Interview with Heather’s Choice, Bear Soup and Backcountry Nutrition

bear Backcountry

It was when I started shaking involuntarily that I realized I might have pushed myself to hard. I had hiked five miles out onto the tundra north of the Brooks Range in Alaska, then dropped my 60# pack and headed out after a caribou. Several hours and seven miles later I returned to camp, lightheaded, shaking and pale.

My father and cousin asked if I was ok, I mumbled something about needing to eat. As quick as I could I ate my dinner – cured wild boar loin, black coffee and Stoffers Stove Top Stuffing. I passed out and awoke in the pre-dawn light with a huge headache. It took me half the morning to feel “normal” again. As best my Doctor can tell is that I had dropped my blood sugar to a dangerous level. I had used up all the food energy I had eaten that day and my body was consuming its own muscles for energy.  This is a common occurrence in endurance athletes but for those who are weekend warriors like myself burning fuel like that is dangerous. Especially in unforgiving grizzly bear country. I should have known better.

My diet needed regulated – I was expending fuel, but not taking any in. I had snacks in my bag, I just wasn’t eating them. I was to busy hiking and looking for caribou. My poor food choices led me to make mistakes that could have cost me my life. Since then I have kept a closer eye on my consumption of food in the backcountry. Managing intake, especially on an extended backpack hunt, can be critical. Pack to little food and you might end up hungry and doing foolish things. Pack to much food and you have wasted energy.

Back at camp later that morning, I needed to get my calorie intake in check. I caught a big Grayling out of the stream we camped next too. Then I cooked up the fish with a bit of sweet coconut powder, a pinch of curry and some minute brown rice. Quickly I had a hot stew of curried grayling and rice. After about an hour my body just felt “better” than it had in two days.

Why? Balance. Not only do you need to consider total calorie count with food you need to consider the nutritional benefits of what you are brining. I had ignored the signs and let my body deprive itself of proper nutrients.

As luck would have it, I went to a seminar recently on backcountry nutrition. The speaker was Heather, of Heathers Choice – Meals for Adventuring, and she was explaining the building blocks of backcountry nutrition. The Proper mix of calories for the backcountry it vital to success.

The proper mix looks something like –

  • 30% Fat – This is the “fuel” for the fire. Fat from nuts and fish are the best, nutritionally. However, chocolate, summer sausage and hot coco are good sources as well.
  • 50% Carbs, i.e. complex carbs, – This is the sustained burn on the trail. Things like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta are best. They take your gut a lot longer to digest than “simple carbs” (white rice and white flour noodles). This longer span of digestion makes them a more reliable source of energy.
  • 20% Protein – The Coals for the fire. Protein is the recovery food for the trail. It helps the body repair itself when you sleep. Meat is the best option for this – jerky, cheeses and my favorite wild game.

Looking back at my prior to now backcountry nutrition I was skipping a few things as far as food groups were concerned. My diet was mostly low grade carbohydrates – like stove top stuffing – and lean meat. While not bad horrible I was not giving my body any fat or sugar for that matter. I was setting myself up for failure. When I ate the coconut milk soup I filled my stomach with what it needed; protein from the fish, fat from the coconut and complex carbs from the brown rice. I felt better because I had eaten better.

Backcountry Snacks –

Pemican, like this recipe, is a great resource for fat, sugar and protein. Pemican is the old mountain man and Native American travel staple. It holds for years, and has just about all the calories and nutrition a hard working person needs.

GORP – “Good’ol Rasins and Peanuts” – AKA Trail Mix – the reason that this is well known to backpackers and hunters alike is because it works. Nuts provide the fat, chocolate gives you the sugar/carbs and the raisins are great little energy pills.

Hard Cheese and Jerky – the often-skipped food group on backcountry hunts is protein. A hard cheese, one that does not require refrigeration, has fat, protein and salt. All three are essential for proper backcountry nutrition. While jerky is inherently lean meat it is a very good way to get protein into the diet. Your body will eventually start consuming its own lean muscle mass if it deprived of protein for too long. (This will cause you to get tired faster)

Interview with Heather, From Heather’s Choice  –

CITW: Out in the bush I tend to eat like crap. Does that affect my performance while hunting?

