FROM THE WILD – S3E8 – GRADE ONE

KevinBig Game, Deer, From The Wild, Game Birds, WaterfowlLeave a Comment

Stuffing blinds

Releasing this one a few weeks late, but a few weeks ahead of waterfowl and archery season. Jeff, Blair, myself, and 3 of my family finally crushed a waterfowl hunt on camera. 84 birds in 2 hours, exactly half and half Canadas and mallards. The plan was to base an entire episode around this hunt, but as sometimes happens we ended up with more material than expected later in the season, and so the cameras follow us and our haul of birds down to the grasslands to see through the original plan of revisiting the grasslands for mule deer for the first time since S1. The birds kinda got in the way, and we’re glad they did.

Mule deer and archery figured prominently in S1, and not at all in S2. It was a regret. In part because archery offers some really interesting variety in tackle, in part because the grasslands are such a fascinating ecoregion, and in large part because my family has been hunting from that same spot since 1972 or thereabouts, so there’s some serious tradition and family heritage that were being ignored. That place and its wild things are now baked into the production plan for S3/4/5+. S3E9 & 10 will make up for some of that lost time, and really dig into mule deer cookery in a big way. Trailer below.

First Brook Trout

KevinBrook Trout, Fish, From The WildLeave a Comment

My first success with brook trout

The second half of our adventure with Hank found us back at Elbow Lake in Kananaskis. The smoke had eased up, and the bear closures didn’t impact the hike in. So much more to say about all that, but will leave it to the From The Wild episode. I happen to be a salmonid lover. When asked to choose a favourite protein, strictly from a hedonism standpoint, I’ve been known to choose salmon. It’s delicious.

Brook Trout, an introduced species in Alberta that tends to out-compete our native species [cutthroat, bull], happens to be in the char family. Bull trout, a zero keep fish in Alberta, is also in that family. The rest of the lot are trout, and everything but the west slope cutthroat is introduced – brown, brook, rainbow, lake. That’s my understanding. It’s also my understanding that if you’re going to eat one based on deliciousness, the char family wins. And since we can’t eat bull trout here, look out brookies.

It’s probably worth mentioning that despite growing up fishing, I had zero trout fishing experience prior to the very first episode of From The Wild. Zero. None. I knew perch, pike, and walleye as a kid, that’s it. This whole trout world is still new to me, and I find it fascinating. One of my favourite foods in the planet was hiding in plain sight.

Senger fishing Elbow for Brook Trout

It’s also worth noting that in Alberta there’s been what I’d call ‘aggressive’ moves by wildlife management to remove brookies from some water systems. Google it up and you’ll find stories about electrocuting streams to remove them, and government permission for a select few anglers to remove as many as they could – all highly managed. I know a lot of the biologist folks managing wildlife, and have yet to meet one that isn’t sharp, or that doesn’t give a shit.  The rest of us follow the regulations of course, but it certainly makes me not feel badly at all about taking a limit of them out of a lake that’s teeming with them. It’s a bit of a perfect storm really culinarily: arguably the best tasting salmonid in our province is abundant to a fault, and an introduced species. Game on.

Jeff tending Hank’s cooking fire on the Solo Stove, frying up some Brookie bones.

This day happened to be my day with a fly rod. I was able to land 5 fish, my best trout day ever, and best fly fishing day ever. Super grateful that the next step was eating them with some of the best wild food folks in the planet, all while pointing cameras. Oh, and we didn’t just fry them up – we really dug into their potential, Hank did 4 preparations, one of which he claims on camera is the best thing he’s cooked all year. Season 4 of From The Wild is shaping up to be a stunner.

Meeting My Headwaters

KevinCutthroat, Fish, Foraging, From The Wild, Greens & StuffLeave a Comment

A candid moment on the cliff our camp was on, photo by Jeff Senger.

Some topics the internet does a fine job of covering, and the Ram River fishing experience is not one of them. Way back in season 2 of From The Wild, we fly fished the Granby tributaries and fell in love with fly fishing. Ever since, I’d wanted to have a similar experience, but it made no sense to me to drive super far to find a stream with trout. I live in a river city – the North Saskatchewan. And every river has headwaters. I wanted some intimacy with the tributaries that sent water past my house. And thus the Ram River.

We were supposed to fish the river in S3 with Brayden Kozak from Three Boars/Wishbone, but got rained out and never left home. It wasn’t on the schedule for S4 because we had just come off a big pacific trip, but Hank Shaw was incoming, wild fires were burning near Kananaskis, and trail heads were closed due to Grizzlies. Options narrowed, and the Ram was in an area not inundated with smoke, closed, burning, or under fire ban.

Senger’s tent on the right, Hank and I tucked a few feed into the trees. One of the most stunning camp locations ever.

