Recipe Column: My week at hunting camp
It’s that time of year again-when the drab grays and brown of November are interspersed with blotches of blaze orange. I associate this color with Thanksgiving, mainly because deer hunting overlaps with this holiday, but the two traditions, especially in the Northwoods, are intertwined.
This was especially brought home to me close to 25 years ago when I moved here. There never was a hunting tradition in my family, and so I watched with fascination as the bare woods of my new neighborhood began to fill with dots of determined orange. Hunting cabins that had appeared abandoned and forlorn throughout the warmer months were abuzz with activity. And the camaraderie of the hunt was everywhere.
While these days I pretty much sit back and watch the process unfold with little participation, back then I had an avid and keen interest in the goings on of this tradition…and the hunting shack was of particular interest. Just what went on in these structures, and why were hunters always bragging them up? I had to find out.
It took a while, but I finally found some hunting buddies who would agree to let me enter their “domain,” but there were conditions. Since they had adopted a “no women allowed” covenant long ago, there had to be a pay off. Would I make them a Thanksgiving meal? “You mean basically hire on as your Thanksgiving camp cook?” I inquired, and they all looked at each other with knowing glances and proud nods, figuring they had really struck a good bargain. And my curiosity was so overpowering I agreed to this condition.
I’m glad I made this bargain, though, because I did get a glimpse into the old traditions of the hunt, and that was surely evident in this shack. This was not a modern one, but a structure that had seen many a hunt and housed many a hunter over the years. When I walked in, the smell of woodsmoke drifted faintly in the air, its source a blazing fire in an ancient fieldstone fireplace. There was a heavy wooden kitchen table surrounded by a mix-matched set of various chair models. Ancient 10-point buck mounts gazed down as evidence of past successes, and pictures of hunters who had come to the Northwoods over the years were tacked on the log walls.
The night before hunting season opened, we all sat around the big kitchen table and played cards, sipped on uplifting beverages and the hunters regaled me with stories of big bucks that got away, of practical jokes that made them roar with laughter, and of snow storms that imperiled life and limb. The mood was festive and high with anticipation. Tomorrow was opening day!
The “boys,” as I came to call them, hunted into the week while I worked diligently to plan their meal. I bought a big turkey, and schemed up some really special side dishes that I thought they would enjoy. But as the holiday drew near, the weather, as it often does in the Northwoods, turned uncommonly brutal. The night before the big feast, a front slid into the state, and by the time everyone woke in the morning, a good foot of snow blanketed the area. How was I going to get myself, and the goodies I had prepared, to the shack?
But the boys came through with an ancient snowmobile and an old sled with wooden sides, and we loaded up the feast and headed into the wilderness. I felt a little like Mrs. Claus dashing through the snow, and the air was festive when we all tromped into the shack laden with plenty of good cheer. I have to say it was one of the most memorable Thanksgivings I have ever experienced, and I think the boys reconsidered their “no women allowed” clause, because the generation that frequents the shack now includes wives and daughters.
I’m planning once again to visit that old hunting shack this year. It’s become a little tradition of my own, and while I haven’t cooked a turkey in quite some time for the “boys,” I usually make a snack that they, and their families, can enjoy while they are on the hunt. That recipe is included this week.
So good luck all you hunters. I’ll be watching as the drab and barren forests once again come alive with dots of orange, and new tales are written in cozy abodes with glowing fireplaces, old beat up kitchen tables and the friendly faces of family and friends. I’m convinced that’s really what the hunt is all about.
Hunting Shack Munching Mix
4 cups Honey Nut Chex
4 cups Wheat Chex
2 cups bagel chips, broken into pieces
2 cup walnuts, lightly chopped
1/2 cup butter
3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
11/2 tsp. salt
11/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
Handful of M&M’s
Melt butter in a roasting pan while preheating oven to 250 degrees. Combine Chex, bagel chips and walnuts in a bowl. Once butter is melted add seasonings and stir to combine. Add Chex mixture to pan and stir until evenly coated. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool. Add M&Ms. Store in an airtight container.