I first made venison years ago after my husband enjoyed a successful hunt. As an unseasoned cook and not-yet bowhunter at the time, I consulted my mother-in-law because she had often prepared wild game. Her experience taught her that simple beat complicated, so I took the defrosted backstraps and sprinkled them with salt and pepper before browning them in my cast-iron skillet.
Backstraps are significant pieces of meat. Some hunters even slice them off a freshly harvested animal and cook them over a campfire the same day. I soon learned why. It was delicious. I also realized much greater connection to the food on my plate than I ever had before, because I knew its history.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with wild meats. I discovered two fantastic recipes last year that became my favorites: a paleo meatball dish and bacon-wrapped venison tenderloin. I’m eager to expand on other recipes this fall.
Eating wild meat can seem intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. Many meats can be prepared simply and easily, and most “gaminess” is traced to how it’s processed. I think most people get hung up about eating wild meat because they can’t find it at a grocery store – unless they live in certain parts of Europe. But besides benefiting from its lean, nutritious protein, we can also create a more conscious connection to the meat on our plates.
I mentioned in my previous post that I started bowhunting to learn where my food comes from. This goes beyond planting a garden and knowing the produce I grow isn’t touched by commercial pesticides or fertilizers. It also expands beyond the free-range ducks and chickens we raise for eggs. I desired to hunt for the meat I wanted to eat myself and feed my family.
I’m not alone in this new pursuit. Many who are learning to bowhunt are also interested in this activity from a food standpoint. Thanks to increased interest in the local food movement, and the popularity of books like Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Jim Sterba’s “Nature Wars,” hunting has taken on a new food-related meaning for many who didn’t grow up hunting. In fact, it’s so hip that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to try it in 2011, vowing to only eat meat for a year from animals he killed himself.
This new focus and awareness of food’s origins arose from problems with the current commercial food system, and the importance of connecting food to plate, and field to table. These ideas snowballed, pushing interested people into action while recruiting new bowhunters along the way. In fact, hunting is becoming more culturally accepted, and some colleges even offer hunting ethics courses to discuss various sides of these issues.
My first morning bowhunting brought drizzle and icy winds that seemed to permeate my fleece camo jacket. Little did I know the days to follow would only get chillier. I also forgot my hat, and the hand holding my bow was stiff with cold. My other hand – the one holding my release – was stuffed deep into my flannel-lined pocket.
Yet the wintry Vermont weather couldn’t make me give up. My desire to harvest my own meat kept me sitting 16 feet up a tree, watching the forest awaken as squirrels, bluejays and black-capped chickadees began their morning rituals.
And I waited for my chance to come.