A REMINDER ABOUT GROUSE HUNTING

KevinCooking w/ Fire, From The Wild, Game Birds, Grilling w/ Fire, Hunting, Upland Game2 Comments

THE PLUCKING STUMP

The grouse plucking station.

The only hunting I did as a kid with any regularity was grouse hunting. Every year. We’d go mid September around my birthday when the leaves were mid-change and the frosts getting hard at night. A few decades later, and I’m hunting grouse with Hank Shaw, at the same time of year. By this time we’d already spent a few days laughing, eating, and chasing waterfowl on camera, and we shifted gears into living in bushcamp for a few days to film what I’d long wanted to produce – an episode exclusively about grouse.

There’s a lot to say about it that’s been captured already in S2E11 of From The Wild. Differences in the way Hank and I hunt grouse, differences in the firearms of choice, field dressing, and outdoor cookery approaches. I find the differences fascinating. But one important personal takeaway isn’t in the episode. I mention in interview that in recent years grouse hunting had become a byproduct of big game hunting – we’d harvested grouse, but had abandoned spending time specifically focused on them. Well after this hunt it sunk in how much I’d missed grouse hunting. It was a piece of my childhood and cultural heritage that I’d started to abandon to a degree. Big game hunting has a way of consuming a hunter, at the expense of prioritizing small game, fish, and other lovely and delicious things that are less ‘productive’ yield wise, but because of that very fact, more ‘special’ – certainly offering more variety at the dinner table. I’m grateful for the dose of awareness of that push-pull, and plan on dialing in more balance into what species I chase.

Ruffed grouse roasted on a rock, fired with spruce wood.

Ruffed grouse roasted on a rock, fired with spruce wood.

Hank insisting we be Canadian via Molson Canadian

Hank insisting we be Canadian via Molson Canadian

 

Late Season Waterfowl

KevinButchering Game Meats, From The Wild, Game Birds, Hunting, Waterfowl1 Comment

BLOG POST - 2015 - DUCK FATI’ve been waterfowl hunting the wrong season my whole life. Was always eager come early September to chase the birds that found the first cereal crops knocked down. Error. I did that this year, as always. I spent some special time butchering geese with my buddy Blair, tossing the odd super-lean carcass 20′ away or so to give the swarm of wasps something to chew on so that they didn’t chew on us. One of my kids literally entered the back yard, and asked why it smelled like slough. The carcass waste bags festered in the September heat.

The solution, LATE SEASON BIRDS. News flash, animals finished on grain for weeks are tasty. News flash, fat is tasty. No more slough smell. Oh, and no more wasps while breaking the birds down – the cold weather sorted them out. Waste bags could store well until garbage day. All is well in the world of late season waterfowl. It’d known this for some time, but this season I hunted frequently enough to observe the dramatic change, come to some conclusions, and make some personal commitments to myself.

Of all of those things, the most astounding piece, the big game changer is the fat. Having just hung out with and filmed Hank Shaw plucking ducks, geese, and grouse, plucking was on the agenda. Partly because of the skin, but even more so to keep the fat in place. It’s the perfect medium to moisten the very lean meat during cooking. And it’s delicious.

BLOG POST - 2015 - DUCK FAT COLOURSomething odd, it being my first really heavy season of waterfowl plucking, was the difference in colour between two birds of the same species. An addition to the ever growing evidence of animal variability. Photo on the left is two mallard breasts, one yellow as if it’d been feeding on corn, another white like pig lard. Both shot on the same hunt, in the same field. Animal variability of wild meat at its finest. Worth noting that I chose to dry pluck all season, including our Christmas Turkey, opting out of exploring another method, and without any regrets. I did a lot of birds, the vast majority with the hybrid approach of plucking the breast and legs then carving them out. It’s not hard to harvest a possession limit of geese (currently 24 per hunter) and ducks (also, 24 per hunter), and there’s no way I can freeze that many birds whole even if I wanted to.