HC: Yes, the quality and quantity does have a dramatic impact on your backcountry experience, as well as your long-term health. While one meal will not wreck your health, if you plan on spending a lot nights out each year, the damage done by poor quality food can start to take a toll.

CITW: What can I do to supplement my dried food rationing?

HC: In order to supplement your dried food rations, you want to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. When you eat fresh food, you can meet some of your hydration needs simply from the food you eat. Once you have figured out how you’re going to drink enough water, you also want to make sure your replacing the sodium that you lose through sweating. The bare minimum amount of sodium we need to survive is 500 mg per day, while we can lose a couple hundred milligrams per hour when we sweat. Make sure there is a good amount of sodium in the meals and snacks you have packed for the trail.

Additionally, I would encourage you to look at the protein, carbohydrate and fat content of your daily rations, and strive to get a balance of all three, rather than packing mostly simple carbohydrates or poor quality fats.

CITW: Protein seems to be important – how much should a 200lb guy get in a day and how do I do that in that backcountry for a week?

Getting enough protein in the backcountry is a real challenge. For a 200 lb guy, I would recommend getting 1 gram of protein per lb of lean body mass. This might mean you have at least 160 grams of protein to get each day. You can do this with a good quality jerky, some nuts and seeds, a high protein dinner, and high quality cheeses.

CITW: What separates your products from the competition on the nutritional scale?

HC:  What sets Heather’s Choice apart from the competition is our selection of ingredients. We use only healthy, whole ingredients to create nutritious meals and snacks for the backcountry. Our products provide you with easily digestible fats, lean sustainably sourced protein, and complex carbohydrates.

CITW: Balance seems key – but on the hunt, I am never really balanced. Either I am camped on a ridge glassing for animals or I am pounding up a mountainside. How do you balance that out?

HC: Our experiences in the backcountry will rarely feel “balanced”. We are always pushing ourselves to the edge or past our comfort zone, which can be a beneficial stress on the body. Since the climate and exposure is generating stress, you can strive for balance by focusing on high quality nutrition and hydration to help your body recover.

CITW: I remember getting back to camp on the Tundra during a caribou hunt and I was physically shaking. I ate my food, passed out and woke up with a screaming headache in the morning. What did I do to my body and how could I have prevented it?

Screaming headache? I would guess hydration…if you were pushed to your limits you might have not rehydrated enough to fully recover. You know when you get a hangover; It’s largely from dehydration.

The Recipe –

This recipe calls for “bear” meat, but honestly, any protein will work. Slice thin to win with this stuff. Even the most leathery jackrabbit meat will be rendered tender if it is sliced thin enough. Just ask your local Mongolian BBQ place.

Curried “Bear” and Rice Soup

Serves 1 – designed for backpacking

1 tbsp canola oil

4 ounces bear meat, sliced super thin (really any meat will work here)

1 ½ cups water

¼ cup instant brown rice

2 tablespoons dehydrated vegetables (bulk from the grocery store)

2 tablespoons curry powder

2 tablespoons coconut milk powder (available online and in some grocery stores)

Salt and Pepper

In a small backpacking soup pot, add the canola oil. Heat until almost smoking then add the bear meat. Brown the meat then add the water to the pan. Bring to a boil.

Next add the rice, dehydrated vegetables, curry powder and coconut milk powder to the water. Turn to a simmer and stir. Cover and let cook for five minutes on low. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Enjoy.

(Pro-tip – the rice, veggies, curry powder and coconut milk should be pre-mixed at home and put into a Ziploc bag. That way you only take what you need into the bush and are not measuring stuff in the backcountry.)

 

Antelope Kefta

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It was a windy Saturday in November when I gathered my two older boys, my nephew and my buddy for a road trip to the happy antelope grounds. We had drawn the not that coveted doe tag for the area and were looking to make meat. I had filled my freezer already with an elk, two deer and one antelope and was not in a meat crisis. However, one of my buddies had failed to get his deer that year. I was on a mission to fill his freezer.

