column By: Glen Blackwood | November, 19
As with any exploration, you should have a goal in mind from the outset. This helps with selection criteria, as there are a vast number of wild game cookbooks available, both new and used. Since I am primarily a grouse and woodcock hunter, I gravitate towards books that have a section devoted to these species and other game birds. That doesn’t mean I walk away from books that feature bear or boar; they just might not be on top of the draft board.
My next criterion is they must include informational text with photographs or illustrations — not just the glamorous food images like those on the cover of Bon Appétit but images and text that relate to the game and hunting. After all, I am more reader than cook. An example of this would be Janie Hibler’s title Wild About Game, published in 1998 by Broadway Books. It is full of interesting recipes along with sporting related line drawings, photographs and writing such as this:
My godfather, Art Ford is eighty-six and he loves to tell the story about the game warden who used to call on his family’s ranch in northern California during the Depression to “check on things.”
“He’d regularly show up at eleven o’clock,” Art told me, “and, of course, we always invited him to stay for lunch. Times were tough and the only meat my mother cooked was deer. That old game warden ate twice as much as the rest of us, and he never said a word.”
Passages like these add as much flavor to the book as do the ingredients themselves. While on the topic of ingredients, finding books that discuss how and why a certain spice or herb is used instead of just dishing out an ingredient list not only educates but also enhances the overall enjoyment. Adding a “pinch” of this or a “dash” of that becomes relevant with deeper understanding, even if it takes you the better part of a morning and multiple stops to find the roasted spice the recipe requires.
While most game cookbooks utilize common ingredients, some will list ingredients not found in the typical bird camp kitchen. Regional game cookbooks are prone to this as their recipes use what is most common to their locale. Do not shy away from these books. Cranberries, currants and huckleberries all add unique yet different flavors to the dish, although the game bird may be the same species. Exploring these regional cookbooks has also taken me outside the United States.
While the United Kingdom is not known for its culinary prowess compared to neighboring France, Spain and other European counties, English game cookbooks are worthy of exploration. The recipes are straightforward yet stir the pot differently than the books published in the United States. Angela Humphreys contributed to Game Season, Quiller Press 2008. Alongside her recipes are writings from her husband John and images by sporting artist Roger McPhail. This is an appealing wing shooting book; her recipes are a bonus. The Game Cook by Carolyn Little, The Crowood Press, LTD 1993, is another suggestion. Its stewed pheasant with sauerkraut dish blends German cuisine with U.K. gin.
Wild game cookbooks are a minor subset of both culinary and sporting books. Like new coverts, they pique curiosity, deserve exploration and create appetites. What better time than winter to explore new recipes and books. Good reading and bon appétit.