup   ruby Port
2 tsp     Fresh thyme, minced
2 cups    rich brown stock (venison best, of course, but beef or other will do fine)
2 oz      roux
2 oz      butter
8 each    4-ounce venison tenderloin medallions
1 oz      brandy
1. Combine the sugar and vinegar in a heavy small saucepan. Cook to a thick syrup
2. Add the berries and cook until they are very soft.
3. Add the port ad continue cooking until liquid is reduced to 1 cup.
4. Add Port and boil until liquid is reduced to 3/4 cup, about 15 minutes. 
5. Add the stock and thyme and bring back to a boil
6. Whisk in the roux and simmer until sauce thickens slightly. 7. Cook another 5 minutes or until reduced and thickened to desired consistency.
8. Strain sauce and set aside.
9. Season the medallions with salt and pepper
10. Heat the butter and sauté the medallions to medium rare or as desired.
11. Remove the medallions from the pan (keep warm) and deglaze/flame  with the brandy.  
12. Add the sauce and simmer to heat through.Serve.

Grandma's Mince Meat

I've not done much intentional hunting but it was a big tradition on my mother's side of the family, and not just for sport. Both my grandfather and Uncle were avid and talented hunters and trappers and it was an integral part of their life - key not only for contributing food to the dinner table but, perhaps even more importantly, as a method of controlling predators and nuisance animals on their Connecticut farm.  
Regardless of the reason for the kill and irrespective of the species, little of it went to waste.  I'm pretty sure that the woodchucks never saw the kitchen stove but just about everything else almost certainly did.  
Venison was a regular and welcomed feature on the table in many forms and my grandmother had dozens of excellent go-to recipes in her repertoire for when "the boys" brought home a deer. This is one of her favorites from which she made the best pies during the Christmas holidays.

Grandma's Mince Meat
4 Pounds   Bone-in Venison or Elk Leg or Shoulder
2 ½ Cp    Suet, Minced or Coarsely Grated
7 ½ Cp    Apples, Tart, Chopped
3 Cp      Reserved Meat Broth
5 Cp      Sugar
3 Cp      Apple Cider
1 Cp      Molasses
3 Cp      Raisins
½ Cp      Cider Vinegar
2 TBSP    Ground Cinnamon
1 TBSP    Ground Cloves
2 TBSP    Ground Allspice
2 TBSP    Ground Nutmeg
2 Each    Lemon's Juice
2 Each    Orange's Juice
1 Cp      Brandy
1. Trim any large deposits of fat from the meat
2. Cover the meat with water in a pot.  Bring to a boil, skim, then simmer until the meat is tender. 
3. Remove from heat and refrigerate meat in the broth overnight.
4. Remove the meat from the broth and skim off any fat from the surface. 
5. Remove and discard the bones from the meat.
6. Dice the cooked meat about 1/4"
7. Combine the meat cubes,with all of the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the brandy.  Bring to boil then simmer for 2 hours.
8. Remove meat mix from the heat and add the brandy.  Stir to fully mix together.
9. Can be refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for several weeks, canned into sterile jars (follow appropriate  low-acid canning procedures) or successfully frozen in well-sealed containers or zip bags for several months.

Monday, November 8, 2010


[Venison is the culinary name for meat from the family Cervidae which includes the meat of Deer, Elk, Moose, Reindeer, Roe, Caribou, Elk and Chital]
Deer hunting season closed in our area yesterday and Elk season opens in about a week.  Neither of us hunt but we do have friends who put in for the elk lottery every year.  One even got drawn last year, but came home empty handed (unfortunately as she had promised to share!).  We were bummed as we really love fresh venison* and haven't had the opportunity to have more than a few pounds at a time for a very, very long while.