I’ve read before, in one of those “Outdoor” magazines, that using a flag can attract antelope. Yeah, not for me or my son. The herd we were stalking was feeding in an unapproachable patch of knee high grass. Chances were slim anyway, why not take a gamble? So I stuck my hunters orange cap on top of my shooting stick and gave it a wave in the air. This group, a doe filled meat market, was not having any of it. The only thing my flagging did was give them a focal point.

A doe noticed it first, then a small buck. Before I knew it thirty sets of binocular powered eyeballs were trained in on me at 600 yards. The lead doe then fluffed her but hair out and took off like a squirrel from a Labrador at the park. The remainder of the group promptly turned and ran as fast as possible, and that is stupid fast, away from me. My son, Middleman, was not impressed. He knows his shot range, and those antelope were well out of it.

“Wouldn’t work, told you I did” he said, channeling his Yoda wisdom at only ten years old.

I gave him a cockeyed look, not really appreciating the smack talk from a pre-teen, but understanding why he would remind me. We would never have flagged down a deer, an elk, a bear, a turkey or any other animal for that matter. So why the hell did I think it could work on an antelope. No matter, this stalk was busted, our second bust that day.

We walked back to the truck, parked on a rocky knob, to keep glassing for critters. Eventually we glassed up another herd of antelope, these ones about a mile off. Luckily, they had chosen a location that was “accessible” for a stalk. A single row of sagebrush obstructed there view from the valley floor. If we got to sagebrush and we might have a shot. We grabbed some more water, a granola bar and hit the trail.

After an hour of careful wind checks, slow and quite walking and some serious self-doubt about the antelopes still being in their beds we came to our little patch of sage. We belly crawled to our chosen location, not daring to expose ourselves over the top of the sage. And there they were, a dozen or so sleeping antelope at 200 yards. A chip shot for most adults but a solid 50 yards past my boys’ effective range.

We decided to risk getting in closer and crawled slowly in the grass toward the animals. At about 160 yards the first doe rose to her feet. Five more yards had three does standing. It was shoot now time. I propped up my shooting stick, my son took a kneeling shooting position. He waited for his breath to come under control and fired. The shot making a puff of dust right over the top of the nearest doe’s back. A clean miss. Perfect stalk, blown shot.

As the doe’s ran off I looked at the boy. I expected to see a frown or a grimace. Instead it was an ear to ear smile. He got it. He understood that the hunt was a goal in and of itself. He understood that shooting and killing was not always what was best.  “Well” he said “That was fun!”

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Over a mile away

We picked ourselves up, dusted off and called it a day. Back at the truck we stashed the guns and drove out toward the highway. That is until the herd of antelope wandered in across the two track in front of us at about 100 yards. Then we quickly hopped out, set Cameron up and watched as he let lead fly at a doe. Filling his tag, and my buddies’ freezer, after all.

Some hunting involves looking and looking for animals. Antelope are fairly easy to spot – their sides being bright white against the yellow of the plains and dessert. Some hunting is just about finding the animals. Our location has them by the hundreds, almost making it harder to hunt them. Some hunting involves a methodical and patent stalking. This is the definitive way to hunt antelope.

That or just have them stand off the side of the road and let you shoot them. Either way.

Antelope and the Myth of “Game” Flavor

If you are skim reading this section here is the lead – antelope don’t taste like beef, they taste like antelope. AND THAT IS OK.

The number of times I have heard that antelope are bad to eat is borderline depressing. But you also here, from a fewer number of folk, that antelope is the lobster of the prairie. The meat is bordering on sweet. Personally I don’t buy either claim. I think antelope taste just like antelope. And I love them.

Unfortunately, most households have a limited range of proteins that they consume. Beef, Pork, Turkey and Chicken are about the only non-fish meat consumed. Sure a little lamb is eaten, maybe some goat, a hint of rabbit – but honestly flavors outside those aforementioned meats are “gamey” to a lot of folk.