Below: a good day for greenheads. I’ve eaten duck for a lot of years, but will admit that Hank Shaw prepared some duck and goose in bush camp this year that changed how I see both. Nothing fancy, but two critical waterfowl cookery elements on point:  1] proper doneness execution,  and 2] proper quality wild poultry fat. More on this in the coming episodes of From The Wild – you get to hear it right from Hank himself.

BLOG POST - 2015 - GREENHEADS

First Perch

KevinFish, Fishing, From The Wild, Ice Fishing, Northern Pike, PerchLeave a Comment

BLOG POST - LDI 2015 - HOLE

Lots of ice for January

Ice fishing in Saskatchewan is solidly ‘a thing’ in my life now – my dad loves having us out, and this time around it was with the family for New Year’s. Last year I got started with trout Dec 11, so this felt like a late start to the ice fishing season. I think I needed a respite after getting mildly broken winter camping with Senger in the -20s of late November (story for another day). Three days of fishing, two of them slow by Saskatchewan standards – roughly 8 perch per day with my family of 5 and 2 more adults on top of that. Not stellar, but it meant freshly caught fish for New Year’s Eve, and a few to bring home. Thankfully, in From The Wild fashion [of which this was not – S1E3 + S2E3 if you’re interested], day 3 turned around.

We were fishing in about 2 feet of water. Right away, when I asked my eldest daughter [the only immediate family member left with any interest in fishing by this point] if she saw any fish, I got an affirmative. I didn’t really care what size of perch she caught, I just wanted to her to catch ANYTHING. We’ve had a number of family fishing trips with the kids, all largely unproductive.

A few minutes later: ‘Daddy, a big one just ate my hook. What do I do? Should I bring him up?’ she screamed. Her first perch ever was a 1.3lb lunker caught in 2 feet of water at most. She’d been on quite a few ice fishing trips, but this was her first fish through the ice.

Her first perch, 1.3 lbs

Her first perch, 1.3 lbs

From then on she looked like this:

BLOG POST - LDI 2015 - LOOKING DOWN

The water was 1-2 feet deep, so you could see all the fish nosing your hook.

BLOG POST - LDI 2015 - PIKE

Pike caught on a tip-up

Then the tip ups went off. At first we lost a couple, like the days before. We were using different bait and hook rigs designed by guys that catch 25 pounders on this lake. Just weren’t committing. I’m convinced it’s because it’s January, not March when they’re heavily packed with roe and about to spawn – and hungry. Then they did commit. I pulled an 8lb, 6.5lb, and 4.75lb pike from the ice that day while my daughter continued to pull perch out. She won the first and most fish caught that day, but grandpa won for biggest perch at 1.75lbs. My biggest was 1lb – second biggest of my life, the biggest being last winter on Lesser Slave.

In prior years, I’ve been freezing fish whole, guts in. They either partially or wholly freeze on the ice when you’re out, so not only is it practical, but if you gut them the belly edges tend to freezerburn. The major disadvantage/deal breaker is they’re freezer burned within 6-8 weeks. Had enough of that. Another common practice is freezing in water, but I hunt and butcher way too much to have the space for all that water, even with two chest freezers. This year my objective was to commit the culinary sin of defrosting them, filleting them, and then wrapping and packing them like I would any other meat. Seems to have worked out far better so far – positive I’ll get better storage life, with minimal freezer space. Jury’s out on the twice frozen impact on texture. The obvious next step, clean them on the ice to avoid that first freeze up. Can do with the whitefish and perch if a patch of skin is left on to allow species ID, but can’t with the pike because there’s a length restriction on them that they have to be able to confirm until it’s at your primary residence. That’s my understanding of the Sask. regs at the moment, anyway. Whatever the case: the big win of the trip was that my daughter now ‘gets’ ice fishing.

BLOG POST - LDI 2015 - BUCKET

Catch of the day – more than enough fish to feed the family for days

FIRST TIME HUNTER?

KevinUncategorized1 Comment

FTW S1E5 - grouseI’m going to be working on a crew of Neil Grahn‘s on a documentary series about the first time hunter experience. The show’s in development phase which means we’re scheduling pilot work, working out content and logistic details, etc – one of which is lining up the right ‘talent’ for the project.

