July 2005 Newsletter
The Wonders Of Wild Game
Recently, in company with my wife, I completed work on editing and compiling a cookbook which is a joint project of the South Carolina Outdoor Press Association, South Carolina Wildlife magazine, and the Harry R. E. Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund. The book, Wild Fare & Wise Words, contains the favorite recipes of a bunch of folks who love to hunt and fish, and among those there are dozens from the Casada table. The “Wise Words” portion of the title refers to the fact that sprinkled throughout the book are food-related quotations from great writers like Robert Ruark, Archibald Rutledge, and Havilah Babcock. My contributions, in addition to compiling the book, include narrative introductory material for each chapter. A liberal excerpt from my general Introduction to the book follows, along with a sampling of fish recipes from its pages. If you want to reserve a copy of this book, and appearance-wise it is a true “thing of beauty,” you can do so by sending me $19.95 in a check or by PayPal. Shipping on all advance orders will be free.
“Supper was a delicious memory.” Those simple yet superbly expressive words open what is arguably the best-known story every written by an American sporting scribe. They introduce Nash Buckingham’s timeless tale, “De Shootin’est Gent’man,” and remind us in powerful fashion that a love of good food and appreciation of nature’s rich bounty have always been integral parts of the outdoor experience. The ethical outdoorsman eats what he catches or kills, but the matter involves much more that the dictates of sound sportsmanship. Food fresh from the wild, properly prepared, offers delights you will never find in a five-star restaurant. That is doubly the case if special moments afield or astream produced the fine fare. “Putting meat on the table” is a quintessentially American concept, and doing so brings a rare and especially rewarding sense of self-satisfaction.
Most of our country’s greatest outdoor writers have realized as much, and in one way or another food figures prominently in the words they have left for posterity. Nowhere does this hold truer than in the Southern heartland, where closeness to nature, not to mention considerable dependency on her varied larder, have long been a way of life. Historical cases in point abound. For example, here in the Palmetto State where I make my home, one group of hunters from yesteryear changed the entire course of our nation’s history. These were the “Overmountain Boys,” staunch frontiersmen from the remote reaches of the Blacks, Unakas, and Blue Ridge along that ancient spine of time, the Appalachian Mountains.
Trained from youth as sharpshooters, these masters of woodscraft could slip through the woods like wraiths and “barked” squirrels (shooting into the bark of the tree just beneath the bushytail in order to leave the meat undamaged and facilitate retrieval of the lead bullet for recasting) as a matter of course. At the battle of Kings Mountain, a pivotal point in the American Revolution, British redcoats and the Hessian mercenaries they had hired learned a telling lesson from backwoods squirrel hunters. Similarly, another squirrel hunter, Sergeant Alvin York, became America’s most decorated soldier. On a more personal level, the finest woodsman it has ever been my privilege to know was a man from my boyhood highland homeland in North Carolina who saw three tours of duty as a sniper in Viet Nam. All of these men, along with countless others, served our country in admirable fashion because they had long been students in the school of the outdoors.
But enough of history and how the outdoors figures in our American way of life. The subject at hand is food, and in the pages that follow, thanks to a whole lot of folks who make their living communicating about the outdoor experience or who care deeply about the natural world, you will encounter scores of recipes opening doors to culinary experiences at their finest. There’s probably no better way to get truly first-rate insight on how to prepare fish, game, and other foods from nature than from those whose loves revolve around closeness with the good earth. When you take their best or favorite recipes, which is precisely what this cookbook offers, you have something truly special.
One of the finest food-connected advertising slogans I’ve ever encountered adorned jars of a popular brand of cane syrup, Dixie Dew, which was a standard on our family table when I was a boy. Printed on the label affixed to the quart jars were these words: “Covers Dixie like the dew and gives a biscuit a college education.” Rest assured that the recipes you find here represent a college education, nay, a graduate degree, when it comes to ways to prepare fish, fowl, game, and a myriad of accompaniments in the form of wild fruits and vegetables. My grandfather loved to describe these side dishes as “fixin’s.”