That is not a product of them having a poor pallet, or of the meat being bad (most times). The “gamey” flavor is the only description most people have to describe meat that is not “normal” to them. The best way to get past the gamey flavor is to reframe your mind around the issue. Antelope is not beef, so thinking it tastes funny because it does not taste like beef is silly.

With properly treated animals “gamey meat” is not a thing. Deer tastes like deer, elk like elk and antelope tastes like antelope.

History of Kefta/ Kofta

A generalized “meatball” dish from the Middle East kefta is traditionally served with yogurt or curry of some kind. The goal with the sauce it to provide a “fat” to the often lean meat that is used in the skewer. This recipe harkens to the more Moroccan and Egyptian flavors of North Africa with the addition of the cinnamon and allspice.

Traditions vary on these meatballs being on a skewer or not. The idea or ground meat on a stick gets some people hung up. It is not as hard as you might think. First make a roughly two ounce meatball. Then channel your inner preschooler and roll that meatball into a finger length “snake”.  Then run the skewer into the center of the snake and set the skewer onto a plate. Chill the skewers before cooking to keep them from falling apart.

Antelope Kefta Kebabs with Greek Yogurt

Serves 2-3, depending on how hungry you are…

 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/3 cup onion, fine diced
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ginger, minced
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon red chili flakes

2 teaspoons curry powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound ground venison, antelope in this picture

1/3 cup currents, rehydrated, optional

½ cup Greek yogurt, plain

1 bunch watercress

Add all ingredients, except the yogurt, to a mixing bowl. With your gloved hand stir to incorporate. Mix until the meat starts to become “tacky” or sticky. About one minute. This will give the skewer a sausage like texture. Roll 2 ounces of meat into finger lengths and skewer them. Refrigerate them before grilling to your desired doneness. About 3 minutes on both sides for medium well. Serve the skewers with a side of watercress and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Wild Turkey Mole

FullSizeRenderMole sauce is a strangely ubiquitous term in the cooking world. I like to equate it to “gravy” in the English language. Mole can be green, red, brown and black – with all sorts of shades of “grandmas favorite” tossed in (Los favoritos de la abuela). Mole is usually a mix of chilies pureed with onion, garlic and corn tortillas. Endless varieties exist per the flavors and norms of certain regions. Oaxaca mole is nearly black. Many describe mole as the “peanut butter and chocolate” sauce, and that is sometimes true. The sauce has a huge flavor and adds a depth quite a few dishes. Not being of Mexican/ Spanish heritage I tend to make a white guy mole at home. I have no grandma recipe to work with here. In fact, my grandma would have never eaten this being an Oklahoma “meat and ‘tatos” woman. So, to make mole, I cheat.

Why? Because I do not regularly have the necessary ingredients on hand to make a traditional mole. Nevertheless, I do usually have the items to make a pho-mole. I start with a base of enchilada sauce, the red stuff in a can. It provides a solid base of flavors that I can add onto quickly. Next, I add a few other items in a blender and puree. The sauce is ready to use almost immediately. I like to sear my meat – generally a turkey or chicken legs – while I make the sauce. By the time the meat is brown in the pan the mole can be poured over the top.

Turkey Mole

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 wild turkey thighs, deboned

Salt and Pepper

 

1 16 ounce can enchilada sauce

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup coco powder

1/8 cup peanut butter

2 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 each corn tortillas, 6 inch

Heat a heavy bottomed 10-inch saucepan on medium. Add the canola oil to the pan, season the turkey thighs with salt and pepper. Next add the turkey thighs to the pan and brown on both sides. About 4 minutes per side. The more brown, the darker the brown, the better.

While the meat is browning, add the remaining ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. The sauce will be darker and thick now. Turn the pan with the turkey legs to low. Add the sauce to the pan with the turkey legs. Cover pan with lid and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until fork tender (for a Jake that might be an hour for an old Tom maybe 2 hours). Add water – ¼ cup at a time as needed with older birds if the sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.

When tender shred the meat with a fork in the pan. At this point you can serve the turkey mole with corn or flour tortillas and the “traditional” accompaniments of onions, peppers, cabbage and rice. For added flavor I like to grill my onions, peppers and tortilla shells for my mole.

