Archive for the 'hunting and gathering' Category

Etsy Kitchen Histories: Maple Sugaring

maple_syrupA golden jar of my parent’s homemade maple syrup.

“It’s sugaring time, it’s sugaring time!’ My mom chriped.  “My heart always gets glad this time of year.  I think it don’t want to do it ‘it’s cold, it’s muddy’ but then I head out there and the sun is shining and the birds are singing fee-bee feeb-bee!”  That was the start of the most recent phone conversation I had with my mom.  Yeah, she’s pretty cute.

My latest post for Etsy is all about the maple sugaring season–an annual event that might be entirely foreign to you if you’re not from New England, the Midwest or Canada, where sugar maples grow.  My parents tap their backyard maples on their four acres in semi-rural Ohio.  You can read all about it here.

The cold, snowy spring has been ideal for sugaring–my parents have collected almost 100 gallons of sap this year already. But some interesting research has recently been done into historic “sugaring seasons.”  Here’s a bit of food for though that comes via The Farm at Miller’s Crossing:

I recently read an article by Tim Wilmot, a specialist with the University of Vermont Extension and Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill VT, which put this discussion into some perspective.

The entire maple syrup industry depends on temperatures. Maple syrup producers can only harvest when the mercury goes below freezing at night, then above freezing during the day. This freeze/thaw event forces the sap in the trees to run, which can then be harvested by the taps drilled into the trees.

Recent discoveries of old records indicate that in 1870 a normal tapping in central Vermont season began on April 1, and ended on May 7.
Fast forward 60 years, and the average start date in 1930 was March 13, with an April 15 finish date.

Fast forward again to the spring of 2012, and most serious maple producers were tapping in early January and finishing in February or early March!  Last year we actually were in the high 80’s in March.

Read more about Maple Sugaring on Etsy.

Moose Moufle

An article in a local rag, Edible Manhattan, told the story of New York’s markets of old.  The article focused on Washington Market, which was on Manhattan’s lower west side.  Apparently the abundance was incomparable and was cataloged by a man named Thomas de Voe, a butcher who worked his way up to be head of the market (read the whole article here).  His book, published in the 1860s, the Market Assistant, contains a brief description of “…every article of human food sold in the public markets of New York, Boston, Philadelphis, and Brooklyn.”  Among those articles of food, Moose Snout.

De Voe says of the moose:  “There is no doubt but the flesh of the tame male either moose or elk, when castrated, could be converted into a dish which the epicure could not resist. The tongue is considered a delicacy, as is also his moufle, the large gristly extremity of its large nose, when properly prepared and cooked. The skins are much used by the hunters for snow shoes and moccasins; for these purposes they are best when taken in the month of October.  Mr Wm Paul had when I saw him on the 7th of February, 1856, in Fulton street New York near the Washington Market, nine moose and two elk which he had brought from Iowa. They were in good condition although killed some five weeks before.” (1867)

An article, from Shield’s Magazine, 1905, says something on the way to prepare a moose noose: “One does not necessarily have to go to the woods for venison; Moose and caribou steaks are far better for hanging several days, but some of the choicest morsels of the moose and the caribou are unobtainable far from the woods where the animals live.  The nose, the liver, and the kidneys though highly esteemed by hunters, are never brought to market.  Moose nose in particular is an exceptional delicacy. The nose of the caribou, though also good, is much inferior to the other, being full of small bones.  Moose nose resembles beaver tail in this respect, that it possesses a delightful flavor distinctly its own and scarcely comparable with anything else. What makes it all the rarer is that it is not only necessary to kill a moose in order to obtain the delicacy, but also to destroy that most beautiful and most highly prized trophy of the chase: a moose head. You cannot eat the nose and have the head too. To prepare the nose for the table, it is cut off the animal as soon as the latter is killed and is then scalded and scraped to take off the hair. Then it is slightly smoked and boiled. ”

I have seen modern reference to jellied nose as well as moose nose soup.  I’m on the look-out for a moufle.

Beaver Bonanza Part II: A Brief History of Beaver

Bloody beaver.