Some information you should know if you’re headed to the Ram. There is some climbing to do. See above photo. It is no leisurely stroll through a braided stream system, and box canyon segments are frequent. See photo of Hank below, fishing a pool below camp. Access to pools was not easy, nor frequent. Doable, but challenging. Hank did particularly well in settings like this with his spincast gear, our fly set ups let us down over and over in this water. You might want to bring both setups. Hank would often latch onto a fish or two right off the bat, but then they’d get wise. Then off to the next pool, which was never an easy task.

Hank fishing the box canyon, sitting on icy cold rocks after a horrid overnight in the backcountry.

Because the river narrows so hard, and there’s some serious waterfalls, you get to know the horse trails in the bush that will guide you upstream. Handy, but the horse trails also tend to stray quite far from the river…most of the time. So we’d hike, then at some point decide to make our way through the bush to see if there was a fishable pool yet. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We walked a lot of miles on those horse trails, and from time to time would be rewarded with a spot like the one below – this one’s up Ranger Creek. Ranger Creek seemed to have a good reputation online, so I had high hopes, and I also thought it was going to be a super long hike. It was neither far, nor a big difference from the Ram. Kind of more of the same, really.

Hank & Jeff fishing one of the best pools we found up at Ranger Creek, which flows into the Ram

Hank with one of the bigger Cutthroat

I left the Ram with a strange array of feelings. I left a piece of me there, and it certainly took some of my gear by force. It offered some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve encountered in our home province, and holds beautiful fish – but on this trip, all undersized for the pan. Having just come off an intensely productive trip to the pacific, the scarcity of food in this alpine region was humbling. The place is austere. And hard. And stunning. And unforgettable. And it’s my home turf.

The Root Cellar Garden

KevinCOOK IT RAW, Fall Veg, From the Cellar, From the Garden, Root Cellar, Veg, Vegetables, Winter Veg2 Comments

The rocky hills of Trondheim, Norway were under a foot of fresh snow, and I found myself on a biodynamic veg farm filming with the Cook It Raw Norway team. I’d filmed a lot of veg farms, but none this picturesque, and certainly never in winter. Pretty tough to find something interesting to talk about on a veg farm in winter that isn’t a greenhouse – unless you’re into root cellaring.

It wasn’t long into my interview with farmer Elin before we were talking about how vegetables evolve in texture and flavour through the winter, and most interestingly, about the gift that are the sprouts that roots produce. Shortly thereafter we were under her beautiful european farmhouse, exploring the contents of her cellar. Despite the snow outside, she had bins of root veg, sacks of potatoes, and even some soil with chard plants growing in the dark. Fascinating. I left inspired to explore shoots more at home. But it wasn’t over. Later in the trip we’d visit a couple  extremely well respected restaurants that would present me with an elegant dish featuring only a vegetable, using the shoots as an element on the plate that used the root, usually 2 or 3 different ways. It made so much sense it hurt, and the finesse they could apply to vegetables dishes was embarrassing.

This rutabaga is from my garden. I learned in Norway that 1] they call them ‘Swede’ and 2] they don’t let them get this big, because the texture gets compromised, they’re hard to work with, and they’re just not as nice. I shall defer to their expertise by default. So now, when something like this emerges from the cellar, rather than the shoots being discarded, they’ll be thoughtfully dressed or otherwise prepared, and go atop or aside whatever preparation the root is destined for – offering a different texture, flavour, and experience utilizing precisely the same plant. Perhaps most beautiful of all: whatever dish that might be speaks entirely of the late cellar season, something entirely not duplicable at other times of year. So exclusively pedestrian. I adore it.

Field Kitchen Kit

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Earlier in the week I was cooking a few courses of wild game with Jeff Senger for Knifewear’s annual manager’s meeting in Calgary, and I hauled along my field cookery kit – I was in a hurry and know this kit will bail me out when it’s time to feed people. It needed some repacking and restocking so I figured I’d empty it out and share a photo of what I take into the field. A breakdown:

