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Archive for the ‘Food Preservation’ Category

Last, we butchered up the rear legs and backstraps from my deer. I rather enjoy butchering… once the quartering is done, anyhow. Quartering, taking the deer from hanging as a whole to the primal cuts, is unpleasant to me for some reason. I can quite put my finger on it. It’s not really a gross thing and it’s not particularly hard. I just don’t like it. I even prefer field-dressing to it.

Butchering after that step, however, is an indoor, seated activity, rather than in the cold spare room. The dogs, desperate for a nibble here or there, are laying expectantly at our feet. It’s also just another layer of familiarity with the animal I’ve harvested and that I’ll be eating for next 6 or more months.

I just enjoy familiarity with my food. I absolutely loved eating tomatoes this summer that I’d watched grow from tiny, green orbs to red, juicy tomatoes. Likewise, I love that I looked that deer in the eye, assessed its apparent health, made the decision to pull the trigger and was there every step of the way to getting that deer from field to freezer. That’s not to say that it was all pleasant and enjoyable (though much of it was), but it was all deeply satisfying and entirely worth it.

Perhaps it is an odd proclivity to want to witness and take part in every step of your food’s journey from point of origination to table. I suspect, however, that it is a common thread among all humans, a remnant from our ancestors. So much of the population pays little heed to their food, but who wouldn’t love a meal with a story? A story better than “your steak grew fat on a feedlot, was stuffed full of grains, hormones and antibiotics and your potatoes came from a factory farm in Idaho.” Why else would pastoral, idealized images in the marketing of food be so prominent and successful, even when it is so often very far from the truth?

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Someone recently said to me, “I love animals too much to hunt.” I hunt (I’m kind of a crappy hunter, but that’s beside the point for now), so I was a little flabbergasted by the implicit judgement in that statement. To me, hunting and loving animals is not antithetical.

I buy all my beef by the quarter from a local rancher whose beef is entirely grass-fed, hormone-, antibiotic-free. She doesn’t use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides and she only uses spot herbicide treatment on one particularly insidious type of weed that only exists on one remote corner of her ranch. I need to nail down local sources for my chicken and pork (of which I don’t eat much), but all that I buy is at least organic, pastured, or hormone/antibiotic/pesticide-free. I am picky about my meat. Very picky. For as frugal person as I strive to be, one might question why I willingly dump so much money into meat.

Maybe I read too much about food production, but I simply cannot stand the industrial channels of meat production. They are very hard on the environment. They produce sick animals and tainted meat. They are cruel and they are disrespectful to the very animals that sustain us. I can’t stomach it. Most people follow these same channels of thought and the logical conclusion to them is to become vegetarians. I respect this conclusion, but I feel that from an evolutionary and human health standpoint, it’s simply not healthy. (Also, with my particular allergies, my diet would be woefully incomplete without animal proteins).

When I started hunting, just about a year ago, I gained a new respect for the animals I eat. I am not the sort of purist that claims that if you can’t kill an animal, you don’t deserve to eat it. However, when you work hard countless hours to find a good, ethical shot at an animal. When you take an animal. When you slice it open and field dress it. When you butcher an animal that weighs more than you to stock your freezer, you can’t help but respect your food. You respect what that animal gave and your own work. You know what it takes to get living flesh to the table.

If one eats meat, the process from living animal to meat on your plate something one should at least be aware of, I believe. You should know the journey an animal took to get to your table. You should give thanks for the Earth’s and God’s bounty that brought such important nutrition to your table. You should be at peace with the life that animal lived and the death it had. If you are not comfortable with it, you should seek out meat from other, more ethical sources (check out http://www.eatwellguide.org/, http://www.eatwild.com/).

I take the same approach to hunting that I take with purchasing meat. I deeply believe in ethical hunting. I have and will again decline to take shots that I’m not nearly 100% sure I can make, or shots that I feel have any reasonable chance in wounding or killing an animal I can’t retrieve. Honestly, if I just don’t feel right about something,even if I can’t explain it, I don’t shoot.

I have two wonderful dogs. The old guy, Barry, is gun shy and has zero instinct, so he’s merely family. Stanley, our German Shorthaired Pointer, has incredible instinct. He loves ‘im some birds. Now, he hunts with us in addition to being a member of our family. He is so happy when he’s out after birds. And there is no greater bond I’ve ever experienced with a dog than the moment when he brings you a bird that he scented and pointed and you shot. You are a team at that point. Dependent upon one another and grateful for the service the other provides. It adds a whole new level to the human-canine bond.

