It’s hunting season here in upstate NY, which means on any given morning if your up and out early enough, driving along any remote country road, you might be able to spot a bearded man with a neon orange cap heading into the woods… Usually sporting a riffle or a bow.
Personally, I have always had mixed feelings about the sport of hunting… I grew up with a father who hunted, and a grandfather that is primarily remembered for his woodsmen aptitude. As a child, I was accustomed to the sight of a deer hanging from the tree in our front yard each fall, and I remember very early on the first time I tasted venison. My father prepared it with a simple flour, salt and pepper coat in a pan with butter and onion. It was unlike any other meat, and once a year, for a brief time, we would have it in our home. But years later, I took a vow of vegetarianism… For nearly eight years, I swore off any and all meat for no reason other than for my love of animals. Now, in my 30’s, I include meat in my diet and have found a healthy balance for my love of nature and the food that it provides. Knowing just how food is processed, and where it comes from has become the key factor in my relationship with food. In my opinion, It is a connection that too many people have lost touch with.
This year, a friend of mine and avid hunter, offered me some venison to take home. Throughout the years, my friend and I have had many conversations about hunting and the mixed feelings I have always had about the sport. We would talk about our mutual respect for animals and the relationship we have with them, in such opposing ways. But through these conversations, I have come to realize that hunting is a kind and even necessary part of the life cycle, that the food the hunter brings home from the woods is the purest way to receive it, and that our mutual respect for the animal is more common than I knew. After accepting the venison, I felt the need to honor the meal that this meat would provide my husband and I with the perfect selection of seasonal ingredients that I could find locally and as minimally processed as possible.
I found a farm store not too far from my house called The Berry Farm store. This is a fully self-sustaining farm store that features locally made products from honey, candles, baked goods, and a grocery full of locally grown produce and meats. It is also the home of a very friendly cat who can be seen roaming the grocer isles, napping in window boxes and greeting customers at the front door.
While shopping, I met a man named Joe who was overly interested in helping me find the things I was looking for. Soon, I discovered that he was the owner of the store and before I knew it, he had offered to take me on a tour of his greenhouses.
As we walked through each hoop shaped green house, filled with a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers, he explained the energy they use to run the green houses and store…a combination of solar and geo-thermal energy supply this little market with more than enough power to be self-sustaining. He talked about the struggles and benefits of being a small-scale, eco-consious farmer, just how frightening it is to be a farmer in todays agriculture, and how difficult it has become to work around the Monsanto label. Here, in this rural little town, a man plays classical music all day long to a green house full of micro greens. He looks down at his seedlings with a smile and an obvious appreciation for this process of life, while somewhere else, a corporate industry (Monsanto) is trying to put a patent on our seeds and genetically modify our food. I will continue to support Joe.
I finished my afternoon of shopping for the perfect ingredients and decided on what my menu would be for the evening…
A wild mushroom encrusted venison tenderloin, with a pomegranate cream sauce, a winter greens gratin, and thyme roasted new potatoes….My sister in law had suggested the winter greens gratin a while ago, and I thought it would fit nicely with the venison. A sweet pomegranate cream sauce with the wild mushroom crust sounded like the perfect pairing, and some simple roasted potatoes… I couldn’t wait to get started.
It was a lovely cooking process that my husband and I enjoyed together. He told me stories of growing up with a grandfather who was also an avid woodsmen and we talked about the hunter, as if we were there with him, imagining what it must be like. To wake before dawn, to sit in the cold crisp morning, listening for sounds, silent and still, searching for shadows, and finally taking aim on an unsuspecting animal… We talked about the sadness of the life that is taken, and the necessity for it just the same, how some people can do it without a second thought, and others could just never.
And then, we celebrated our evening with food that was carefully and thoughtfully given to us, wild and locally produced.
Below is a collage of my shopping trip, a greenhouse tour, and the evening of cooking with these wonderful ingredients.