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Monday, January 31, 2011

Paw Paw Cookies (Blog Eighteen)

In one of my first blogs, I wrote about the joys of gathering paw paws in the fall and Elaine making bread from these fruits.  When Elaine did so last autumn, she froze the leftover pulp and yesterday she brought a touch of autumn to a drab winter day by making paw paw cookies.

Monday during my English 10 Honors class at Lord Botetourt High School in Daleville, Virginia, I began a lesson on the Great Depression and the classic novel OF MICE AND MEN by discussing how our ancestors during the 1930s were often subsistence hunters and gatherers.  Paw paws, I explained, were often gathered and used for pies, breads, cookies, and general eating.  Even if you are not a hunter/gatherer like myself, you can enjoy Elaine's recipe.

Pawpaw Cookies  
1 1/2 c. pawpaw pulp
3/4 c. softened butter
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 egg
3 c. sifted flour
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp.cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 cup walnuts
Thoroughly cream the shortening and sugar. Add beaten egg and pawpaw. Stir in the dry ingredients, which have been sifted together, and mix well. Form into small balls and place on cookie sheet. Press into round flat shape Bake in a 350 degree oven for 11-12 minutes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

False Spring (Blog Seventeen)

On a recent January morning just after sunrise I was out walking behind the house on Elaine's and my 38-acre spread.  The temperature was in the low 40s, and it was the first morning in quite some time when the wind was not howling and the temperature was above freezing.

I paused when I heard a mature hen turkey making the assembly call to her jakes and jennies.  The assembly call is a long series of yelps that flock hens often utter shortly before or after fly down so that they can call in their flock members.  The assembly yelp is not at all a "sexual" call.

But to a nearby group of gobblers, the warmer morning and the sound of a hen (even though the female notes had nothing to do with reproduction) were enough to cause their male hormones to awaken.  One male pronounced a gobble, then the next longbeard erupted with a double gobble, and then the two other toms, both jakes, began to gobble.

For some 20 minutes I delighted in listening to the lusty Lotharios, each attempting to out gobble the others and to attract the hen.  I heard no replies from the flock hen, which I assumed was busy doing what hens do this time of year, keep her young charges together and lead them to food.

Finally, the four gobblers ceased to proclaim that they were nature's gift to hens everywhere, and, I presume, began looking for food for themselves.  For just a brief period of time, April was here, but ultimately it was a false spring after all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wild Game (Blog Sixteen)

Over the weekend, a friend of mine brought several packages of meat from a bruin he had killed this past fall. So for lunch on Sunday, Elaine and I invited our daughter Sarah and her husband David over for a wild game meal.  The highlight for me was the quesadilla stuffed with cheese, red peppers, onions, and roast cuts from the aforementioned bear and a deer I had killed.

For my next school day  lunch, I dined on a bear roast sandwich, and that night Elaine and I supped on deer burgers.  My wife also announced that later in the week we would have squirrel casserole  All of this caused me to ponder how many other folks in the general area were consuming similar wild game themed meals - probably not many.

That's a shame because wild game, especially meat from such animals as wild turkeys, deer, grouse, and quail, is high in protein, low in calories, and chock full of beneficial minerals.  A diet consisting of wild game and fish, fruits and vegetables, and cereal grains is extremely healthy.

I'm not trying to be preachy, but in a country that is experiencing a nationwide obesity epidemic where even many young children are dangerously overweight, there needs to be a change in our collective eating habits.  Both young and old folks would be better off health wise with exercising more, participating in outdoor recreation (from fishing and hunting to walking, hiking, and biking) and eating leaner meat such as that which comes from fish and game. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

January Hunting Behind the House (Blog Fifteen)

Two of the best squirrel hunters I have ever met, Jerry Paitsel and Craig Fields, prefer going afield with .22 rifles and 16-gauge shotguns, respectively.  Jerry feels that the rifle excels at long distance shots that result in little damaged meat while Craig believes that the 16 gauge is a wonderful compromise between a 12 and 20-gauge (in terms of weight and pellet output) that sadly has few fans today.
My choice for squirrel hunting is a Remington 20-gauge autoloader that I have owned for over 20 years.  To me, there is something aesthetically pleasing about entering the January woods while
toting a 20 gauge.  The gun is light and easy to mount, and I like having a scattergun if I jump a cottontail or flush a ruffed grouse.
Last winter, for example, while toting my “squirrel gun,” I bumped a rabbit not long after I walked out the door and entered the woodlot behind our house.  I was fortunate enough to down the bunny and the next day Elaine cooked the meat (and that from some squirrels) in a crockpot along with onions, potatoes, peas, carrots, and celery. The result was several satisfying meals.
I look forward to going afield with the 20 gauge behind our house this coming Saturday morning.  And maybe tagging a couple of silvertails and perhaps even a rabbit for Saturday supper.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Cherries of Summer Make the Pies of Winter (Blog Fourteen)

Last night, Elaine and I dined with friends Paul and Ellen Hinlicky of Roanoke, County, Virginia.  Our

contribution to the meal was a cherry pie, which came from an organically grown tree in our back yard. The

tree, a North Star, produced seven gallons of sour cherries the last ten days or so of May and the first few

days of June last spring.
Every evening every year during that time frame, Elaine and I spend about 45 minutes picking berries (Elaine holds the ladder while I reach for the fruit) and another 20 minutes or so pitting the cherries (a most distasteful job punctuated by red juice squirts covering much of our upper anatomy).  It’s hot, messy work and it occurs during a time when the mosquitoes like to make the outdoors part of the task a little more difficult.
Ah, but the rewards are worth the effort, time, and discomfort.  Elaine is a superlative cook, and freshly baked cherry pie or cobbler from berries that only a few hours earlier had been growing outside is a taste delight.  Elaine also made cherry preserves last summer, a marvelous concoction to spread on any kind of bread.

But the major rewards from our summer labors come during the winter.  We parcel out the berries so that we have several pies and/or cobblers every month during the fall and winter.  As good as a freshly made May/June pie is, somehow Elaine’s desserts taste even better when the temperature is cold and snow blankets the ground.  A testament to that is that after dinner at the Hinlicky’s house, only one slice of pie made it back home with my spouse and me, and Elaine was kind enough to say I could have it for dinner tonight.  I am ashamed to write (actually I’m not all that ashamed) that I enthusiastically consumed the entire, rather large piece.