What I am getting at is this: I am not greatly driven by emotion in my regard to animals other than my dogs. I am not prone to nostalgia. But my respect and love for all animals is great. Even greater, however, is my love and respect for nature, as opposed to the individual. I am not perfect, but I am steadily, consciously, moving toward a relationship with nature with which I can be at peace.

I didn’t catch what dietary persuasion this young lady hails from, as starting a debate on hunting would have been out of place in the conversation, but I bristle at this argument (that hunters love animals less than they do) from any less than a strict vegetarian. If you are willing to give up good nutrition and your species’ role in nature, ok, you might love animals more than me. You probably value the individual animal over nature as a whole, but you probably really love that animal! However, one tells me that they love animals too much to hunt from behind their Big Mac or industrially-produced chicken breast/pork chop, he or she is a) woefully ignorant or b) a damn hypocrite. And that, my friends, is that.

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Oh, I wish I had more pictures of my creations today.

  • This morning, I headed to the Farmer’s Market with my big cloth bags. I left with at least 35 lbs of veggies and fruit! My arm was about to fall off on my walk back to the car. My big splurge for the trip was a 1 lb bag of huckleberries. I freeze them and throw a few into fruit desserts. They are so flavorful that a small amount goes a long way. They are pricey little buggers, though. A 1lb bag was $9.
  • Once I got back from that expedition, I went out to my garden and picked herbs. They are approaching the end of their season and I will have to leave the perennials alone entirely soon. I blanched some and stuck it in the freezer. I cut up the basil and put it in an ice cube tray with olive oil, which is my favorite way to preserve basil. I got some prepared for drying.
  • I have a 5-day river trip coming up next week with EZ and my Dad. Because of my food limitations, I offered to prepare the dinners. I decided to make lasagna to freeze for one dinner. I took the opportunity to make homemade Italian tomato sauce for the first time. Unfortunately, my garden is currently giving me just a trickle of tomatoes, so I had to buy some. However, I grew all the herbs that went into the sauce! That’s a nice feeling, even if a very modest accomplishment. The smell of the sauce was amazing. I can wait to try the lasagna!
  • When I was at the market, the whole chickens were on sale because they were close to their expiration date. So I bought one to make tonight. I roasted the chicken my favorite way. I left that useless old rack out and coarsely chopped potatoes, onion, zucchini, radishes, carrots, and green beans into the bottom of the roasting pan. I set the chicken on top of the veggies for a ‘rack’. Then I mixed butter, olive oil, fresh basil, parsley, sage, oregano, and garlic together, pulled up the chicken’s skin and rubbed the mixture all over the bird. About an hour later, I was the Hero of Dinnertime!
  • Finally, I used the huckleberries, blueberries and peaches I got at the Farmer’s Market to make a peach-huckleberry crisp for the river trip. Yummy!
  • After all that, I told EZ to clean the kitchen. And he did! Love that man.

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  • EZ and I were up near Flathead Lake a few weeks ago. While there, we bought 26 lbs of Flathead Cherries and 5 lbs of Ranier Cherries. We ate a lot of them. Gave away some. Froze 10+ lbs. The rest became my first experience in canning. Honestly, it was scarier than it was difficult. When I was reading up on it, I was afraid that I’d give my husband botulism or something (ok, so that’s still a possibility… we haven’t eaten any yet). It was actually fairly simple. I used “Canning and Preserving for Dummies” from my library and it was all pretty straightforward. Phew… I can’t wait to open up a can this winter!

Canned cherries

  • A bunch of my tomatoes got blossom end rot. EZ picked off all the affected tomatoes because we didn’t know what it was at first. Once we learned that it was a drought-stress and calcium deficiency problem, we limed the soil and started watering more. All our tomatoes have been OK since.
  • This morning for lunch, we had freshly picked tomatoes and basil with mozzarella, pepper and basalmic vinegar. And because we were feeling European/like drunks, we each had a glass of wine to go along. I didn’t learn anything from this, except that that’s worth doing every now and then!
  • We picked up our German Shorthaired Pointer, Stanley, from his 2 months of training this weekend. He’s now an impressive upland bird hunter. I’m so happy to have him home. Stan’s quite the character, I will have to post about him sometime. The trainer confirmed that he is very headstrong and driven, a double-edged sword in bird hunting. Watching him chase down and catch a bird that we never even took a shot at is an amazing sight. Mostly, though, he’s the best little cuddler you ever did meet (assuming he’s in the mood to cuddle)!

Stanley

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