My first challenge after my beaver meat arrived was to put it in some historical context and to see if there was a precedent for beaver eating.  I turned to Thomas De Voe, the man in charge of New York City’s food markets in the middle of the 19th century, who also wrote The Market Assistant: Containing a brief description of every article of human food sold in the public markets of the cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn; including the various domestic and wild animals, poultry, game, fish, vegetables, fruits &c., &c. with many curious incidents and anecdotes. Did he know how indispensable his book would be to future historians?

I checked out his passage on beaver and came to an amazing realization: Victorians weren’t eating beaver, because by the middle of the 19th century, they had hunted it to near extinction.  Beaver pelts were too valuable for their fashion cred, in terms of muffs, coats, and hats.  Here’s what De Voe says:

This animal was once a native here, but civilization and the beaver’s valued skin have almost exterminated the family, although now and then a specimen is taken in our State. It is said the ‘flesh of this animal is greatly prized by hunters and voyageurs, especially when roasted in the skin after the fur is singed off. ‘  This of course is an expensive luxury and is frowned upon by the fur traders.  ‘Care must be taken, however, to examine the herbage on which the animals feed, or mischief may follow an unwary repast.  Mr. Ross’s party were once poisoned by feasting heartily on beaver and some of them had a very narrow escape.  The Indians eat this kind of beaver but they roast it; boiled, they say, it is pernicious.’

Professor Kalm, in his ‘Travels in America,’ in 1748, says ‘Beaver flesh is eaten, not only by the Indians, but likewise by the Europeans, and especially by the French on their fasting days; for his Holiness, in his system, has ranged the beaver among the fish. The flesh is reckoned best if the beaver has lived upon vegetables. The tail is likewise eaten after it has been well boiled and roasted afterwards.

So, according to what De Voe has heard: 1. Beaver is good roasted. 2. Beaver can be poisonous.  (Perhaps not poison, but I suspect, that like bear, the beaver’s diet varies by season from one based heavily on plants and berries, to one based on fish.  The latter can give the meat an unpleasant, fishy taste. ) 3.  A beaver is a fish, therefore it can be eaten on Fridays.  (Good news for you Catholics out there.) 4. Beaver tail is damn tasty.

I know number three to be true, thanks to a great post at the French Culinary Institutes’s blog, Cooking Issues.  Not too long ago, they ordered up some exotic meats from Crizmer’s outside of Chicago, including both beaver tail and beaver flapper, which are two different things.  Of the beaver tail, they said “Beaver tail is straight up fantastic.  It has a woody-musky aroma and flavor that is unique among all meats I have tried…Man, was it good.”  This statement gave me hope, as I prepped my beaver meat for consumption.

Tomorrow: recipes and the big beaver tasting.

Beaver Bonanza Part One: The Arrival

This is going to be a meat adventure.

On Friday, the buzzer rang.  A Fed-Ex man tromped up four flights of stairs and handed me a large package.  Inside, I found the following missive:

Alaskan Culinary Challenge January 2011
Beaver Bonanza!

Welcome to your first Alaskan culinary challenge!

The object of this challenge is to research, prepare and serve…Much like Iron Chef, view this as the “secret ingredient.”   Test your culinary skills and have fun!

1. Shipped item must be consumed withing 2-3 days.
2. Prepared meal MUST be served to at least one person besides yourself.

Using the ingredients in a historical fashion (four pounds flour worthy) is encouraged.

Documentation and feedback/report is favorable.  Future culinary challenges are more likely if previous challenge was given proper attention.

Recipe sharing is also favorable.

Failure to complete this challenge will result in mockery of the highest caliber.

Your partners in crime in the 49th.

Inside the box, five neatly wrapped portions of meat, all labeled “Beaver.”

Stay tuned.

History Dish Mondays: Roast Bear

Roast bear with mushrooms and a hot apple toddy; film still from an upcoming episode of New York Wave.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been shooting a short documentary about my work for PBS Japan, for a show called New York Wave.  They wanted me to prepare dinner for the show’s host and asked if there was anything unusual that I have been aching to cook up.

It came to me like a flash:  Roast Bear.

A few months previous, I had been digging through the massive menu collection at the New York Public Library.  One of their earliest menus, from 1842, was a dinner thrown in New York in honor of Charles Dickens.  Over 3,000 guests attended, and  the menu was extensive (See the original menu here.)