Neil’s looking for first time hunters willing to be on TV. The show concept is to follow the first time hunter for a couple days in their daily life learning about who they are, why they want to hunt, what they’re going to hunt, etc. There’d be a 3-4 person crew on the hunt itself, then a day or so back at home learning about how it went.

It’s a doc series, so no acting skills required. Just have to be willing to have us document your experience. If you’re interested, email me kevin at kevinkossowan.com.

Oh, Christmas Fawn. I mean, tree.

KevinBig Game, Deer, From The Wild, HuntingLeave a Comment

BLOG POST - 2015 - FAWN CHRISTMASUmpteen years of getting Christmas trees at IKEA. I’m a serious scrooge when it comes to box stores combined with the month of December [thank you online shopping]. I think at some point one of the kids mentioned this fall that we should cut our own tree from the forest. It was a done deal before they’d finished their sentence.

The ‘usual’ week is the first week of December. It’s as early as we dare push collecting an IKEA tree for fear of having no needles left by the 25th. But I figured a freshly cut live tree would fare better [correct, by far], so we headed out November 30th. We could have gone Dec 1, but Dec 1 wouldn’t have been during deer season.

The family had a lovely time [kind of] debating which tree was perfect, and we had lunch in our now very frozen bush camp that they’d only seen in pictures. After a memorable day out, fingers got cold, kids got tired and cranky, and homeward we went, having seen zero game but with a trailer full of ‘not-IKEA’ Christmas tree decor.

As we left the bush, we drove through the last mile or two of crown land, in literally the final hour of hunting season. On the road stood a whitetail doe. It left the road into the woods. I followed the deer.

Top that, IKEA.

Whitetail fawn harvested on Christmas Tree outing

Whitetail fawn harvested on Christmas Tree outing

Squirrel, Grouse, and Everything Nice

KevinCooking w/ Fire, Foraging, From The Wild, Game - Other, Game Birds, Greens & Stuff, Hunting, Upland GameLeave a Comment

BLOG POST - 2015 - SUDDABY CAMP

Bushcamp with prospector tent’s new pole frame.

Hunting season had just started, and Hank Shaw was going to be arriving in a week or so. I had plans for our fledgling bushcamp prior to his arrival, the most important of which was getting a tent frame built out of the surrounding black spruce. I have an aluminum frame for the tent, but hauling it had proved to be onerous the season prior, and for a basecamp we were going to return to often in the coming months/year(s) a semi-permanent solution made more sense than hauling frame poles back and forth every trip.

Enter Allan Suddaby. I’d seen him just prior for the first time in a while, at an invite-only Austrian ‘most herurigen’ he holds to celebrate pig harvest and equally importantly the cider ferment, serving still-in-secondary ciders crushed days before paired with a myriad of Austrian charcuterie preparations. I’ve known Allan since his culinary school days, and felt silly realizing that of all the culinary folks I know around home, Allan is one of the most well versed in wild edibles – and I’ve never been hunting or fishing with the guy. Knee jerk was to ask if he had any interest in a hunting outing. His kneejerk was yes.

BLOG POST - 2015 - SUDDABY GROUSE

Ruffed grouse

It was the second week of September, deer season wasn’t open, but grouse and small game was. The bush was wet from some fall rains, which meant the road into camp would have low spots muddy enough to get me out of the vehicle every time on the way in to walk it first, to make sure we wouldn’t be staying in the woods longer than intended. I learned something that day. Out of maybe 4 walks in the low spots on foot, twice I flushed ruffed grouse. They were hanging up in the wet spots, feeding on willows I’d later learn. This pattern would repeat itself through the fall. We ended up entering camp with grouse in hand. Dinner was sorted.

I put Allan on starting a fire, while I cut black spruce for the the tent poles. Long into my project, Allan was still at it. I decided to give him a hand, thinking it was him. Turns out it was the saturated forest. Took  some splitting of standing dead trees to get to the dry centers in order to make progress, which still was not easy or fast. Note to self: leave a water-sealed cache of fire start in the bush.

