I’m not a hunter but I am an eater so I don’t scoff at those who shoot animals for food. In fact, I’m grateful for their
efforts and have enjoyed many venison (grouse, rabbit, wild turkey and other game) meals. I was not, however, fully prepared when my normally healthy, quiet Island retreat turned into Deer Camp HQ on the eve of hunting season in Michigan this year. Antler Eve … who knew.
My final trip to the Island overlapped by a day with my son Matthew’s annual deer hunting trip – he was hosting it this year at our house. Imagine his chagrin when he arrived and saw his Mom and Aunt Penny’s sewing projects scattered about, various healthy foods stocked in the fridge and a freshly baked lemon tea bread on the counter. Imagine my horror when they tromped up on the porch with loads and loads of giant-sized boots, tents, deer blinds, guns and ammo, lots of brilliantly-colored orange clothing, duffles, bags of corn, beets, booze and doughnuts!
“It’s Antler Eve, the kick-off to hunting season typically featuring a good dinner, some drinking and final preparations for the morning.” he told me. Girls are not normally allowed at Deer Camp but they had to make an exception for Aunt Penny and me since we were already there. They graciously invited us to the evening festivities…at the house. Hmmm, I can take a hint so I offered to make said Antler Eve dinner and they were delighted. Off the boys went to stake out hunting spots, clear the back roads of fallen logs and various other masculine work. We stayed back and decorated the house with paper antlers and made pipe cleaner “antlers” for their beer bottles. I also made stuffed peppers with Michigan dried cherries and fresh ground beef and sausage from McDonough’s, the local grocery store.
What a fun night we had, eating, drinking and laughing. They stayed up late continuing their hunter chatter but were still up and out before dawn the next morning. Aunt Penny and I left the Island later that morning well before the first of three does arrived at the house to be “processed” right there off the side deck. I confess I’m glad I missed that sight.
Later that day I heard they made a camp specialty of fried deer heart. It’s supposedly quite tender and delicious. I asked Matthew for the recipe and he simply said: “Batter of egg, then dipped in flour and garlic salt. Fried in butter and oil.” No fuss and foolproof, that’s how they cook at Deer Camp.
Tonight is Wisconsin’s Antler Eve but this time Melissa will hunt too so girls are indeed allowed! I hope they are successful so the freezers are stocked with delicious venison for good eats the whole year to come.
Cooking venison is a bit like cooking grass-fed beef. It’s a very lean meat so you have to approach it differently than you would a marbled rib eye. Marinating before grilling or braising and slow cooking are typically the rule of thumb techniques for venison. Check out these tips for cooking venison and try my stuffed pepper recipe adapted here for ground venison.
Venison and Dried Cherry Stuffed Peppers
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 cup orange juice
2 sweet onions, chopped
1/3 lb. pork sausage
1 lb. ground venison
1/4 cupped parsley, chopped fine
1 package Seeds of Change, 7 Grain Medley (substitute 2 cups of mixed brown and wild rice if you can’t find this brand, cooked according to package)
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese plus additional for garnish
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 large yellow or orange bell peppers, tops cut off and seeds removed
2 cups prepared marinara sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak cherries in 1/2 cup of orange juice for 30 minutes reserving additional juice. Meanwhile, saute onion, sausage and vension until no longer pink, stirring to break up any large pieces of meat. Remove from heat and stir in cherries, remaining orange juice, parsley and rice mixture. Season with salt and black pepper. Let cool then stir in cheese. Stuff peppers full and place in baking dish. Spoon tomato sauce on top of each pepper. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and add cheese and continue to bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is golden brown. Makes 6 large peppers.