Nothing beats camp cooking, talk
There is hardly a parking place to be found at the gym. A line is formed at every weight station and treadmill with everyone anxiously awaiting their turn to burn some carbs. The goodies from the holidays must be “weighing” heavily on everyone’s mind, no pun intended, for focus sure seems to be on getting back in shape. The New Year’s resolutions are being kept for the moment but remember, we’re only into the second week. I’m positive many of us will slip back to our unhealthy ways, but for now we are taking off what the holidays offered.
Most of the food we associate with the holidays is in the form of treats. Fudge, loaded with pecans is always available. Holiday trash full of chex, pretzels, and pecans is a staple. Divinity, egg nog, and cookies adorn every counter top and island. There are other main courses like the turkey and dressing, sweet potato pies, and the assortment of casseroles that are always available from Thanksgiving on. Though all of this “nutrition” is traditional, I always think of a different menu this time of year. The menu I’m referring to is the one found where we spend so much of our time during the winter. Of course I am talking about food at the hunting camp.
The first hunting cuisine I can remember was that at the infamous Ten Point Hunting Club near Eagle Lake. Though I was just a toddler, I remember climbing the stairs to the main mess hall. Monroe, I believe, was the main cook at this historical camp. He was known far and wide for his biscuits. This was buffet style and trays and trays of sizzling hot breakfasts were available every morning during season. There was enough food to feed an army at this camp. Come to think of it, it was an army. Jon Warwick and I were standing at the top of the stairs one day taking bites out of Styrofoam coffee cups and spitting the pieces into the wind. It was great fun watching the slivers float to the ground in the breeze. I remember one of the members walking into the gallows and returning with two apples. I guess he didn’t want us littering up the campground with tooth-imprinted medallions of Styrofoam. I have to admit, the cups were a lot more entertaining than the apples.
Still hunting for deer was becoming more popular than the traditional way of hunting them with dogs. My dad joined a hunting club just across the Mississippi River at Vicksburg that was exclusively still hunting only. The modest camp house was at the base of the levee accompanied by a skinning shed and a small camper. This camper served as the home for an elderly gentleman and his wife who were hired for the entire season to cook for the hunters. One of their specialties was fried tenderloin, turnip greens, and cornbread. The backstrap was cut thin, tenderized, lightly floured and fried. There was no thick batter made from eggs and milk. The flavor of the venison was unmatched anywhere. The greens were picked fresh from the patch behind the camp house and the cornbread was thin and crispy. Nothing ever tasted better.
One of my biggest disappointments at the camp one day was when my dad offered to “treat” me to dinner at Tuminello’s in Vicksburg after the evening hunt. Though I dearly loved their fried shrimp, how could I miss the home cooking at the camp? I will always treasure those meals at Riverside and the stories from those hunters sitting around the table.
The camps and the cooking that goes with them have changed in many respects today. I’m sure there are “old school” camps still around but not nearly as many as it used to be. Coffee was always available in the mess hall of these old camps. Chili and navy beans was always a popular lunch. No one seemed to worry too much about the aroma of the kitchens and whether or not it alarmed the deer of one’s presence.
Though we may not have the old timey kitchens that were so prevalent back in the day, we still do a fairly good job when it comes to preparing table fare. At least a couple times a week we gather up at my house or Sam’s cabin and put on the dog. We each have our specialties and we rotate with the preparation, though everyone helps with the process. Rock does a great job with the brisket. Sam and Chris rotate frying crappie. Regardless who fries the fish, Sam always makes the slaw. Heavy with black pepper, it’s the best you’ll ever eat. Creede and I do a lot of the steaks, and JH has taken over with the flank steak and fajitas. You can always count on Ford to bring a friendly cabernet. You could say, we’ve got this cooking thing down to an art.
Most recently we brought in the year with the traditional thin fried pork chops, bone in of course, with turnips and cornbread. If someone will hurry up and squeeze the trigger, we’ll add fried tenderloin to the mix. The season is passing quickly, so I bet it will happen soon. If you are missing out on the culinary treats of camp, I invite you to explore your talents in the kitchen for it’s as much a part of the experience as the hunt itself.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it. Bon Appetit.