  • THE BOX – Mine’s an open topped posh wine case [far left]. Everything fits in it. Pros: it’s the right size, and looks nice for film. Cons: it’s a bit under built (surprisingly), and there’s no top so when packing a vehicle it has to go on top of things.
  • ENAMELWARE – We’re normally a crew of 3 in From The Wild, so we carry plate/bowls, cups, and a small pot. Pros: they don’t break, look nice, and you can warm them up next to a fire to keep food hot when it’s freezing out. Cons: you have to wash them in the field. The pot top-right ended up in the kit because the solo-stove pot is only one pot, and sometimes you need to make 2 elements to a plate.
  • BLADES – the santoku on the left is my first-ever japanese knife back from when my brother lived there almost 20 years ago. If there’s one knife I have in the kitchen kit, that’s the one. I use the white knife guard on its left. The black Kurosaki knife is my default big game skinning knife – it’s often in my side bag, not the kitchen box, but it’s always in the field. The small Moritaka blade far right is my favourite prep knife at home – doesn’t always make it into the field, but often does. The hatchet. At one time I thought it useless in the bush, far too undersized. Until the day we used it to break down grouse. It’s great for all bird butchery. It’s handy when you need a cleaver for fish. It now lives in the field kitchen box.
  • FLAVOUR – I carry nalgenes of Vancouver Island sea salt, Malabar black pepper, canola oil, and a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar for when something desperately needs a touch of acidity (not often found in the field). I always carry a spice blend – I have one for big game, one for waterfowl, one for white meats, some others in development. I love ‘Epices de Cru’ but in this case its my own blend in their handy tin (non-breakable). In the baggies: dried shaggy parasol caps [for when you need umami], dried garden thyme/sage/savory, and organic wheat berries from @goldforestgrain. I normally also carry lentils and wild rice – all 3 of which would be pre-seasoned into just-add-water high energy staples to go aside the ubiquitous proteins. For allium, freeze dried shallots in the jar [silk road], and some garden garlic.
  • EATING – I’m a big fan of my light weight cutlery on a carabiner, but often we’re using chopsticks. Fashioning chopsticks in the bush is fun, but when you just want to eat or are on a frozen lake, or in the grasslands, grabbing from a $1 bag of wood chopsticks and throwing them in the fire after the meal is super satisfying. They’re mixed in with some bamboo skewers, for when you need to get small bits – say mallard hearts or fish cheeks – onto the grill.
  • CLEAN UP – nalgene of dish soap, a scrub pad as things cooked over the uneven heat of wood fire can be unkind to pans and pots. A major omission from this photo that I hurriedly resolved after taking it: paper towel. Paper towel is essential. I often carry the tough blue variety, both in my kitchen kit, in my vehicle, and pretty much stash it everywhere. Also infinitely handy are wet wipes of any variety. My only criteria is that they come in a small pack [red plastic far left]. There’s also a black dish towel, that honestly, doesn’t get used a lot [paper towel], but it’s there in a pinch, and serves the useful function of preventing the solo stove and pot clanging around in the kit – annoying, and we drive a lot to locations and back.
  • SOLID FUEL STOVE – although we don’t use it all the time, the Solo Stove can be the only option much of the time. Backcountry when you want to leave no trace. When you’ve run out of propane. When you don’t want to start a campfire to boil water. When you’re on the ice. The solo stove takes wood/grass/any combustible, so you always can start a fire and cook. It’s well built [aside from the grill inside wanting to pop wires often, thankfully easily sorted out]. I normally carry a small bag inside it with birch bark and a lighter. Another omission I need to sort out. There’s also a 1L container of charcoal – this is a luxury item that stays in the kit. Sometimes wood isn’t handy, or is wet. Sometimes charcoal needs to flavour a dish. Sometimes you just want the Solo Stove to burn a long time at low heat without refuelling. Another omission is that I now have the charcoal container nested into a few other empty 1L plastic containers, with lids. Sometimes you make too much food in the field, and need somewhere to put them. Sometimes you’re butchering a fish or bird and need a container to hold pieces. Super handy.
  • PARACORD – far more handy than you’d guess. Don’t have a rotisserie? No problem, ‘a la ficelle’ it. Need a tripod to smoke or hang meat from – no problem: paracord. Butchering an animal that needs parts hunt in a tree? Need to wrap a handle on that black skinning knife? A lash on the prospector tent broke or missing? Endless.

This kit has evolved, will continue to evolve, and items are added/removed depending on the trip. But as of this week, this is where it’s at. Any must-haves you carry? Any questions about any of the kit?

Season 3 Release of From The Wild

KevinUncategorizedLeave a Comment

from-the-wild-s3-vod-posterWhat an intense journey. Getting to season 3 means 38 episodes, about 130 days in the field. I’ve already greyed in the beard since the early episodes, and the project is doing exactly what I’d hoped – it’s documenting and diarizing a crazy amount of life experience memories that would be impossible to cram into a single person’s head. The more we do the series, the more the series becomes our life. The poster artwork and thumbnail are of the old house in southern Alberta, one of two places I grew up hunting. Season 3 included a personal journey for Senger and I towards family heritage, appreciating our elders, and connecting with personal history. You can tell we’re getting middle aged.

It was also a season of ridiculous bounty. When we started the series we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to make anything dead or into food every episode. In S3 we were drowning in abundance, every time. Fish, birds, ungulates, bears, you name it. It was crazy.

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed with gratitude when wrapping a season. We’ve had so much support and love from so many people that participate, share, and watch the show. If you’ve had any part in any of it, THANK YOU.

A REMINDER ABOUT GROUSE HUNTING

KevinCooking w/ Fire, From The Wild, Game Birds, Grilling w/ Fire, Hunting, Upland Game4 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:

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

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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.