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‘Hunting’ for a good recipe? Try wild game

Hunting is big in Mississippi.

I did not realize just how much when I moved here since neither my husband nor I are hunters. This area was traditionally cotton plantations until the 1910 boll weevil. However, crops are no longer grown. There is some pastureland, but most is in timber, and hunting camps are popular. Many of these hunters like to do their own cooking.

I had the pleasure last weekend to attend my first Deer and Wildlife Festival in the small town of Woodville, Miss. It was only the second year for the festival, but last year it received “Mississippi Main Street’s” Best Special Event Award.

The festival celebrates the arts – culinary, taxidermy, wooden bowl making, music (blues, gospel, and rock), storytelling, quilting and pine needle basket making. I went for the wild game cook-off.

Hunters and wild game enthusiasts gather from all over to compete in the cook-off. Contestants can choose to compete in the categories of wild hog, venison, fowl and miscellaneous. Nobody was cooking armadillo, but conversation with some locals allowed as how they had eaten it. The local elementary school principal said her mother cooked anything she was brought. She was sure she had eaten it as a child. Another resident, whose husband is a wild game enthusiast, said she let him do the wild cooking, but she drew the line at bringing an armadillo into the house. Southerners, as well as other pioneers, were hunters for most of their meat.

Buffalo was hunted early on and black bear, but today the whitetail deer dominate the big game, although wild hog is not uncommon in the forests of southern Mississippi. (We have even seen them rooting in our back yard) Recipes for venison usually include a marinade of some sort to overcome the leanness and strong flavor of the meat. The strong flavor of venison can usually be removed by soaking the meat overnight in salt water or a water and vinegar mixture.

We did taste a lot of venison, several wild hogs, and duck and even turtle. Nobody would share their recipe. I think most were created by the hunters, and they really didn’t use a recipe.

I thought the best was a venison roll: marinated backstrap wrapped around two cheeses and onions and jalapeños, and the whole wrapped in bacon. My second favorite was a turtle soup picante with rice (a nod to our Cajun neighbors). The teal duck was served on a bun with a sweet sauce – a little too sweet for me. Two cooks did venison in a sauce over fried grits. One of them kept asking a taster if his or the Ole Miss cook’s was better. They didn’t announce the winners until 5 p.m., and we didn’t stay. I had to wait until they were printed in the Woodville Republican the next week. The Republican is Mississippi’s oldest newspaper, established 1824. Turns out the judges didn’t like my favorites but went with the wild hog.

Since none of the festival’s cooks shared a recipe with me, I found a couple in an old Mississippi cookbook. “Wild game cookery is something that should be mastered by every Southern homemaker. If the men in her family enjoy the outdoor sport of hunting, she’ll soon be called on to prepare a venison steak, squirrel stew or some other wild delicacy.”

These days the hunters may well be the women, and when it comes to cooking wild game, the men are just as likely to be the cooks.

DEER POT ROAST

Serves 6, recipe courtesy of Laura Richardson, Magnolia, Miss.

2-3 pounds deer roast (frozen or unfrozen)

3 tablespoons shortening

1 teaspoon table salt

1 teaspoon spiced salt (your choice, I guess!)

1 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup flour

¼ cup diced celery or green pepper

1 clove garlic

2 medium diced onions

¾ cups water

6 medium potatoes, cubed

Place shortening in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Add diced celery or green pepper, garlic and onions. Brown in the Dutch oven, turning meat until evenly browned. Add water. Cover, reduce heat to low and continue to cook for three to three and a half hours. Add potatoes and cook an additional half-hour, or until done.

BARBECUED RABBIT

Recipe courtesy of Walter White, Yazoo City

1 rabbit

1 ½ teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons sugar

2/3 cups catsup

½ cup vinegar

1 tablespoon pepper

1 clove garlic

¼ cup salad oil

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup water

Brown rabbit in hot fat and place in a heavy container. Combine all ingredients and blend well. Pour sauce over rabbit and bake uncovered at 325 degrees for one and half to two hours. Baste every 15 to 20 minutes.

Do you have a favorite venison recipe or marinade?