It’s Saturday, October 29, 2016. I just finished making soup: it’s been a long-term project.
Joe got a deer leg from Jack Barber– a Sitka Black-Tailed Deer from Kodiak. Maybe Joe traded some halibut for it. I went to Joe’s shop ten or eleven days ago, and helped him package it up. It was a hind-quarter, and there was still a bit of fur around the end of the legbone. There was no hoof. Joe cut off all the fat, thick and surprisingly pure-looking fat, and set that aside. Then he cut steaks and stew meat from the bones. He was unfamiliar with the anatomy of a deer hind-quarter, and I certainly was, too, so I watched him hack away at it. The pieces of meat he ended up with were beautiful. Rich red and fine-grained. He made little piles of them, double-handfuls, mounded on clean paper on the workbench. I wrapped the meat in cling-film and slid each package into a ready-made Cabela’s bag. Then I sealed the bags with the vacuum-packer. When we were done, I took the bones in one package and all the fat pieces in another package and put them in my freezer. We thought I could render the fat and make lard, to use for pie crusts. I did a bit of research on it later and found out it takes hours and hours at a low temperature to render suet into lard. I don’t want to burn the propane on that. The fat smelled a bit gamey and unappealing, anyway. I wonder if I could use it as halibut bait? I suppose it would be more likely to chum in bears and weasels.
I left both the fat and the bones in my freezer for about a week, and took out the bones a couple of days ago. After they were thawed, I roasted them in the oven at 425°F for about an hour. The kitchen (the whole house, really) smelled amazing. Joe had lent me his big stock pot and I put the roasted bones in there, and used hot water to release the drippings from the roasting pan. I added filtered water, garlic, and onions from the garden, two bay leaves that Megan’s friend got fresh from a bay tree, a tablespoon of black peppercorns, salt, and took the whole pot back over to Joe’s for him to put on his woodstove in the shop. To get the pot over there I had to strap it to the rack on my bicycle, using bungee cords. The arrangement was impressive. I used five bungee cords, hooked onto the bike rack, threaded through the pot’s handles, and hooked onto the pot’s lid. The thing wouldn’t budge, and although it appeared precarious, it was actually bomb-proof. Unless I fell over on the bike. Even then, it was all so tightly bungeed that I can’t imagine it really going anywhere. But I guess the liquid would have seeped out through the edge of the lid.
We – the pot, the bicycle, and I – arrived safely at the shop and the pot simmered there on Joe’s woodstove all afternoon, and all night. The meat and marrow, tendons and connective tissue, vertebral discs and collagen, everything cooked down and detached and separated. Joe let the pot cool and brought it over to the Shack this morning, and I spent several hours messing with this venison stock. First, I scraped the fat off the top of the liquid and the sides of the pot, and sifted through all the bits, setting aside the clean bones. I strained the stock through a colander, then strained it again through cheesecloth. Joe had dropped Bianca off in the Shack while he visited Walt next door and the poor creature was tormented by this entire process. She sat and growled at me, barked, begged, paced… I finally caved in to her relentless Schnauzer attitude and threw her one little piece of fat and one little piece of meat. Although she’s half blind, she still pretty good at catching things, especially a treat like this, especially if I aim directly for her open mouth. Meanwhile, Miso was outside, hanging around on the beach below my door, waiting for some kind of meaty tidbit to fall his way. Cruelly, I gave him nothing. I have never fed Miso and don’t intend to start now. Although he’s my best dog-friend neighbor, and has that unstoppable Golden Retriever charm, I don’t want him hanging around outside my door drooling every time I cook.
The stock is a rich brown. I gave a quart to Joe, and a quart to Sachiko. I froze another four or five quarts. And I kept a quart or two aside to make soup for dinner today. The stock hardly tastes like anything, because there is so little salt or fat in it. I was disappointed at first, especially after all that work. If I ever do this again, I may leave more of the fat in. When I added salt, I was shocked by how it transformed the taste. All the subtle flavors came out. “Salt of the earth” takes on new meaning.
After all this, I finally started to make soup. I browned some Italian sausage in the pot, with onions and garlic. The sausage has fennel and other spices in it, and is a bit greasy, so it will make the soup richer. When that was done, I cut it up into little tiny meatballs. Then added fresh garlic, onions, potatoes, and kale from the garden, celery and carrots from the store, small bits of venison meat salvaged from the stockpot. More salt, chili powder, thyme, rosemary, crushed red pepper, basil, Italian spices, sage… It’s a fresh, clean soup. Strong food.
I will take the pot over to Joe and Carla’s today for dinner, while we watch Game 4 of the World Series, between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. Afterwards, I will get dressed up as a Viking and go to the Linwood for the Halloween party tonight. I gave the bones to Sachiko. She strung them up on a cord and hung them from her porch. They make a clacky sound when they bump into each other, like spooky windchimes. They will play some role in the Halloween Barn decorations on Monday night.
Gleaning… Using the leftovers of the garden, the butcher shop, the farm field. Cast-off bits that others have overlooked or don’t think worth their time or effort. Every scrap and shred used for something. You could make a living on them.