Maple syrup was used as a traditional sweetener by many of the Northeastern Native American tribes, though there were never any antelope in that part of the country. Luckily, I live in the part of the world where they be, and every once and awhile I have an opportunity to test my burgeoning cookery skills.
This recipe features the boneless loin of Pronghorn, and the simple ingredients seem to blend perfectly with this wonderful and unique meat. It is one of my new favorite (of many), new game recipes.
6-8 loin cutlets, thickly sliced
1/2 to 1 cup each of maple syrup and apple cider vinegar (equal parts)
6 juniper berries, crushed
several slices apple smoked bacon (enough to cover bottom of pan)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
In a medium sized bowl combine syrup, vinegar, and crushed berries. Mix well, add loin, cover, and refrigerate overnight (about 10 hours). Fry bacon in iron skillet until the grease is well rendered and set bacon aside. Remove from marinade, roll loin in unbleached flour, and then fry in bacon grease and butter until approaching medium rare. Serve with crumbled bacon on top.
This is a fabulous dinner entre or lunch, served with a salad or your favorite sides. It’s a special treat for breakfast too. I had mine with eggs over medium and a hunk of corn bread. I’m still thinking about it!
– Adapted from a recipe found in “Spirit of The Harvest: North American Indian Cooking” by Beverly cox and Martin Jacobs.
* Vinegar is a natural meat tenderizer, so it is important not to marinade too long for younger animals. It is, however, a great trick for breaking down the meat of the older and tougher animals.
** I have not yet tried this with elk or deer or other game, but I suspect it would also work well in other instances. I can’t wait to give it a try.
The best meal I ever ate, anywhere, featured cottontail rabbit fried hot in an electric skillet, hunted up fresh from the fields within sight of the big picture window of my friend’s southern New Jersey family homestead.
I had eaten many a rabbit by the time I had nearly finished highschool. Rabbits were our sportsman’s consolation prize. They were everywhere in our neck of the woods, and we could always count on bagging a brace or two when we could not find a covey of bobwhite quail or other small game.
But the rabbit of my experience had never tasted like that. My friend’s mom knew her way around the kitchen, and she knew exactly what to do with farm fresh ingredients, be they wild, or not. She was, in fact, a culinary wizard, conjured up to look like an ordinary woman.
What she did I suppose I will never really know, but I suspect it had something to do with buttermilk, flour, a perfectly matched selection of spices, and hot lard. The meat hit the pan with crackle and sizzle, and it spoke of blackberry leaves and sweet clover and sun dappled woodlots.
It literally melted in your mouth, and I remember watching as a heaping plate of rabbit pieces disappeared into smiling faces around the long farm table. It was ordinary fare, dressed in high style, and I was the honored guest of their simple realm. I knew then that I would never forget that wonderful dinner, and I have never looked at the unsung cottontail in the same way since.
Contrast that with the worst meal I ever had, which I had the displeasure of ingesting in a windswept caribou camp somewhere below the arctic circle, in northern Quebec.
It was a vile concoction of rancid grease, pan drippings, and rendered fat, and we ate it with a big metal spoon of questionable cleanliness. My native guide kept it stored in a good-sized mason jar, and he carried it around like it was the holy grail of gourmet cuisine. He ate it while sporting a huge grin, and I tried it because he wanted me too, and because he acted like it was so damn tasty. Who knew?
It seems that many people in the far north country can develop a bad case of “fat hunger”, as a result of their super lean, high protein diets. This affliction is also called “rabbit starvation”, having been given it’s name by those unfortunate souls who at one time or another subsisted solely on rabbits.
A hefty jar of partially congealed fat can be a highly prized commodity in that world, where calories count, and the lack thereof can literally mean the difference between life and death.
One throat gagging spoonful was quite enough for me, followed by an old candy bar of some kind to dull the taste, and washed down with some lukewarm canteen water. To this day, the occasional thought of that wretched goo turns my stomach inside out, now almost 40 years later.
With that in mind, an honorable mention must go to the partially raw and burnt slices of elk heart I skewered over an aspen fire one clear, brisk night in the colorado back country.
I should have been more than happy that lonely, star filled night. I had taken a fat four point bull elk with my recurve bow just hours before, and I was headed back to my friend’s small hunting shack when I ran out of daylight, and flashlight batteries.
I took a breath snatching fall from a low cliff, and by all rights I should have hurt myself badly, but did not. So, I gathered up some branches and hunkered down for the night, and thanked my guardian hunting angel. The animal’s heart and liver was all that I had packed with me.