Come to think of it, I think the last real venison feast we had was when we lived back east and I bagged a big buck (on the day before hunting season opened, no less).  Here the full story...
"Oh Deer!"
It was the fall of 1987 and my wife, Kathryn and I were living in the village of Millerton, NY in an area known as the “Tri-State Region” where NY, MA and CT state lines converge together.  We had been working on renovating an old farm house for several years.  Kathryn, was employed at a terrific old country inn “The Under Mountain Inn” in nearby Salisbury CT.  I was doing some part-time freelance/relief cooking for nearby restaurants but my main job was to complete final work on the house so that we could get it on the market for sale.  We were down to only 1 vehicle for the two of us, our Ford F-150 truck we’d named “Plain Jane”.
Plain Jane was less than a year old from when we’d bought her new from the dealership and there was nothing wrong with her at all aside from the fact she was, well, plain.  When shopping for a new vehicle on a shoe string budget you can’t do much better than finding a leftover from the previous model year just when the new ones are coming out.  Tack on some extra miles for being test driven around a few times, and make it a stripped down model with no AC, no power anything, no automatic tranny, no interior upgrades (it did have an AM radio though!) or fancy wheels or special paint job or pin striping (this girl didn’t even come with a rear bumper!) and you can get a pretty sweet deal.  Besides, we were not in a position to be too picky about what we ended up with having just thrown a rod in our old GMC step-side and needing a truck right away for hauling materials etc for the house project.  Anyway, Jane, in her plain brown wrapper, was our solution.
Kathryn usually rode her bike the 15 miles to the Inn in the afternoons and I went out in the truck around 11PM to pick her up.  The trip was always a pleasant one swinging through the picturesque little towns of Millerton NY, Lakeville, and Salisbury CT before going North through some classically beautiful New England farming land to the Inn which lay just before the road crossed next into Massachusetts.  Majestic old oaks and maple trees hung heavily over the road for the last few miles to the Inn and even at mid day it was like driving through a long dark tunnel created by their branches.  The Inn itself sat on a large piece of property in an almost too perfect pastoral setting across the road from a large and lovely lake and surrounded on three sides by woods and corn fields.  Although country charm and quaint scenery was what many out-of-towners came for, the area was locally well known by outdoorsmen for the magnificent trout that thrived in the crystal-clear lake waters and the trophy deer bucks who lived in the deep woods, venturing out to annoy the farmers by feeding on their corn.
One crisp, cool autumn night, on the eve before that year’s deer bow hunting season was to open, I set out with plenty of time to spare to go pick Kathryn up from the Inn.  I often went there a bit early so that I could visit with Marged and Peter, the Inn’s owners and operators, usually hanging out in the kitchen watching Peter, the chef, finish up the last orders and talking shop.  After passing through the slumbering little towns I continued on.  The pitch dark tunnel of trees seemed even closer than usual.
Suddenly, from the corner of my  right eye I saw a wisp of motion, black on black from the dark void at the side of the road where car headlights fail to penetrate fully.  I reflexively cut the wheel hard to the left as I jammed on the brakes.  The sound of breaking glass and the thick, solid, thud that reverberated through the truck’s cab told me I had not been quick enough but I concentrated on bringing the vehicle back into my own lane and to a stop.
A few dozen feet down the road I was able to pull safely off to the side.  Grabbing my flashlight I walked back along the black rubber course my tires had left on the pavement.  Soon I came to some scattered headlamp glass shards and bits of amber plastic from my turn signal lens.  After stopping I hadn’t taken time to see what shape the truck was in but I was getting the idea that it would need more than just a little bit of work.  Looking around, the flashlight caught something on the far edge of the shoulder.  My fears and expectations were simultaneously realized: I’d collided with a deer - and a big one at that.
I approached and cautiously checked the poor crumpled thing.  It was apparent that he was absolutely dead.  (Thank goodness for small favors.  If he had "only" been seriously injured I would have felt compelled to find a safe and suitable way to dispatch him as humanely as possible.)  Equally apparent was the fact he was indeed a buck - and one with large and lovely full rack of antlers as well.
It had been several minutes since the impact and still no other vehicle had come along in either direction.  On that road, at that hour I was not surprised.  As I looked up from the deer I saw a flashlight bobbing towards me from up a nearby dirt road.  I went to meet the light and met a man who lived just up the road, which was actually his driveway.  He had heard the impact (and no doubt the accompanying screeching tires) and had come to see if anyone was hurt.  I assured him I was fine and asked to use his phone.
I called Kathryn at the Inn and told her that I’d hit a deer just down the road, I was OK, the truck was damaged but I thought it would run and drive OK but I’d have to call the state police and file a report for insurance which would take a while and I’d be a little late picking her up.  By now I was feeling the hit of adrenaline pumping through me in the after effect of the accident.  I was kind of jittery and my mind was going a mile a minute.  I was having to work a bit to speak into the phone and breath normally so I wasn’t sure what I’d heard when she spoke to me.  I asked her to repeat herself.
“What are you going to do with the deer?” she had asked. 
Do with the deer?  Wasn’t running over it good enough?  What was I supposed to do with it?  I told her that it was off the road and that the highway department or somebody would eventually pick it up if I filed a police report, I didn’t have to do anything with it.
 “But don’t you WANT it?  For the meat?” she came back.
It hadn’t even occurred to me to keep the deer.  Was that legal?  Was it possible?  Did I really want to eat something that had been tenderized by a truck?  What if its guts had all busted open and the meat tasted disgusting?  I was sure that I’d heard that it was really important to gut and hang a dead animal as soon as possible so it doesn’t go bad or something.  I had no clue what would have to be done.
“I don’t know.” I told her.  “I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Well…” she sighed, and hesitated, trying to read my mood, “It sure would be a shame to waste it if it’s still good”.
Her words cut through my adrenal fog like the bright beam from a light house.  The old stingy, waste-not-want-not New England country boy in me hated to see waste and she knew it.  I may not have been thinking too clearly but Kathryn surely was.
 “Let me call the police and see what I need to do.” I told her, brightening to the idea.  “I’ll either see you or give you another call in a little while.”
The State Police were efficient and helpful on the phone.  They got all the pertinent info from me about the what-and-where of the incident and said they would send a trooper out my way in the next hour.  I made arrangements for them to have the Trooper go to the Inn to get the report so I could continue on my way.  When I told them that I was possibly interested in keeping the carcass they said that it would have to be inspected by the responding officer who would verify it to be a car-strike death and properly tag it.  I was truly surprised that was that easy.
Well, almost that easy.  There was still the matter of getting the deer into the bed of the truck but how hard could that be?  I asked the Good Samaritan who let me use his phone if he’d be willing to help but I guess he thought he’d done enough for one night.  I was on my own. 
I got the truck and backed it up close to the body.  Flipping on the truck’s rear-mounted spot lights that I had installed for night work around the property, I went around for my first good look at the deer.  My he looked big!  Really big!  I’d had no idea I’d hit such a very large animal.  My closest examination so far revealed that, aside from a bit of blood pooled around the mouth and nose, there was no outward sign of trauma, no big gaping holes in the flesh or awkwardly twisted limbs.  I figured this was a good sign, indicating that we really might be able to get some good usable meat off him.
I struggled for the better part of 30 minutes getting him in the truck using brute force, ropes, even some stout branches I found used for leverage like pry bars - in short, every trick of which I could think.   I wished I'd paid a little better attention in physics class.  Irresistible force meets immovable object = venison steaks?
Eventually I was successful and got my filthy and exhausted self back on the road to the Inn which was just a mile or so further along.  Kathryn and Marged and Peter all came out to see how I was, see my “catch” and admire my handiwork to the front of Plain Jane. In the bright lights of the Inn’s back door it was clear that the truck would need extensive front end body work but at least it seemed to be running alright.  In the truck bed the dead buck was still an impressive sight with his respectable 8-point rack.

