OFf the Porch
Today, most folks would think dropping in at supper time inconsiderate, but in my family, we saw it as a way of life. Perhaps, some would think my family was inconsiderate, but I think it was because we were close. As a boy, I had relatives who simply dropped in, meal time or not and they were not only welcome, they were going to get fed if it was near time for a meal.
Our meals were rarely sophisticated but they were good enough that I’m spoiled for real cooking and stuff out of a can rarely satisfies me as being real food. Pinto beans were a staple as were what Mama called stewed potatoes. Stewed potatoes were potatoes, peeled and diced or sliced and boiled in butter with salt and pepper. Mashed potatoes were standard fare for Sunday but most of the time, we ate stewed potatoes. They’re still a favorite of mine.
Most other vegetables came from the garden in season or a jar off season. Mama put up green beans, tomatoes, butter beans,( both white and colored) blue hull peas, corn, apples and pears from the trees in the yard and peaches from the sandhills. There was also always Mama’s canned tomato juice, which was wonderful with crisp soda crackers after school. Mama also canned grape pulp for pies and a combination of corn, beans, and tomatoes that she made soup with. She also canned pork sausage and tenderloin.
The canning of meat ceased when we quit raising hogs and I’d almost forgotten about it until my friend, David McGee, reminded me about canning meat when he raved about the process of canning deer. Last year, between my daughter Valarie and Cherie we had a lot of deer meat and Cherie tried it. It is now my favorite way of processing a deer.
What’s great about canned venison is the speed of preparation. In a day of prepared foods, it amazes me that a large percentage of what folks eat is prepared by someone else and simply warmed up. Sometimes, the process of these meals takes as much time as something from scratch and I simply can’t, for the life of me, figure out why folks eat this way. You can have real food, you make, and from start to finish, ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.
Recently, I ran into an old friend at the range and I invited him home for dinner. He was concerned that I was going to have to cook and mentioned eating out instead, since it would take a long time to cook dinner. I assured him we could eat as fast at home as we could by going to a restaurant and demonstrated this, serving venison tips and gravy, homemade biscuits, mashed potatoes, carrots and green beans from the garden in less than 30 minutes. The trick is timing.
The potatoes and carrots take the longest time to cook so you start there. I dump store bought baby carrots in a pot with a quarter stick of butter and enough water to cover them and put them on high fire. Next, I peel and slice the potatoes and put them on high fire covered with water. When the potatoes go on, I put the oven on 550 degrees and start making biscuits. It takes about three minutes from start to mix, roll out, and cut a pan of biscuits, and the biscuits go in the 550 degree oven as soon as they are on the pan. If you’re wondering why I cook my biscuits at 550, it’s because my oven doesn’t go up to 560.
With the potatoes and carrots on the boil, Cherie’s canned green beans go from the jar to the pot, again on high. They are already partially cooked and all they need is a few minutes, a little salt and pepper and another quarter stick of butter. Then I open a jar of canned venison and put the frying pan on high. I cover the bottom of the pan with olive oil and take out one piece of canned venison and shred it in the pan while the oil heats up. Once the oil is hot, I make a rue using House’ Autry Seafood breader with a little extra salt and pepper. When the rue is peanut butter colored, I add the juice from the venison jar along with enough water to make a nice gravy. I stir the chunked venison into the gravy and turn my attention to the potatoes. By this time, they are cooked soft, so I drain the water off, add the remaining half stick of butter and a big dollop of non-fat sour cream. By this time, the water is almost boiled off the carrots and beans and I turn them off. When I finish mashing the sour cream and butter into the potatoes, the biscuits are done and it’s time to eat supper, a real supper. I promise that this will work out perfectly and you can have a real meal, cooked from scratch in less than 30 minutes. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, you can carry on a conversation while cooking and I promise you, your guest will be more impressed than if you took them to the most expensive restaurant in town.
I told you how to prepare the venison, now you need to know how to can it. Cut the meat into one inch chunks and pack it into the mason jars. Add a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of Mrs. Dash yellow. Pressure can it at 15 pounds for 90 minutes. It only needs heating up to eat and there is no freezer issues, no thawing, and it will keep for years.
Save the Pogies
Sometimes called a pogie, the menhaden is one of the most unglamorous fish in the ocean. These are filter feeders and a forage fish for almost every prized species in coastal salt water. For coastal fish like red drum, stripers, mackerel, sea trout and flounder, they are a primary and critical part of the food chain. Because of their importance to other species, menhaden have been called the most important fish in the sea and they’ve been put through more than 50 years of overfishing. The stock is at a record low. Who is suffering from the loss of menhaden? You are.
Omega Protein, a company that uses menhaden to make fish oil and other products is the primary consumer of menhaden on the East Coast. They have been doing everything they can to prevent the implementation of a total allowable catch and a rebuilding effort. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they maintain that menhaden are merely suffering from poor recruitment and that their half billion pound harvest has nothing to do with it. The company uses spotter planes to locate the fish, rush over with processing ships, encircle the school with a purse net and suck them up into the hold. The fishing method is so efficient there’s no way for the menhaden to avoid them.
To learn more about this crisis for a critical salt water species, go to menhadendefenders.org and sign a petition to reduce the harvest of this critically overfished species.
News on Cape Hatteras:
Highway 12 Open to Four Wheel-Drive Traffic
Highway 12, to Hatteras Island, is now open to four-wheel drive vehicles only. Portions of the road are sand and the work on the paved portions recently lost in Hurricane Sandy has not yet begun. Non four-wheel drive vehicles may access the island via the ferries at Swan Quarter, Cedar Island, and Stumpy Point. Reservations are required. Everything is working and the fish have been cooperating. Hatteras Island businesses have been hammered in recent years by Park Service beach closures and storms. With the birds gone, most of the beach is now accessible. Get down there now, to catch some fish and spend some money.