Roast Bear was served that evening.  I thought it was so unusual and fascinating–I had never seen bear included on a menu, let alone in New York city.  After doing a little more reading (in the very handy Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America) I found out that bear was commonly hunted and eaten in early America; in the 19th century, it was still sold in markets in New York.  Until the end of the century, roast leg of bear was served as a delicacy in New York restaurants.

It was decided: we would eat bear for dinner.  So where does one come across bear meat in this day and age?  You cannot sell hunted game meat in America–game sold in markets today is farmed.  The best way to get it is to make a few friends in Alaska, which I happen to have.  It’s legal to hunt bear there, and if you ask really nice, someone will know someone who would be willing to ship you a roast or two.  And if you’re really lucky, about six pounds of black bear rump meat and tenderloin will arrive via airmail to your Queens apartment.

The next challenge was figuring out how to cook the meat.   I consulted Feeding America to see if any recipes for bear had appeared in American cookbooks.  I came up with one hit, from Miss Corson’s Practical American Cookery (1886):

I consulted Miss Corson’s recipe for roast beef; and she recommends searing it, roasting it, and then preparing a simple gravy from the pan drippings.  This method sounded about right; I wanted to prepare the meat simply to get the full effect of its flavor.

How to Roast a Bear

Eating omnivores, like bear,  can give you all kinds of parasites.  It’s best to cook it well done; I used the same temperature guidelines recommended for cooking pork. I cooked a rump roast, but this recipe should work well for any smaller cut of bear.

1 bear roast; 1-4 lbs
Salt and Pepper
1-2 cups mushrooms (or squash, parsnips, etc.  Something earthy and nice)
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Rinse bear meat and part dry.  Cover generously with salt and pepper.
2.  Clarify the butter: heat it in a microwave until it melts, then gently skim off the fatty solids that have separated to the top.  Pour butter into a cast iron skillet, being careful not to disturb any sediment that may have sunk to the bottom.
3.  Heat skillet over high heat.  Place bear in skillet and sear on all sides until browned.  Add mushrooms to the skillet–it’s ok if the bear is buried in shrooms.  They’ll cook down.
4. Move bear directly from stovetop into oven; roast 10 minutes per pound, until a meat thermometer in the center reads 145 degrees.  Remove from oven and allow to rest before carving.
5. In the meantime, make the sauce.  Pour bear drippings from the skillet into a saucepan and add flour.  Cook over medium heat until the flour is browned, then add water while whisking constantly.  Let the sauce cook until it thickens to your desired consistency–anything from a thin sauce to a thick gravy is fine.
6.  Carve meat into one-inch thick slices.  Serve, topped with mushrooms and sauce.


The gravy is a must because the meat is a little dry; and because the sauce is made with pure bear goodness, it doesn’t detract from the flavor, but enriches it.

After my first bite of bear, if someone had told me it was beef, I would have believed them.  There is a darker, gamier note, but not the stringy, gamey meat I expected.  It was more than edible–its was good.  I ate my whole plate.

Snapshot: Wild Game at Henry’s End

The Mixed Game Grill at Henry’s End: Elk chop, venison sausage, and the wild boar belly is buried in back, under some sort of pomegranate chutney.

Last weekend, the Boyf took me out for a belated Valentines.  We ate some animals at the Wild Game Festival at Henry’s End Restaurant in Brooklyn.  I had the Mixed Game Grill, pictured above, which included herb crusted elk chops; venison sausage; and wild boar belly.  I found the first two to be a little heavy on the seasoning; if I’m going to eat exotic animals, I want to taste their flesh!  The herb crust on the elk was overpowering, but after I scraped it off, I found the meat to be tender, juicy and flavorful.  The venison sausage was tasty, but tasted like herbs, not venison.  The boar belly had the purest flavor, and was well prepared.

The boyf had ostrich, pictured right, with coos coos.

A Preview of Things to Come

Starting from Scratch

Do you think I can survive for one week on only foods that I hunt, forage or find?

Let me remind you that I happen to live on a fourth floor walk up in Queens.