 

Pemmican

The elk were a meager 70 yards away. My father, buddy and I had spotted them from over a mile off and had managed to sneak, undetected, to well within shooting distance. It felt like a hunt that was coming together as I slipped out from behind a tree, aimed my scope to just in front of the elk’s ear, exhaled and pulled the trigger. She fell, never having known another thing.

But I knew something, I knew that I had just made meat that would feed five families. I knew that I had a 350 pound animal that needed cut up and it was getting dark. I knew that, in no way was this animal going to be wasted or treated like anything other than pure culinary gold. Visions of steaks, summer BBQ’s and pemmican floated in my head. This meat was wild, I had struggled for it and I would make the most of it. In the distance I heard the crack of another gun, someone else was making meat too. I was participating in a tradition that stretched back to the beginning of humanity. I was making meat.

Brief History of pemmican –img_2089

The history of humanity is a story of calorie acquisition. The foragers acquired the majority of the calories, the hunters acquired the calorie dense meat. In times of surplus food was often preserved and saved for later. Each culture had its own method or style of pre-refrigeration preservation. The ancient Egyptians poached meat in fat then stored it in a barrel in the cellar. The Germanic tribes would burry a ditch full of cabbage until the winter, making sauerkraut. The English would barrel pickle herring, bringing Lent and fish Fridays to the center of the country. The Basque would dry cod that would stack and store for years. In the Americas the native tribes would make pemmican.

Pemmican is basically three things – fat, dried meat and fruit. The native plains tribes developed a high calorie method of food preservation directly linked to the buffalo harvest. The tribes would dry the buffalo meat over a fire or in the sun until brittle. They would then pound the meat until it was nearly a powder, then they would mix the meat with rendered buffalo fat and dried fruit. This pemmican would last for years if stored properly. It would often be a staple part of the diet in the winter – when hunting was hard and foraging even harder.

Pemmican was traded to the fur trappers and explorers that set out across North America. It eventually became a staple part of the diet of many explorers who did not possess the woodsmanship of the natives. Basically, pemmican warded off starvation and provided calories and nutrition for westward expansion.

As the buffalo grew less and less prevalent and food became easier to ship across North America pemmican fell off in consumption. In modern times pemmican has seen a resurgence thanks in part to the paleo diet. Tanka Bars – a variation of pemmican – are a hugely popular high protein food source produced in South Dakota. Other manufactures exist as well, making everything from pemmican bars to pemmican trail mix.

Check out my pemmican recipe below.

How to make pemmican –

The simplest recipe for pemmican is a ratio – 1:1:.5 – one part dried meat, one part fat, .5 parts jam.

For my recipe I use elk jerky, but really any type of wild game jerky would be great. Buffalo meat was historically the most popular but those opportunities are sparse in the hunting world. Deer, elk, caribou and moose all work well for this recipe. The idea is to have a super lean protein that is free of fat that can go rancid. Honestly, I use the jerky that makes it past the winter in my pemmican bars. I have a buddy that loves to make the stuff so I have an extra pound of jerky every year. If you are making jerky for this application make sure to trim it of all fat. Non rendered animal fat will turn bad if left out.

For the fat I will either use rendered bear fat or coconut oil. I have been on a bit of a dry stretch on my bear hunting of late – so I am clean out of bear fat. So my recipe below calls for coconut oil. I could use lard, from the store, for this recipe (and most other recipes do) but I like the idea of using my own gathered animal fat instead of beef fat. The coconut oil I use is the shelf stable stuff that looks like lard and keeps solid until it’s about 80ᵒF. That way, in most of my hunting seasons I know the pemmican bar I made, is still a bar not a goopy mess in my pack.

Another way my pemmican recipe is a little different than most – I use jam or jelly as an ingredient instead of dried fruit. The reason I do this is twofold. First, the jam allows me to flavor the pemmican how I want to. Secondly, the added sugar of the jam is helps my inner sweet tooth cravings. I use my own homemade huckleberry jam for this, but if that is not an option many online retailers have them for sale. Just remember, a recipe is an idea – feel free to substitute huckleberry for blackberry, blueberry, raspberry or even grape jelly. Like with most recipes personal preference comes into play. If you are not a fan of huckleberries substitute some other fruit. Really the goal with making pemmican is to create a high calorie, high energy and easy to carry food you want to eat.

