Friday, November 11, 2011

Camp Food

Deer camp is looming.  Of course, to my mind, that means thinking about the food.

There are a gajillion things to get in order during the next week.  I have to take care of everything from stopping my mail to getting an oil change.  I have to pay some bills and remember to set the thermostat down as a far as I dare.  Guns and blaze orange, boots and hats, it all has to make it in the truck.

And the cooler, of course.  There is no shortage of food at camp.  In years past I've brought everything from smoked grouse breasts to canned fish.

Northern Wisconsin being Scandinavian country, there is always a preponderance of pickled goods around the table at camp.  I've pickled pike myself.  Frisbee and I experimented for a few seasons, and finally settled on a pickled egg recipe fit for royalty.  If royalty like pickled eggs, I guess.  They are a bit of an acquired taste, but are also damn near the perfect food with a cold beer.  Frisbee has taken over the job of pickling the eggs in recent years, and continues to do a bang-up job.

There will be pickled herring, pickled wild onions, and a vast array of pickled vegetables to accompany the bloody mary fest on Tuesday morning of deer season.  As everyone knows, the guns get put away on that morning, as we rejoice in the world famous tradition of Bloody Mary Tuesday.  Alright, maybe it isn't world famous quite yet, but it is the day I look forward to the most of all.

If you've been reading this blog at all, you know I love to hunt and fish.  Deer season is no different.  It's a chance to escape into the woods, and be quiet for a while.  But after three days, most of us are ready for a respite from shivering in a tree or on the ground.  And the people come from miles around on Bloody Mary Tuesday, quite literally.

Yard full of trucks means it's Bloody Mary Tuesday

If memory serves, we had 22 guys mashed into a tiny camp last year on BMT.  I adore it.  We eat, and drink, and tell the stories all day.  There is something almost magical about sitting around that table on that day.  Not to oversell it, it is merely a bunch of dudes of varying levels of sobriety, talking trash and telling jokes, but I can never get enough of it.  There's a chance that I might miss it this year because of this pesky career thing ruining my life, and it's killing me already, but as Dad used to say, "You wanna eat, you gotta work."

I learned to love head cheese around the table on BMT.  A peasant food since the middle ages, head cheese is not actually cheese.  It's a terrine made from the head of a calf or pig.  In lay terms, you take a head, remove the brain and eyes, boil the rest down, and pack it into loaf form.  The natural gelatin rendered from the head congeals when cooled, surrounding the delicious meaty bits, and forming a solid mass.  Then you slice it up and fall to, bloody mary in your other hand.  It takes a bit of courage the first time, but once that sweet seasoned meat jelly melts in your mouth, you're sold for life.  Meat lover's pizza is a misnomer.  real meat lovers know that head cheese is where it's at.

We're short of woodcock breasts this year, or there would be woodcock pate' again.  Woodcock has that livery taste that lends itself extremely well to the making of this outstanding cracker topper.  And it's a snap to make.  Fry up some timberdoodle breasts with shallots and garlic, and toss them in the processor.  Bash that up with some capers and a few other key ingredients not to be divulges on the open interwebs, and there you are, smiling again.

Pasties are a favorite of the northwoods, of course.  This pastry case filled with meat and root vegetables made it's way to this country from Cornwall, England with the Cornish miners who immigrated here with their mining skills and their recipes.  They worked both in the copper mines of the U.P. and the lead mines around Mineral Point, WI, so the pasty is popular throughout the state.  While the pasty has Protected Geographical Indication in Europe, meaning that the recipe and even the shape of the pasty are protected, they can vary more here in Wisconsin.  It's the perfect camp food as it's easy to warm up, and very satisfying after a long day in the cold.  It's a pouch of meat and potatoes, after all.  Very nearly impossible to mess up.

In our deer camp the meals are delineated by tradition.  I already know what I'll be having for dinner all of next weekend.  It adds to the anticipation factor when you know whats coming.  I haven't had that lasagna or that stew since last year, and I'm looking forward to how the leftovers of each will taste.

Of course deer, camp isn't the only camp of the year.  There are fishing camps and bird hunting camps as well.  While some of these do take place in remote cabins, they've also taken place in campgrounds, decrepit seedy motels, and illegal campsites on public land.  Those signs that say "No Camping" are merely a suggestion most of the time, as long as you don't get caught.  The tastes and foods of these camps vary as much as the hunters and fisherman who populate them, but I've come to discover there is often a discernible pattern.  That being, the stronger the taste or smell, the more popular it is.  Think about an annoyed wife or girlfriend, face scrunched up in utter disgust, stating emphatically, "You are never eating that again in this house!"  You're on the right track.

Kipper snacks stink up the joint nicely, but taste like heaven.  People will fawn and tumble over smoked salmon.  Others sing the praises of smoked Cheddar and Gouda.  Finding a guy who won't devour an entire chicken form my smoker can be a challenge.  Yet, suddenly and without explanation, these same, seemingly sane people, will consistently turn their noses up at smoked herring packed in oil.  They might even be repelled on horror.  I don't get it.  Kippers are another perfect food for the field.  They pack well in the vest when you're on the move.  All smoke and salt and oil, there is hardly a better snack on the tailgate with a beer after a long day of walking.

Stinky cheeses are another favorite.  In this part of Wisconsin, that means Limburger. There's no getting around it, a three month old Linburger smells like farts and feet.  The bacterium used to ferment Limburger is the one of the same bugs that compels us to shower regularly and wear deodorant.  But it is so creamy and delicious.  At our old fishing trailer on the Mississippi River, Limburger was a staple.  Spread on a chunk of pumpernickel, and downed with a slice of sharp radish, we could barely keep it in stock.  You didn't want to be within three counties of that trailer the following morning, but that is just part of the fun for most of us adult boys.

I'll admit, there is one camp food I cannot do.  My nemesis is the antiquated and venerable Blind Robin.  I don't know the origin of the recipe or the colorful name, but I do know that salt in those quantities is unnatural no matter how much cold beer you have on hand.  Extremely heavily salted herring fillets, Blind Robins have fallen out of favor in recent years, and for good reasons, I say.  Good riddance, with apologies to my friends Brian and Dick.

I'm on my way up to camp today to get ready for the upcoming deer season.  I'm looking forward to seeing the fellas, I can't wait to check my deer stand and possibly hunt up a few grouse, and I can't wait for all the yummy smoked, pickled, and salted snacky food.

And maybe one or two of these...

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