With tent up, I got to learn something new again at dinner time. Allan was on dinner, and cooked possibly the best grouse I’ve ever eaten. Not because of flavour manipulation, but because of perfect execution on doneness. I’m guessing 95% of grouse I’ve eaten in the past has been overcooked, even if only a little bit, and the margin is thin on getting it wrong. Grouse should be juicy and stringy like a properly cooked chicken, otherwise you’re doing it wrong. I’d suggest starting hot, finishing slowly and carefully, and resting the meat prior to serving. We shared the campfire that night with some guests – Jeff Senger with Trevor and Trinity in tow from the meat shop.

BLOG POST - 2015 - SUDDABY GUESTS

 

BLOG POST - 2015 - SUDDABY SQUIRREL

Red squirrel.

The next day, we looked for more grouse, but also were open to any small game, trying to ignore the whitetail doe standing on the cutline staring at me days before deer season. That day’s learning experience was the culinary merits of squirrel. I’d long wondered. Kevin Kent of Knifewear had sworn they were desirable. Here’s Allan’s post on the squirrel stew he made that day: http://buttonsoup.ca/squirrel/. Two more takeaways for me were Allan’s sourcing of dandelion and clover flowers for the stew – in the fall I generally forget about greens in the bush because we’re usually there a couple weeks later. Early season, greens and florals are game on. An even bigger one was Allan’s approach to the stew – he made a tea from labrador tea and rosehip for his cooking liquid in the stew. I’ve since used that technique many times in lieu of stock or water – using steeped bush teas as cooking liquid for things like wild rice, stews, braises, whole grains, etc.

Young dandelion leaves and clover flowers.

Young dandelion leaves and clover flowers.

Maybe the most important takeaway is that a simple overnighter, without big game tags or cameras in hand, could yield so much learning. You’d think the learning would stop. Thankfully, it does not.

Squirrel stew, labrador tea/rosehip tea, dandelion, clover flowers.

Squirrel stew, labrador tea/rosehip tea, dandelion, clover flowers.

DOPPLEGANGER MEETUP

KevinBig Game, Butchering Game Meats, Cooking w/ Fire, Deer, Foraging, From The Wild, Game Birds, Upland Game, Waterfowl4 Comments

HANK - PLUCKED WATERFOWLSo it turns out Hank Shaw and I both eat quickly. We both regularly drink Calvados. We have about the same amount of grey in the beard, both hunt/fish/forage, and generally speaking we see the world much in the same way. Who knew. I told him it’s a good thing we’re not married.

I met Hank online about 10 years ago when he started to comment on this very website. This was prior to him starting his own site, winning James Beard awards, writing books on wild food, and otherwise overachieving. We had tossed around the idea of him coming up here to head into the bush [as he would remind me, the singular bush that we Canadians keep speaking of] in pursuit of wild things, but this year From The Wild was able to see it through. We booked him a flight up here, and now I can’t get Gwar’s ‘Carry On My Wayward Son’ out of my brain. We filmed two episodes of From The Wild – one on waterfowl and one on grouse, both pieces of subject matter I’d long had on the drawing board but was unable to pull together prior to this aligning of the stars. Aligning of the moon, rather – a lunar eclipse happened to be occurring while we were in the bush. The singular bush.

My head’s a bit rocked by the week we spent together chasing and finding delicious things. The whole moon aligning thing meant that we connected on ducks, connected on geese, connected on two species of grouse, and connected on the biggest whitetail buck of my life – a whole other story. It was a week of picture-perfect gold fall leaves, wood fires in the bush tent, and scads of fire cookery – I couldn’t have dialled it in better had I tried for the camera. Just stunning.

Hank’s doing some cooking and posting about his adventure up here, and I’m cutting two episodes of From The Wild about it, so there will be a lot of content coming about the past week. Needless to say, a memorable one. Below: Hank thinks that we Canadians must drink Molson Canadian. When I go down there I’m going to make him drink Coors.