Plain Jane with her Boo-Boo
“Some bow hunter is going to be very disappointed tomorrow.” Peter said with typical English understatement. 

The state trooper soon showed up, as promised.  He took some notes in his little book, looked briefly at the truck and the carcass in the back.  He then wrote out a game tag for the deer and tied it to one of the rear legs, then left.  Kathryn got off work soon thereafter and we headed home but not before Marged called out her customary “Watch out for deer.” caution.  (Marged says “watch out for deer” to departing guests the way most people say “good bye” or “see ya later”).  She was kind enough not to say “I told you so” but her cautions were a bit overshadowed by obviousness that night.

On the drive home we debated just what to do next.  I’d worked in restaurants with plenty of big cuts of meat before and was comfortable with the butchering aspect of working with the carcass but neither of us had ever taken a whole, big, dead animal with fur and head and guts and all and processed it into food.  We didn’t know where to start and really didn’t want to screw it up and ruin the meat (if it wasn’t ruined already).  We then had a thought; My Uncle Paul used to do a lot of hunting and regularly took several deer in a season.  If anybody could help us out it was him.  The only problem was that he was at his cabin in Vermont.

After arriving home, we decided to give him a quick call up in Vermont to see if he could at least give us some general directions on what to do.  Although the hour was quite late when we reached him, he was more than game (so to speak) to help.  He described to us what we had to do, while we took furious notes as he spoke.  We moved the truck off the driveway and nearer the house so that we could take advantage of a flood light there.  With my Uncle’s dictated help-guide in hand we went to the bed of the truck and hefted the beast all around in every direction, trying to locate the body’s “landmarks” Paul had described as starting and ending places for the various cuts.  This was the first piece of meat I’d ever worked on that had those particular places still attached to it. Even the whole sides of beef I'd worked with didn't have heads, let alone "navels" etc.  I had more than a bit of trouble wrapping my mind around instructions like “…then just cut completely around the anus…”  but we got through it somehow.