Also, this is not an everyday snack item. Pemmican is a high calorie food meant for those burning a high amount of calories. Like marching across the plains in search of buffalo or up the side of a hill looking for an elk. Consider that elk jerky is about 75 calories per ounce, coconut oil is about 244 calories per ounce, and huckleberry jam is about 75 calories per ounce. So a 2.5 ounce bar would have about 370 calories. That is some densely compacted energy right there!

Will some criticize my pemmican recipe as non-purest? Sure, but I am not trying to be a cultural appropriator. The goal is good food – this is good food.

Recipe –

1 cup coconut oil

½ cup huckleberry jam

1 cup wild game jerky, crumbled or powdered in a blender

Line a medium sized cookie sheet with foil, spray lightly with pan release. Reserve.

Heat huckleberry jam in small pan on stove. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. This step will remove most of the moisture from the jam, allowing it to be shelf stable if desired. Reserve.

Heat coconut oil I the microwave for 1 minute, until hot and completely clear.

In a medium sized bowl add the coconut oil and concentrated jam. Mix well to incorporate. Next add the crumbled or powdered meat in small batches, making sure to mix it well. When all the meat is added you should have a purple/brown mixture that is slightly stiff to stir. Taste the mixture. If you want more salt, add a little more salt. If you want it sweeter, add a little honey.

Pour mix onto the foil lined cookie sheet and spread mixture until it is about ½ inch thick. Try to keep it in a rectangular form, it will be easier to cut and portion that way. When the mix is evenly spread place the try into the refrigerator. This will cause the coconut oil to set.

After 2 hours remove the cookie sheet from the fridge, invert the pan and “pop” out the pemmican onto a clean cutting board. Remove the foil and cut the pemmican into desired portion sizes. I think that about 2-3 ounces is plenty. I cut mine into “bar” shapes and wrap them in parchment paper. I then freeze mine, but this is optional. Enjoy.

 

Buck, Buck, Moose – Interview with Hank Shaw

Sometimes it is cool to know people. I happen to know Hank, he is a good dude. That said – the man has launched an ambitious new book, backed by a Kickstarter Campaign, on cooking venison called Buck, Buck, Moose. Take a gander at the interview below – or on the Stands with the new issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.

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Randy: Book three Hank, what is this one about?

Hank Shaw: Buck, Buck, Moose is something of a follow-up to my last book, Duck, Duck, Goose. Where the duck book covered all things waterfowl, this one, as you might imagine, covers everything you might want to know about prepping and cooking venison — in all its forms. One of the reasons we named the book as we did was to give people a sense that it wasn’t just about whitetail deer — sure, deer bucks, but also antelope bucks, and moose and elk, etc…. Also, well, we did think it was a fun title.

R: There are other Venison cookbooks on the market. What makes Buck, Buck, Moose different?

H: It is far more comprehensive, in all respects. The book covers everything from the moment you have the deer on the ground all the way to the freezer, and beyond. I go over food safety, detail general differences in the various meats by species and region, and I offer a style of butchering that can literally be done with a pen knife and a pocket saw — although I’d suggest a proper boning knife and a Sawzall if you have them.

Buck, Buck, Moose also looks at venison cookery from a nose-to-tail and a global perspective. You will see recipes for venison from all over the world. Why? Because every culture in the world has at least a historic tradition of eating deer, elk, gazelles, moose, antelopes and the like. Similarly, it is important to me to open up to home cooks new ways of cooking the animals we bring home to feed our families. I’ll never ask you to eat innards because I think you ought to out of some moral obligation. But I will ask you to try my recipes for things like hearts, livers, tongues and kidneys because they taste amazing. Give them a go and you’ll see…

R: This books was funded via Kickstarter – full disclosure I am waiting for my copy – why did you choose the self-publish rout vs the traditional publisher rout?