It wasn’t so bad, after all, if you enjoy rubbery, half-cooked offal, but it could have used some salt. And it would have been far better if I had some water, which I had run out of during the hot afternoon. The head pounding hangover left over from the previous night’s shenanigans was still with me, which did not help my predicament.
In my defense, let the record state that it was the weekend of my bachelor party, and it is fair to say that the boys’ and I had just a little “too much fun”. I had been the only one to stagger out of camp that early morning, and only then because I had somehow managed to pass out in my hunting cloths, with boots on. One downhill step, and I was on my way.
My head and parched throat told me that I was in for a rough night, but my heart said that there were far worse places to be than in the abiding lap of the Rocky Mountains, with elk bugling all around, even if the meal was merely marginal. It’s how memories are made, and I would not trade them now for all the world. We laugh about it still.
The supper I am most grateful for consisted of one big can of yellow cling peaches, packed in heavy syrup. I ate them while huddled in a sleeping bag, in the low light of a small gas lamp. I did so from a short bunk in the cabin of a small crab boat, anchored just off the beach somewhere in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
My guide and I had spent the day above timberline hunting mountain goats and glassing for coastal brown bear, and we had been late getting back to our pick up point. Loaded with the heavy hide and meat of a white robed goat, we struggled down through the rocks and heavy underbrush in a race to beat the faltering late night sun. We didn’t make it.
Left with no easy choices, we made our way to a gurgling stream in the bottom of a canyon, and waded in. We thrashed and slipped and bullied our way down through knee-deep water for more than a few miles, while desparately trying to keep our feet under us. It was a truly dark and soul searching night, made far worse by the occasional loud crashes of large, big things, just out of sight. These things most probably had huge tearing teeth and long, flesh ripping claws to go with them. It was not a pretty picture, and I am not proud of the terrified thoughts and hobgoblins which danced and screamed inside my head and nearly got the better of me.
I have never been so happy to break clear of thick brush, and to see a low slung skiff waiting hopefully on an open cove in the light of a wispy moon. My father could barely speak, relieved from his duty of pacing the shoreline and imagining the worst. Once on board the main boat, and safe, I had enough energy to slurp down those aforementioned peaches that had appeared under my nose, to then lie back and fall instantly asleep.
A can of peaches is certainly not much of a meal, but it was heavenly sustenance to me. It was much better than the alternative, which most importantly meant that I had not become the hot and ready to eat snack of a snarling 10 foot beast. Thank god for life’s little graces.
Last but not least, I savored my most memorable meal on the day after my wedding in the high mountains of colorado. We spent a pampered night or two in Aspen’s only five-star hotel, and dined in its’ fine restaurant.
The company and the conversation was grand, to say the least, as was the atmosphere, and the setting. The hotel has a grand view of the area’s towering, snow-covered peaks, and sits within close proximity of summering herds of elk, and the occasional black bear. It was a most appropriate location from which to approach a colorful plate of elk tenderloin with sun-dried cherry sauce and sweet potato fries, duely crafted by the expert hands’ of one of the world’s greatest chefs. I can only describe the entire experience, as well, absurdly, …grand…
Now that was a preparation for the ages; a far cry from a flame scorched elk heart to be sure, and almost as good as that lovingly tendered rabbit dinner of my youth.
So, these are some of my food highs, and lows, in the proverbial nutshell.
No doubt you have several of your own. If you do, we’d love to hear about them.
It may be a while before we can get there, but we have some friends who like to spoil us with some of their Whidbey Island fare whenever they visit. Any warm-blooded foodie would be so lucky as to have some friends like these.
Today I met Michael and Carol in the parking lot of a convenience store near our home in western Colorado, as they interrupted their business trip to make sure that we received our periodic fix. We conducted our business from the trunk of their small car at the side of the building, and I have no doubt that we looked like animated drug dealers divvying up their illicit and valuable spoils.
What exactly were we hovering over? Well, I thought you’d never ask. Why, oysters, of course.
And not just any oysters, I might add. These were Michael and Carol’s home-farmed oysters, plucked from the fertile and friendly waters just outside their beachfront property. They are old, outrageously large, and a wonder of the pacific world.
That was not all of the goodies hiding in the trunk either. They also grow two kinds of mussels, and collect a third kind right off the beach. There were local clams too, which I love. Then came some bags of freshly caught Dungeness Crab, plucked from a trap not far from their house. Somebody pinch me!