Another of Grandpa Joe’s favorite “sayings,” used when he offered richly deserved praise for one of Grandma Minnie’s delectable meals, was “that’s good enough to bring tears of joy to a country boy’s eyes.” Nash Buckingham likely felt this way when he wrote the story mentioned above, which is really a tale dealing with the extraordinary wingshooting ability of a gentleman by the name of Harold Money. Still, here, as in countless other cases, food memories set the stage in appropriate fashion. Sprinkled throughout these pages you will find food quotations from great sporting writers, and the remainder of Buckingham’s opening paragraph is a good place to begin:
In the matter of a
certain goose stew, Aunt Molly had fairly outdone
If those words don’t conjure up thoughts of sitting down to a hunter’s feast, maybe you’d just as well stick to sprouts and tofu. Similarly, if you don’t know what cracklin’ bread is, yours has been a life of deprivation, issues of cholesterol notwithstanding. For the uninitiated, “cracklin’ bread” is cornbread liberally laced with cracklings, which are the tidbits left after the rendering of lard.
Hopefully, in the material that follows, you will find plenty of reasons to celebrate success in the quest in much the same fashion as Nash Buckingham, Robert Ruark, Harry Hampton, Archibald Rutledge, and others who have chronicled the world of the outdoors with such grace. Those of us who have contributed our favorite recipes for this cookbook can’t provide the basic raw materials – venison, a brace of ducks, a stringer of fish – for their preparation. However, once you’ve known the joys of getting them, the road map for their preparation lies before you.
This book is arranged in simple, straightforward fashion, with eight chapters covering all aspects of the feasts and flavors available in the wonderful world of the outdoors. Some contain appreciably more recipes than others. For example, you will find dozens of ways to prepare venison. After all though, a deer is a big animal providing many pounds of meat, and to offer nothing more than a couple of backstrap recipes along with a few more using burger would do this tasty, nutritious and incredibly abundant game animal an injustice.
Along with the six chapters on fish and game, there are two dealing with wild fruits, berries, and vegetables, together with a few other side dishes. Something as simple as a family berry picking expedition can bring meaningful rewards in the form of cobblers, jams, and jellies, while Euell Gibbons was definitely on to something when, years ago, he wrote the book Stalking the Wild Asparagus. From persimmons to purslane, from ramps to wild raspberries, nature has all sorts of delights demanding nothing more than a bit of effort to gather and prepare them.
Join those of us who put this cookbook together, folks for whom wild fare is a part of daily life, in what we trust will be a culinary excursion into realms of pure pleasure. You’ll find a little bit of everything, from the simplest of dishes to those requiring considerable effort in preparation (but worth every bit of it). Today fish and game, along with other wild fare, may no longer be essential parts of our daily diet. Yet the pervasive allure of hunting and fishing remain as deeply rooted, defining elements of our unique national character. So does the appeal of consuming what these pursuits produce. All that remains is to wish you, the reader, sportsman, and outdoors lover an enthusiastic bon appetit!
BAKED FLOUNDER WITH PARMESAN SOUR CREAM
4 nice fillets flounder
Place fillets in a single layer in a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Stir together sour cream, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, paprika and salt; spread mixture evenly over fillets. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and drizzle with butter. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese over crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork.
Preparation time: 30-35 minutes
Tip: This works well with any freshwater or saltwater white fish (great with crappie).
2 fish fillets (6-8 ounces each) such as
salmon, tuna, walleye, or redfish
Heat up cast iron skillet until very hot (should begin to smoke a bit). In a separate pan melt butter. Dredge fish fillets in butter until coated. Generously sprinkle and coat buttered fillets with seasoning and immediately place in hot skillet and cook one to one and a half minutes per side. Expect a little smoke. Fillets should be dark, but not charred, and they should be cooked through.
Tip: This recipe works well for catfish fillets as well as the species listed above.
6 ears whole, shucked corn
Half fill a five-gallon pot with water and bring it to a boil. Cut corn in half and sausage into one-inch lengths. If adding crabs, remove top shells and clean. Place sausage and seasoning bag in boiling water for 10 minutes. Add corn and boil another 10 minutes. Add crabs and bring back to a boil yet again. Add shrimp last and bring back to a boil until shrimp shells turn light pink (do not overcook). Pour off water and serve in a large blow or platter with butter and seafood sauce for dipping. Serves six to eight.
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