HANK - CANADIAN

 

Early Season

KevinBig Game, Black Bear, Elk, From The Wild, MooseLeave a Comment

ELKFrom The Wild episodes are planned out quite a few months ahead of time, and on the roster for season 3 is me going into my family’s ‘moose camp’. I’ve actually never been with tag in hand, as they always call bulls during rut, and I’ve always been chasing calves. The older I get, the more I want to participate, at least once, in this family tradition. There’s a 2 year priority wait for a bull tag there during rifle season, so this year, all I could get for a moose tag was a general archery tag. Hunting rules are complicated.

All that to say, I was in the boreal during early season, while moose archery was open. There was this window of time between Sept 17 when early elk season was open with a rifle, and Sept 24 when moose archery closed. Whitetail was open, bear was open. I was pretty sure we’d find something to harvest for From The Wild. My major cop-out from long, protracted blog posts is and will be: ‘watch the episode‘. A picture is worth a thousand words. An episode is about 31,000 pictures. [this one will be S2E8, released sometime in spring of 2016]

The short of it. I got to hear for the first time, elk bugling all around me, and our hunting party was successful at harvesting one opening morning. There was an explosion in the black bear population such that they’d spotted somewhere between 15-20 just on their ~1/2 section of land alone in 2-3 days. I ended up butchering 5 sides of bear. I brought in Allan Suddaby to do the cookery segment in the episode, which was long overdue. Overall, a crazy opener to what’s continued to be a stellar hunting season.
BOW

CIDER SEASON 2015

KevinApples, Cider, Cider Making, From the Cellar, From the Garden, Fruit from the Yard, Pears1 Comment

CIDER 2015 - PEARSLast year there was no cider season for me. I got back from New Brunswick filming for Slow Food Canada [as an aside, both films will be in DEVOUR film fest this coming November!!] and as apples ripened, I finished up the season with Lactuca, was in the field solid filming for the university and the beef industry, slamming out episodes of From The Wild, and by the time the end of cider season hit I was taking a photo of the apples on my tree, unpicked. It was upsetting, really. I decided to not let that happen again. Ever.

To ease my load, I sold my shares of Lactuca to my business partner, stepped away from Shovel & Fork, and promised myself a cider vintage in 2015. I haven’t really posted about my exits from those projects, but I’m happy to report that both were functional and healthy exits. The issue wasn’t the success of those projects or lack thereof, it was that my production business absolutely exploded, and it’s where I wanted to spend my time. I’ve been flat-out since.

CIDER 2015 - MY PEAR The pears top left are from a yard who’s owner I’ve made friends with over the past few years. A classic case of ‘Please save me the work of cleaning up this mess of fruit‘, and grateful we oblige. That single tree yielded 400-500lbs of pears this year. You don’t blame the owner for not putting it all up for the winter, now do you.

The singleton pear on the left is on the tree in my front yard – the first notable fruiting of the young tree. It pleases me to no end thinking about picking a few hundred pounds of pears from my own yard in a few years. It’s coming.

Pears have become a significant focus in our cider making. Most of our ‘apple ciders’ consist of at least 20% pear, and it’s normal to go up to 50%. Pears tend to crush and press really well, and are high juice yielders. Apples can be pretty variable. These pears have a nice acidity to them, are beautifully aromatic and taste the part. We make single varietal pear cider that’s austere in acidity but can smell like pear pie. And we consume the rich juice straight off the press in wine glasses. It’s glorious.

CIDER 2015 - TRAILER

This is the first year I have a utility trailer with side walls – extremely helpful. Post pear pick, we picked the neighbour’s dolgo, picked a few branches of my cousin’s tree, and headed home to pick mine. So essentially a morning. To pick about 1000lbs of fruit, with a couple friends.

What does that yield? Years ago I figured out some ballpark figures that have stood the test of time:

100lbs FRUIT = 20L JUICE

100LBS FRUIT = 1 MAN HOUR TO PICK

100LBS FRUIT = 1 MAN HOUR TO CRUSH/PRESS

20L of cider is a lot, pretty much. The carboys are 23L, so 20 would be your approximate net yield. 40 500ml flip tops. Doesn’t sound like much, perhaps, until you’re consuming #20, and you still have 20 to go. That, and when you don’t just have one carboy, you have 8. Legal limit in Alberta is 400L, in case you were wondering.

