One day, my husband came home with a leg of deer under his arm, cleaned, wrapped and frozen. I made venison stew flavoured with juniper berries and thyme.
Another day, I answered a knock at the door to find a friend, box in hand, offering me a moose roast and two breasts of grouse. The moose became a pot of Portuguese sopas, a tomatoey soup seasoned with allspice and cloves. It was delicious. As for the grouse, I found a recipe for Cuban pheasant and beans. It worked perfectly.
Perhaps the most unusual gift from the wild came one spring as I was contemplating the life of the early pioneers when many resorted to eating muskrat and gopher just to stay alive. I asked my hunting friend Vance to bag me some gophers.
“You don’t want gophers,” he said. “This time of year they’re lean and stringy. But I can give you some beaver.”
How to cook a haunch of beaver? I began by trimming all the fat and boiling it in water for 20 minutes, then sliced it across the grain and made a good old-fashioned stroganoff.
At that same time, we met a couple from Italy who were on vacation and looking for authentic Canadian experiences. I invited them for dinner. What’s more Canadian than beaver? They accepted. In Italy, there is a genre of restaurant, usually in the mountains, featuring wild game and other “fruits of the forest.” They were fans of these restaurants, so the idea of eating beaver was an adventure they could not pass up. I was nervous, I’ll admit, but when they asked for seconds, I knew it was a hit. I would make it again, should another beaver land in my pot.
One fall, in a moment of misguided enthusiasm, I decided to learn to hunt. My goal was to bag and cook a Christmas goose myself. I went duck hunting with my friend Sue (the wife of Vance) to get the feel for it, then enrolled in a hunter safety course. But as fall turned to winter, I ran out of time without completing the required credentials. Sue came to my rescue, providing two goose breasts for my Christmas dinner. I pounded the breasts and rolled them around a filling of apple, potato and caraway seed. It was delicious and I learned a valuable lesson. In the ancient ancestry of my DNA, I lean more to the gatherer than the hunter. Is that a knock at the door?
Another day, a friend stopped by with some frozen fillets of northern pike. I baked the fish with onions and lemons, then used the leftovers in this Prairie version of the French salade nicoise. It was very nice.
- 3 hard-boiled eggs
- 2 ripe tomatoes
- Handful of green beans, cooked and cooled
- 16 baby potatoes, cooked and cooled
- 1 c. cooked fish
- 1 c. crunchy salad greens
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley 1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 c. vegetable oil
- 1/4 c. wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the hard-boiled eggs and the tomatoes into wedges, and the beans into bite-sized pieces. Place the salad greens in the centre of a serving plate and top with flaked fish. Arrange the vegetables around it. Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar or blender and pour over top.