August 11, 2013

Enjoying nature's food you can't buy in store

By Dan Ladd, Adirondack Hunting & Fishing Report

---- — One of the things I enjoy immensely about my outdoor passions is the culinary benefits.

I was recently reminded of this when I took my annual hike up Buck Mountain, which sits on the east shore of Lake George, specifically to pick wild blueberries.

Such outings have become a midsummer ritual for many Adirondackers as wild, low-bush blueberries can be found on open peaks throughout the region. This year’s hot and wet conditions mixed with ample sunshine has meant a good berry crop, and possibly an earlier one.

Still, my recent hike produced a good yield of blueberries, as usual. Although I did have to work for them a bit.

Some folks may chuckle and ask why I go through all the effort to gather wild blueberries when farm stands and grocery stores are well stocked. I have a number or reasons.

For one, deer season is coming soon and putting five or six climbing miles on my legs now is solid preparation for the fall hunt. And Buck Mountain is just a fantastic hike: perhaps one of the best in all the Adirondacks.

I love the berries, too. The size of a green pea, they’re easy to work with and don’t splatter the way the bigger blueberries that we grow on bushes near our home do. And they’re full of sweetness. Whip up some pancakes with wild blueberries and home-made maple syrup from my spring harvest and you’ll quickly see that all the effort, including the free exercise, is worth it.

That takes care of breakfast, now lets look at dinner.

My wife and I love cooking and preserving meat by smoking it. This is especially the case with game meat including venison, wild turkey and fish. Our smoker is a very simple charcoal smoker, which is basically a charcoal grill with a fire box on the side. Cooking with it is as easy as keeping a fire going in the firebox, which is like a miniature wood stove.

Usually toward the end of deer season when our group is satisfied with our winter venison supply, we’ll take a boned-out hind quarter from a deer, leave it whole and set it aside in the freezer for a time when we can get our entire hunting group and our families together. Everyone brings a dish and I spend an entire day (8 to 10 hours) smoking the hind quarter.

Smoking meat with this type of smoker is very simple. The most important thing you need is time as you have to constantly monitor the temperature and add wood when needed. When cooking wild game I use as little charcoal as possible and rely almost 100-percent on apple wood.

After the meat is brined or seasoned for 24 to 48 hours, regardless of what it is, I start the fire by igniting the charcoal with what’s called a chimney starter. Then I dump the lit charcoal in the firebox and top if off with the apple wood. Once the meat is on the grill, it’s just a matter of keeping the fire going to maintain the preferred cooking temperature.

We’ve cooked a number of hind quarters in recent years, but a few years ago after I went on a Canadian moose hunt we smoked up a large moose roast and it was fabulous. Another favorite of mine is to smoke the upper half of a backstrap from a deer. This only takes about four hours and yields some high quality meat.

Earlier this year we smoked an entire wild turkey breast, which also took about four hours. It was the juiciest wild turkey we’ve ever eaten. And just a few weeks ago I smoked a large brown trout that I caught on a camping trip and that only took about an hour. I shared it with friends and although it was fantastic right off the grill it was also good as part of a salad. Now we’re eyeballing some jerky recipes.

Smoked meat can be served with just about any side dish you can think of. Whatever you normally like with your barbecue should suffice. My wife usually whips up scalloped potatoes and what she calls cowboy beans, which both complement the smoked meat nicely, with some good wine, of course.

The best thing about smoking meat is that anyone can do it. I’m a perfect example of that.

There are all kinds of recipes and advice for smoking and preserving meats on the Internet. For us it’s really rewarding to enjoy food that we’ve acquired ourselves while using a natural resource such as apple wood to cook it.

This is just something you can’t buy in a store, nor would I want to.

Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at