Paul had insisted on the phone that this wasn’t a difficult job but also stressed strongly that, we should exercise extreme caution not to nick the gall bladder with the knife during the gutting procedure or it would leak bile into the body cavity and probably ruin the whole carcass.  Well, sure, of course it would, wouldn't it?.  But how the heck was I supposed to know what the gall bladder looked like?  Besides, this wasn’t your nice, normal, keeled-over-from-a-clean-shot-to-the-heart  kind of carcass.  It had been slammed into by a couple of tons of steel at 45 MPH so some of the things inside were a bit scrambled and busted to start with.  Anyway, after a few false starts and a couple more phone calls for clarifications we actually did managed to gut the beast out nice and clean, finishing in the wee hours of the morning with lots of “help” from our 3 cats.  I can tell you, we were SO glad to be done.  Paul had also given us instructions for properly hanging the animal to age-out in our shed for several days before the skinning and butchering could begin.
My trophy buck hanging in the shed
When it was time to butcher we knew that we didn’t really have the space or facilities for doing a good job at the house so we decided to bring it into the commercial kitchen of the local resort where I worked from time to time and process it there.  We removed the head and skinned the body at home, wrapped it in a sheet and brought it in through the restaurant’s loading dock late one night, well after the kitchen crew had all left.
The processing went smoothly, though it took several hours.  Because of limited freezer at home, space we opted to de-bone every last scrap of meat to save room.  By the time we were done, we had just over 100 lbs of boneless, steaks, roasts, stew meat, sausage and ground venison all wrapped in neatly labeled packages to take home.  The only waste we had in trimming up from the collision was a part of one thigh that was badly bruised into the meat and a section of the belly (not much meat there anyway) that apparently absorbed the bulk of the impact of the truck.
With a yield of over 100 lbs of boneless meat from the animal we calculated an approximate live weight of something over 300 lbs.  No wonder I had trouble getting him into the truck!  Anyway, that meat lasted us almost a year and was some of the best meat of any kind we’d ever had.  With such a bonanza available to us, I was able to perfect some really special venison recipes I’ll be sharing soon including my Grandmother's Mince MeatMedallions of Venison with Port and Blackberries and my Venison version of Swiss Steak.
(As an aside, our insurance paid for all the repairs to the truck minus our $200 deductible so we figured we got all that boneless meat for about $2.00 a pound.  They also suggested I install (and paid in full for) a set of "deer whistles" that are supposed to alert/scare deer out of the vehicles path. The original ones on Plain Jane's bumper had been destroyed by the impact. We never did install the new ones)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Alternative Energy & Buildings Tour

This weekend is the annual local Alternative Energy & Buildings Tour and we've been asked back again, for the 5th year in a row, to cater the lunch for the group.
About the tour
For $25 you get to visit 5 or 6 homes and businesses in northeast AZ area that operate sustainably to one degree or another with various types of alternative building methods and off-grid energy solutions employed. This year I understand that there is a Geodesic Dome, a Yurt, a Log Home, a Straw Bale Home and a "Earthship" on the tour.  Various systems of solar power and or water pumping, wind power etc are in use in these buildings, some of which are attached to grid power and some of which are completely off-grid.  The tour is expected to take about 5 hours, plus a stop for lunch (included in the price).
About the lunch
This is not a fancy-feast event.  The folks at Val-U-Solar, who put the tour on every year have rented a meeting room at the Comfort Inn in Taylor AZ where we'll be setting up the buffet.  Here's the menu:
BBQ Chicken Lunch Buffet
BMR Fresh Goat Cheese Platter (Four varieties with crackers and toasts)
Tossed Green Salad
Salad Bar accompaniments and 2 dressings
Red Potato Salad
BBQ and Grilled chicken
Confetti Corn with roast sweet peppers
Cornbread with honey butter
Homemade cookie/brownie tray
Assorted hand-made chocolates (Goats Milk Fudge, Chocolate Truffles, English Toffee, Vanilla Bean Caramels)
Carrot cake with fresh goat cheese icing
Assorted beverages (iced tea, sodas, water)
This tour, which regularly draws attendees from as far away as the Phoenix Valley (about 4 1/2 hours away) as well as locals, is always interesting, informative and well appreciated by the participants. Chuck Bell, Val-U-Solar's owner and head electrician is a wealth of knowledge on all things off-grid and we not only recommend them highly but also use their services on a regular basis to keep our Black Mesa Ranch power station running in tip-top condition.
Here are a few pictures of our off-grid set-up at the Ranch...

 Our original inverter (been replaced since photo)

Some of our solar panels (another array not in the pic plus more panels at the well)

 Our 900 watt wind generator (it's on a 50' tower)

Our first battery bank (got new, bigger batts last year)