The rifle season for deer opened this weekend in Vermont. I’m not a hunter, I’m not even terribly good at preparing venison, but the start of hunting season seems to be a bridge for the food-minded to bring us over from the end of the harvest to the start of Thanksgiving.
Last year I wrote a piece for DigInVT.com that provided links to information on hunting in Vermont and, more particularly, Vermont cuisine. This year, I’m reading a book excerpt send me by my friend Carrie (from Humaneitarian.org). It’s from the 1939 book Good Maine Food, but is quoting advice from Frank Forrester’s Field Sports first published in 1849. In turn, I’m quoting a little here so that everyone can benefit from the good advice and see how the word “execrable” deserves a better place in modern usage:
It is well that a Sportsman, without being anything of an epicure, should, like an old campaigner, know a little of the art of the cuisines; otherwise, in the country, even in this country of abundance, he is very likely to fare badly, where, with a very little knowledge and a very little care, and having the precaution to carry with him a few simple condiments, he can live like a prince.
In the first place, he should always carry his own black tea with him, if he would not be compelled to drink execrable rye-coffee. I commend him also to be his own liquor-bearer, as the spirits in country places are usually execrable, especially the rye whiskey of Pennsylvania and the West.
If, however, he determine to take his chance in this matter, I advise him, in all cases, to eschew brandy, which is the most easily adulterated of all liquors and, when adulterated, the worst.
In New York and New Jersey, the cider-whiskey, in country places, is decidedly the best thing to be got; it is too cheap to adulterate, and it is a wholesome liquor in itself – when very old, it is a very fine liquor – the taste, if disagreeable, as it is apt to be at first, is completely disguised by sugar and lemon-juice – and, wheher hot or cold, it will be so found a very tolerable beverage.
The best receipt I know for cold punch, and that which I always use, is, to one tumbler of crushed sugar, one and a half of spirit, six of water, the peel of two lemons, and the juice of one. Or, if you use lemon syrup, which is far more convenient to carry, half a tumbler thereof to the above proportions
In cold weather, a very palatable hot drink may be made of common draft ale, or bottled porter, by simmering it slowly, with a few tablespoonsful of sugar, one of ginger, and a nutmeg grated to every quart of malt liquor, and two wine-glasses of spirit – gin is the best – to every quart. This will neutralize the acidity of the malt liquor, even if it is a little stale and even acid.
To this end, and for all reasonable wants in the way of cookery, I say, carry with you a few pounds of black tea, a few bottles of lemon-syrup, one or two bottles of Harvey sauce, powdered ginger, a few nutmegs, some Cayenne pepper, some cloves; and, if you are wise, add thereunto a few pounds of rice and the same of pearl barley, and a flask or two of salad-oil. With these, if you can persuade your country hostess, instead of broiling the five-minutes-ago-slaughtered cock on which you are destined to dine, to skin it, quarter it, and stew it for at least three hours, with a bit of salt pork, an onion or two, ad libitum, and a few handfuls of rice or barley, which last should only be boiled one hour, you will feed like a prince, instead of breaking all your teeth, and dying afterward of indigestion.
Harvey Sauce, should you wonder, is a vinegar-y British condiment and a recipe is recreated on the Foods of England website. Also, thanks to this passage, I know that “ad libitum” (or “ad lib”) has a second meaning of “as much or as often as desired.” And that hunters in the 1800’s were probably drunk most of the time – but I assumed that much. Also, that my mother is not eccentric for bringing a wicker basket of condiments in her suitcase whenever she travels, she is simply keeping on with tradition. Look at all the useful things that can come from looking at just one passage of old cookery texts.
To leave you with a more modern recommendation: Heritage by Sean Brock is a new cookbook that looks back at the cooking traditions of the South, particularly the Carolinas and rural Virginia. It’s a chance to see a top notch chef take insights like those found in the Frank Forrester guides and turn them into gourmet cuisine for 2014. As far as I can tell, it is almost impossible to actually cook from – but hey, it’s a book, you can read a book. Plus, the pictures are gorgeous. Some final recommended reading then: the book Heritage, this Eater.com review of heritage (I like my book reviews long, this one is) and (we’re getting Meta here) Sean Brock discussing cookbooks with Eater.com, which later reviewed his cookbook.