Native Cooking

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We’re getting close to “Beaver Moon,” piawa in Abenaki, which means “beaver.” The people could tell by the thickness of the beaver’s coat that winter was very close and it was really time to prepare for the cold ahead. This is where the term “busy as beavers” must have come from.

Beaver was not sought after for its meat as much as venison, elk, moose, pheasant, duck or small mammals. Venison seems to be the most plentiful in much of this country. Properly cut and marinated, it can be fantastic. I have not had pheasant often, but each time it was delicious: the filet mignon of wild fowl. Duck is in a class of its own, quite versatile, whether wild or domestic.

You can also do some other kinds of “hunting” for wild herbs and nuts right now. It may not be too late to gather staghorn sumac for boiling down into a concentrate to freeze: chokecherries as well. Some mints still produce greenery when hidden from frost in protected areas. Sunchokes can still be harvested if the ground is not frozen yet. Other cold-weather foods are available in the wild and at the market. I’m thinking of potatoes, turnips, kale, spinach, celery root: things of this nature.

Many of you do not have access to wild produce or meats, but markets and health food stores today can provide almost anything you need to eat seasonally. Try to buy what is in season whenever you can; it is usually the freshest choice. For wild game, put the word out and it just might appear. Serendipity is alive and well in Indian country.

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<b>Attuck-Quock and Nahama Meatballs (Venison and Turkey)</b>

1 pound ground venison

1 pound ground turkey

1 cup onion, chopped small

1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

1 clove garlic, minced

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup water

2 teaspoons each: fresh sage, parsley, oregano (or 1 teaspoon each if using dried herbs)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Form meatballs about 1-1/2 inch in size. Please on a greased baking pan with an edge. (Clean up is easier if you line the pan with foil.) Bake for 30 – 35 minutes; sample for doneness.) Two pounds of meat makes a lot of meatballs, which will freeze beautifully. Some you can use with pasta, some with brown gravy and some for appetizers.

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If you enjoy game meats you’ll be glad to know they contain much less fat than commercially sold meat like beef. Even a lean cut of beef has 34 percent of calories from fat; and venison, for example, has a mere 18 percent fat. Because it is so lean, it needs to be marinated before cooking, not just to add flavor, but to tenderize as well. Like most game meats, it’s also lower in cholesterol and calories.

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<b>Duck and Wild Rice Bake</b>

2 wild ducks

3 cups wild rice, cooked

1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 stick butter

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 cup reserved duck broth (include some onions)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon parsley

To make broth: Put ducks in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Add 2 stalks celery, 2 cups chopped onion, salt and pepper. Simmer until tender. Remove and let cool; skin and bone, then cut meat into cubes. Reserve broth until cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put a little of the butter in a saute pan and cook the mushrooms down. Add the broth and onions, the Worcestershire, cornstarch, parsley and the rest of the butter, plus a healthy shake each of salt and pepper. Add the cubed duck to this and stir to blend.

Grease a 2-quart baking dish and make a bed of the cooked wild rice. Spread the duck/mushroom mixture over the rice, cover and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake 10 – 15 minutes more. Serve with cranberry sauce on the side. (This recipe is so good you can substitute cubed pork, chicken or turkey for the duck.)

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<b>Go-With-Game Biscuits</b>

2 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup chilled butter, cut up

1 cup mashed sweet or other potatoes

1/2 cup milk (can substitute evaporated)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine or sift dry ingredients, cut in butter until all feels like cornmeal. Stir in potatoes and milk, a little at a time, until dough forms a ball. Put on floured surface and knead gently. Add a little flour so you can roll it about an inch thick; cut with a round cookie cutter or a glass. Put biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes.

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<b>Notes and Tips</b>

* Try adding cut-up tart apple to any squash recipe. Apples add sweetness and more fiber.

* All kinds of wild game like buffalo, wild boar, elk and antelope are even available through mail order. It’s a little expensive, but new packaging techniques make shipping safe.

* Most marinades do take away the gaminess; a new theory is to use ginger ale in the marinade or soak the meat in it for at least an hour. I have not tried this, so if it works, please let me know! Olwini.