H: Primarily for editorial control. I was able to create exactly the book I wanted to, and include as many photos as I wanted to, with no restrictions. It is liberating. Another huge reason is because many (but not all) mainstream, big-city publishers flat out told me they had no idea how to sell this book to the people they normally market books to; remember, for the most part, people aren’t buying venison, they’re hunting it. It was an eye-opening look at a little sliver of this cultural divide we’re experiencing in this country. I don’t blame the editors for passing on the book, but it may have proved to be a blessing in disguise.

_hah9339 R: You are about to start the book tour – mind telling me what that entails? The life of a traveling author seems so glamorous after all.

H: Oh God. Yeah, it’s basically like a rock and roll tour only with no explosions, groupies, money or drugs. Long hours in planning every detail — a 55-event tour has innumerable moving parts to it — driving endless miles solo, being in and our of airports (who doesn’t love the TSA?), nights in hotels watching ESPN. You lose your voice at least twice every tour, and Nyquil becomes your best friend because you invariably get sick meeting so many people.

But those are the down sides to this sort of tour. The upsides are the events themselves. Book dinners, presentations, parties, cooking demonstrations and classes. They’re all fun in their own way, but what really keeps me going on all those days on the road are the people I meet. Long-time readers, people who’ve never heard of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, rich people, poor people, rural, urban, left, right, black, white: I see all kinds when I am out there, and seeing each night how so many people of such disparate backgrounds come together over a shared love of wild food cements why I put myself through this. Gratifying is putting it mildly.

R: What is your “date night” recipe in Buck, Buck, Moose?

H: Oh there’s many of them. There are more the 120 recipes in the book, and most could be done for a date. But if I had to choose one, I’d say either venison loin with Cumberland sauce or Steak Diane. They are both classic dishes many modern cooks snub, but they are classics for a reason. Both are fairly easy to make, and taste more fancy than they are. If I were back in my 20s, I’d memorize these two dishes: They’d be an ace in my pocket for a hot date.

R: Give me a “top three” pieces of advice for cooking venison?

H:  1. Never cook the loin, tenderloin or whole-muscle roasts from the hind leg more than             medium, and cook the shoulders, neck and shanks longer than you think you need                 to.

  1. Don’t grind everything. I like burger as much as the next guy, but unless you are shooting lots and lots of deer (some people do), for the love of all that’s holy please don’t grind the luxury cuts.
  2. Don’t forget the bones for stock! Bones and little bits of sinew and gristle make the best stocks and broths. The only caveat to this is if you live in a place where there is widespread Chronic Wasting Disease, where you might not want to keep the bones.

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R: Speaking of – what exactly defines venison? A cow is not venison, but a moose is? What is the line in the sand for determining what is classified as venison? Is a wild goat venison?  

H: Venison to some means deer and only deer. But most people in the English-speaking world use “venison” to mean any deer or deer-like animal: So elk, moose, all the deer and antelope, as well as caribou, would all be venison in this sense. This is the way I use venison in the book. The French use venison to mean all wild game.

While I would not call wild goat or sheep or muskox or bison venison, you could use all of these meats as a stand-in for venison for any recipe in this book.

R: Can you tell me about your two prior books?

H: I’d mentioned my last book, Duck, Duck, Goose, which is a full-color, hardcover, comprehensive waterfowl cookbook. My first book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, is something of a primer on the wild world. Experts in each of the many fishing, foraging and hunting sections of that book may not learn too much from the techniques I describe (although most will pick up at least a few new tricks), but the real value of the book is to open up extra skills to someone who loves self-sufficiency and being outdoors. Anglers might learn more about the wild edible plants they are around when they fish the banks and beaches. Hunters might pick up new tricks on foraging. Foragers might read the hunting section and decide to finally take the plunge and begin what can be a lifelong pursuit.

R: Can you tell me more about honest-food.net?

