FOR THE TABLE
© 2019 Walt Hampton
Among my favorite pastimes is eating. I make no apologies for it, I am a food junkie. Here I am talking about home cooking, not restaurant food; and although I have an affinity for the finer things, to be sure, it is the simple cooking that gets me going. I have been fortunate to experience home cooking from every region of the country, from the benevolence of many friends, but our own Appalachian table fare is at the top of my list. We mountain folks know how to cook.
Many of my favorites are game dishes, which should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me, but the farm staples are also right up there. The entire act of either raising food or hunting for it, then processing, cooking and finally eating it makes for a full-circle experience that many ‘modern’ folks miss. As I have said before, I like simple cooking and you do not have to be a French chef to lay a great spread on the table. Here are some highlights.
Venison: Our native deer provide us with wholesome, high-protein, low-fat and low-cholesterol meat. There are a thousand ways to prepare delicious venison dishes and the keys are 1) properly take care of the meat in the field; and 2) to not over-cook the meat. Since venison has such a low fat content it can dry out very quickly when cooked; some venison dishes call for larding with bacon to enhance the flavor and keep the meat moist. We like to run the cuts through the cube machine (same process as would be used for minute steaks) for tenderizing. The exception to this are the roasts, taken from the hind quarter or that favorite from the middle ages, the saddle of venison, where the backbone section that includes the true tenderloins below the spine and the backstraps above is cut. The roasts are another column to itself, so we will leave that for later. However, for a breakfast anyone will love, flour and fry some cubed deer steaks, make white gravy and serve with biscuits. I could eat it every day.
We like to use the cubed steaks for venison rolls; lay out the cubed steaks, put on a layer of cooked cornmeal stuffing, roll it up and wrap it in maple bacon. A drizzle of soy sauce or barbeque sauce sometimes finds its way in there. Roast in a cast-iron pan until the bacon is done. OMG.
Venison chili is easy; fry the ground venison, then add the chili beans (canned are ok, better use 2 cans), chili powder, vegetables and a few garden peppers (cayenne and green bell). This can be frozen and kept up to about 6 months. Nothing better when the snow is flying and the wind is cutting through your coat.
Squirrel: Our fox and gray squirrels, like our deer, have been staples of the Appalachian table since before recorded history. My grandmother always said that we needed to eat squirrel and gravy every fall, to prevent the winter flu. I am not sure there is any scientific evidence but I keep this council because, well, you never know. And I haven’t been sick in 50 years…
I like squirrel pot pie; shoot a mess of squirrels, clean them and cook them slow in the crockpot. Lay a greased baking dish with uncooked biscuit halves, layer on the boned squirrel meat, add a mix of frozen vegetables from the garden (celery, onion, corn, a few green beans, carrots and small potato cubes), cover with canned chicken gravy, and a top layer of the biscuit halves. Bake for 45 minutes in a 300 degree oven or until the top biscuits are brown and firm. Wow.
I could go on and on, but we don’t have the space here. Share your favorite Appalachian recipe with us! We’d love to hear it.