I also get asked about how I bottle, etc. I still love the purist method of bottling before the cider ferments dry to capture a natural bottle ferment with the residual sugar. Probably my favourite, but as aforementioned, my schedule can be cranky, and doesn’t always allow the finessing of that timing. We now keg most of it, like you would beer. The kegs sit in our cellar. Most of the year we have cold cider on tap, whenever one wants. #wealth

Below: a shot of the fruit crusher we’d been wishing we had for many years. A friend picked one up when I was unavailable last year – a solid byproduct of my 2014 vintage failure. We’ve spent many dollars and loads of hours trying to put together what this thing can easily do. If you’re going to make cider for years, suck up the expense and buy one. Game changer. You can dump a whole box of apples in the top and it’ll zip through them. It kept 2 large presses going all day, and sat idle and wanting more most of the time. This means my large rack press will be exploring multiple cheese pressing with plastic racks next year – something we could never do because the crusher would overheat and needed to cool down before its next go. Not anymore.

Many thanks to the many friends that were here lending a hand with picking, crushing, pressing, the pommeau tasting, dinner, the pear dessert, all of it. Beautiful living, and satisfying work. I sure missed it.

CIDER 2015 - CRUSHER

COOK IT RAW ALBERTA – CAMP

KevinBison, COOK IT RAW, Cooking w/ Fire, Fish, Fishing, From The Wild, Northern PikeLeave a Comment

COOK IT RAW CAMPToday Cook It Raw launched the first teaser piece from our stay on Cucumber Island – pasting it below. The series will be broadcast on Munchies – the first piece on Sept 15, which happens to be my birthday. The second part is a mid-length piece explaining the project, and providing a glimpse of life on the island, our bison hunt, and the resulting dishes our Alberta chefs were inspired by. Part 3 will be filmed in October in Calgary and the Kananaskis, with the international chefs in tow – that one will be roughly 22 minutes.

I’ve had a few questions about what exactly Cook It Raw is about, and rather than answer it here, I’m confident I did a solid job of making it clear in Part 2, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Wanted to include a couple photos from camp life on Cucumber Island. My bunk buddies for 6 days were Alessandro Porcelli, Blair Lebsack, and Brayden Kozak. It was sunburn-hot during the days without a cloud in the sky for protection. The tent would be roasting and uninhabitable during the day. At night, it got so cold that one morning our water jug had ice in it. Yes, that’s my sweet cot at the back. From The Wild has me living in the field for 40 days or so every year – in S2E2 we slept 2 miles off shore on the ice of Lesser Slave lake. One eventually figures out how to be prepared.

COOK IT RAW - CAMP TENT

My prospector tent. Note to self: bring a wood stove in May.

The first 3 days were without the big crew – it was largely just the 4 of us, and the odd guest who’d drop by the island to import supplies for the impending chaos. The island was completely uninhabited, and our days were consumed by hard labour building a wood oven on the beach, a huge grill, multiple fire-cookery stations for the incoming chefs, setting up camp – all on top of the usual day-to-day necessities like meal prep over fires, fishing for lunch, and drinks in the evenings around the fire. It was a memorable 3 days. My camera gear stayed in their cases, and we really just lived out there getting ready – ready for the boat to bring the rest of the Cook It Raw team, and for the adventures to begin.

COOK IT RAW CAMP - the wood oven

The wood oven base and its rock-pile prep counters.

COOK IT RAW CAMP - FIRE

The 4 of us around 10pm. The weather was so stable every night looked exactly the same.

COOK IT RAW CAMP - POT

Our pot for boiling water. Not the best place to learn that it leaked.

I feel really, really fortunate to have been chosen to work on the documentary pieces attached to this project – and really appreciate those that put in a good word for me [you know who you are]. Only a few more days and we’ll be back in the field.