H: Hunter Angler Gardener Cook is the core of what I do. Honest-food.net is the URL to get there, and I gave it that name initially back in 2007 because I wanted to deal with what I call honest food: Nothing industrial. Nothing overly processed, and certainly nothing that came from a lab. Honest food does not have to be wild, but that is my area of expertise. So the site, over the years, has become the largest source of wild food recipes on the internet. There are almost 1000 recipes, tips, and technique posts covering everything from wild game to fishing, clamming, foraging, mushrooms, you name it. I post every week, and often twice a week, and this is the home of most of my more thoughtful essays on this wild, edible world we live in.

R: And just what is a James Beard Award?

H: Quite simply, it is the Oscars of the food world. There are few higher honors for a chef or a food writer. I was honored to be nominated, which means top three, in 2009 and 2010, and was overjoyed to have won the award in 2013.

R: I know you and Steve Rinella are friends but in Steve’s new book he proclaims that most red meat is interchangeable with other red meat in recipes – especially in big game. How do you feel about that? Do you think a person can substitute antelope for mule deer in a recipe?

H: Sort of. There are differences, especially if you begin to stray into more esoteric red meats like beaver or jackrabbit or mountain goat. These are all red, yes, but some can be strongly flavored. Sticking to venison, there are subtle differences in texture, color and flavor, but most of the flavor differences have to do with diet, age of the animal and proper field care, not species. One important and true difference is size. You cannot sub a moose shoulder for a whitetail doe shoulder in the same recipe without major adjustments. Sure, in the end they might taste similar, but things like cooking time and the amount of additional ingredients will be vastly different.

But at its core, Steve’s right: You won’t see too many recipes in Buck, Buck, Moose that demand you use, say, antelope loin as opposed to whitetail or muley loin. You might see things like, “use a young animal,” or this one’s for a big animal like a moose, elk or big muley buck, but no species-specific recipes.

R: I hear you did one hellava dinner at the Back Country Hunters and Anglers convention last year. Care to tell us what was on the menu?

H: Ha! Yeah, I busted out a technique from the 1600s called a la ficelle, which means “on a string.” I had a bunch of antelope hind legs to cook, and I seasoned them simply with olive oil, herbs, salt and lemon, jammed a bunch of garlic cloves in the meat, and then hung them over hot coals. I twisted the twine holding them up to the point where they’d spin on their own, basting themselves and making sure they cooked evenly. They came out great.

R: Speaking of Podcasts – care to elaborate?

H: Sure. I started a podcast called Hunt Gather Talk. It is a great way to have fun and talk to interesting people about all kinds of topics that touch the wild world. I’ve done solo episodes which are something of an audible essay, a few where I answer listeners’ questions, but mostly they are conversations. It’s been a lot of work, but I am learning new skills, like audio editing, and I’ve had a great response.

R: I ran out of gas one time with you in my truck yet you still came back to Idaho to hunt with me. You either really like to hunt Idaho or are crazy?

H: Both, probably. And my ability to give you a hard time about it until we’re both old and senile was more than worth it. Hunting Idaho is still new to me, though. I’ve hunted deer there, quail, rabbits, grouse. I am hoping to get a sage hen this season, and someday draw an elk tag, or maybe even a moose. You can be sure I’ll be back to bother you every year…

R: Can you tell me some of your favorite activities in the Pacific Northwest? 

H: Geez, that’s a hard one. The PNW is a wonderland for a guy like me. Mushroom hunting, wild berries up the ying-yang, salmon, albacore, trout, sturgeon. Blue grouse hunting in the mountains, quail in the lowlands, some of the best clamming on planet Earth. You name it.

R: What is your go-to hunt at home?

H: Ducks. Northern California is one of the best places to hunt waterfowl in North America. I probably spend more time hunting ducks and geese than anything else. It is the one kind of hunting where I feel very comfortable in the role of a guide.

R: If you weren’t on the book tour what would you spend September doing in the woods? Foraging, fishing, hunting?

H: Yes. All of the above. Albacore offshore, mushrooms in the woods, grouse in the mountains, doves on Labor Day, blacktail deer hunting on the Sonoma Coast. There is always something going on…

R: What book can we look forward to next?

H: To complete the hunting trilogy, my next book will be all about small game, from upland birds to small mammals. As this was what first got me into hunting, I am really looking forward to it.