A transplanted Jersey guy could barely be more thrilled, since seafood like that can be mighty scarce in the high rocky mountains. Let the shellfish feast begin!
It reminds me that there are many kinds of food growing in people’s backyards, even the salty kind. Nature’s bounty is everywhere, ready and willing to be appreciated by the sharp-eyed forager. The rewards are incredibly diverse, and absolutely grand. And sometimes your backyard is an ocean, full of wonderful treats.
I thank Michael and Carol for reminding us of that.
Betting and odds making is not my forte, but I am willing to wager that even the most adventurous among you have not eaten a rabbit liver. If I’m wrong and you have partaken in the livery plate of heaven, then you may wish to stop reading now. You know what I am about to say, and I hate preaching to the choir or boring our readers.
The liver of the common domestic rabbit may be the most delectable liver in all the world. It’s not even exotic or overly pampered, and it can probably be found on a homestead or backyard just down the road. It certainly doesn’t hurt to know that it is really, really good for you too.
I know, it was a great shock to me also. I am generally not so passionate about innards, or “offal”, as it is more affectionately known. The word itself sounds much too much like “awful” to my wordsmith sensibilities, which makes me wonder if that was the intention in the first place. It doesn’t help to know that a common definition is “waste parts, especially of a butchered animal”, or that some synonyms include refuse, garbage, or rubbish”. Sounds so completely appetizing, or not. As a matter of course, I tend to favor the standard cuts and less daring fare, but hey, to each their own. And then I discovered rabbit livers.
To be more accurate, I can thank a friend for that discovery. He was the one that watched as I butchered and processed some rabbits for that night’s dinner. I knew that he liked his rabbit, and I was happy to oblige him and eager to get it in a pan. I had completely overlooked the livers, and he was absolutely not going to let that happen. As it turned out, he cared much more about them than he did about the rest of the rabbit. He rolled them in flour and flash fried them in butter and spices with a happy grin, and I tasted one and smiled too.
I don’t know why I should have been so surprised. I’ve field dressed a lot of game during my years as a hunter and pursuer of large and small game. You could say that I came to livers and other organ meats quite naturally, and I’ve had my share of venison liver, and such. I know that millions love it, but I must admit that I have always been a reluctant eater of such provisions. I was always a hunter first, but a cook, …not so much.
After all, what does one do with a pheasant gizzard, or the kidneys of a caribou. A responsible hunter uses all parts of the animal. But the wet, squishy parts?
I call it the “offal dilemma”, as all roads lead to the undesirables and inevitable actions. I always separated out the parts and pieces, and either passed them out to appreciative friends (or so they said) or made a half-hearted attempt to prepare and eat them. It really wasn’t too bad. That was until the day of rabbit livers, and my opinion of livers, and offal in general, made a hard right turn. I am a reinspired cook, so pass the onions and mustard, please.
Offal is no longer a tough sell. These livers are in a league all their own. They are mild and sweet, satisfying, and easy to prepare. In fact they are hard to ruin, short of setting off a nuclear explosion in your kitchen.
But don’t just take my word for it. Track some down today. Befriend your local rabbit raiser. Impress your friends with your culinary expertise – hell, impress yourself. You won’t regret it even a little bit.
Now that I think about it, I wonder if many more people know about this original delight than I suspected. After all, epicures can be funny that way. Sometimes they don’t let us in on all of their little favorites. They must protect their source, after all. On second thought, maybe it can be our little secret too.
By the way, rabbit livers can also keep you in shape. I’d walk a mile for a rabbit liver, because rabbit livers are Da Bomb!
“Da Bomb: the best ~ simply outstanding; no comparison or greater value can be placed to another of similar type of manner”
A squab is an unfledged, immature pigeon. Once easily found and gathered, they have been a reliable source of animal protein throughout the course of human history. Pigeons were without a doubt the first domesticated poultry, preceding even the chicken, as is more commonly thought. Once domesticated, they became a favorite menu item for every culture and society throughout the world.
Most squab grown for commercial or backyard harvest weigh one pound or less, and present a perfect serving portion for one person. Since squab are harvested at 24-28 days old and hence have never flown, they are extremely tender when properly prepared. A rich, dark meated bird, squab has a full-bodied flavor with an accent of the wild, without being too rich like a duck can be. Delicate and moist when cooked, it is considered a preeminent ingredient in cuisines as diverse as French, Moroccan, or Cantonese. They offer a taste and texture truly unlike any other bird.
We love our squab at The Backyard Provider. Please see the side bar and drop down list for squab and pigeon recipes.