Let’s find out together: I’ve volunteered to become part of a project called Starting from Scratch.  Along with four other family groups, I’m going to attempt to be entirely self-sufficient for one solid week in July.

Following along as we prepare ourselves at

Read through my game plan (and give me some feedback) here.

Retronovated Recipes: Soup Meagre

Soup Meagre is a great spring recipe from about 1723.  It’s a sort of catch-all meal made of all types of early season vegetables: onions, peas, and leafy greens.  

The original recipe can be found in the American History Cookbook;  in the original, you add a hunk of stale bread and cream the soup together into something I can only imagine resembles baby food.  In my modernized version, I leave this final step out, and let the vegetables maintain their integrity in the broth.

I made this soup recently at my friend Mark’s house: I had gathered some wild onions from a farmer’s field and brought them over as a gift.  He pointed out some wild greens in his front yard, and we decided to make a batch of soup meagre.

The original recipe features sorrel, a leafy green that is ready in May when it’s cultivated, and June if it’s found wild.  It’s flavor is tart and distinctly lemony.  When choosing greens for this soup, I recommend using a combination of mild and tart flavors.  I also enjoy making this soup heartier with the addition of a hard boiled egg for garnish.  This recipe can be made your own with the additions of any ingredients you have on hand: mushrooms, white beans, ham;  be creative.  We didn’t have cloves, so we used cinnamon and red pepper flakes.  This recipe can also easily be made vegetarian by using a vegetable broth instead of chicken.  

The point is: feel free to diverge from this recipe in ingredients and proportions.  It’s very hard to go wrong.

Soup Meagre
Inspired by a recipe from a 1723 manuscript as it appears in The American History Cookbook by Mark H. Zanger.
3 bunches leafy greens, including any combination of spinach, parsley, kale, sorrel, lamb’s quarter, or dandelion; washed well.
1 medium onion
2 cloves
1/2 stick salted butter
2 cups peas
3-6 cups Chicken stock
Salt and Pepper to taste
Hard boiled eggs for garnish
1. Melt butter in bottom of pot. Add onions and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until transparent.

2. Add chicken stock, cloves, and peas.  Bring to a boil.  Test peas for doneness (they want to be a little under done at this point). Taste and re-season broth, if necessary.

3. Add greens and cook five more minutes, or until greens are just wilted.

4.  Garnish with hard boiled eggs and serve.

Note: this soup is not good the next day; the greens tend to get slimy  So only make as much as you will eat in one meal.

Retronovated Recipes: Maple Glazed Squab with Corn Bread Stuffing

This recipe is perfect for a romantic dinner for two.  I came up with it in 2005, while I was working on my thesis.  The flavors are based on 18th century game recipes;  the maple-vinegar glaze is important because it breaks up the gaminess of the meat.

Maple Glazed Squab with Corn Bread Stuffing
Inspired by recipes from American Cookery by Amelia Simmons

3 Squabs
2 tbsp Olive Oil

For the Stuffing:
2 cups cornbread, toasted
½ cup fresh parsley
1tsp Marjoram
1tsp Savory
4 leaves fresh Sage
1tsp Salt
1tsp Pepper
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 rib celery chopped
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 stick butter
1 egg

For the Glaze:
1/2 stick butter
½ cup real maple syrup
2 table spoons red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash the squabs throughly and pat dry. Rub inside and outside with salt and pepper.
2. Mix toasted cornbread with seasonings, 3. In a skillet, cook onion in 1 tbsp butter until transparent.
Add celery and chicken stock, then cook 2-3 minutes more.
4. Add onion, celery, and chicken stock to cornbread. Add butter and egg. Mix thouroughly.
Stuff squab with stuffing, being careful not the stuff it too tight. Bake any remaining stuffing in the oven, until the top is browned.
5. Heat oil in a skillet, and brown squab on all sides, turning often. Transfer to oven.
6. Let squab roast for 30 minutes undisturbed, then glaze every 10 minutes for an additional 30 minutes until its juices run clear.
7. In the meantime, prepare the glaze: melt butter over low heat in pot, add maple syrup and vineger; salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer.
8. Serve over bed of stuffing, drizzled with glaze