Urban Homesteading

2012 DBG Urban Homestead Tour – Part I

Two weekends ago was the first annual Denver Botanic Gardens’ Urban Homestead Tour.  I was able to go on the tour and be a community sponsor.  It was so much fun to see what others around Denver were doing at their homes.  Each home that we visited was doing something different, and I thought everyone else might be as interested as I was to see our movement moving in the Mile High City.

The first homestead that we visited were neighbors of ours… we could have walked there, but I had no idea this place existed.  We live in an urban area.  Our lot is pretty small (in fact only two of the places we visited had lots as small or smaller than ours).  So I was surprised to come upon the gem that Leigh and Diana have created in my ‘hood.

Leigh is quite the craftsman.  He built the house on the acreage (!) himself, including the above green house.  The big trees were all on the property already, but the cherry, peach, plum and apple trees were all planted by the Bray’s.

Inside the green house they are growing bananas, among many other beautiful plants that we’d never get to survive otherwise in Colorado.

The Bray’s purchased the property from an elderly neighbor (Leigh said she told him she’d never sell), they worked with the city to narrow a portion of the ditch from 20 feet wide to 8 feet wide and at the same time got a the lane behind their property turned from a road into a walking path.

The Bray’s have a large garden area.  The older garden is in the background, and a newly dug garden, for 2013 is in the foreground.

Beyond the trees is where the ditch flows.  Calling it a ditch seems silly – it’s a beautiful, clean creek banked by green grass.  They even have two bridges over it and a little row-boat.  The bee hives are on the other side.  I wish I had taken a picture of it.

The Bray’s invited my boys to use the rope swing over it; I didn’t let them, it was our first stop.  But they did take them up on the offer to play in their tree house and zip-line in the yard.

The Bray’s daughter (pictured with my little super hero-cowboys) convinced her parents to get chickens.

Leigh naturally built the coop himself.  It’s a great design; wired for brooding chicks and a heat lamp for the winter.  Egg boxes that are easily accessible and a fully enclosed run.

See that second coop in the far background?  (click on the picture for a better view).  Leigh and Diana sell the coops that Leigh makes.  They offer three fully assembled sizes to house from 2 to 12 hens, AND free delivery up to 50 miles from Denver.  They can even be rigged with solar panels to power the lights.  Check out their website: chickencoopsofcolorado.com

The next stop took us into the heart of downtown Denver.  Matt McClusky of Foodie Call Catering opened his 2500 square foot garden to visitors.

Matt is using his lot to its fullest.  I loved the hanging tomato plants all along his porch at the front of his house.

Just beyond the fence, all along the front of the house Matt has veggies growing:

If you walk around the side of the house, you’ll see how he keeps pest out of the garden and nutrients in.  My boys were totally scared of the scarecrow, and this is just one of the many compost bins I photographed on the tour.

All along the North side of Matt’s property, he was growing a lush vegetable garden.  I lost track of how many varieties, which included beautiful eggplant and broccoli plants taller than Henry.

Here you can see how he uses trellises along the fence line.

And here are more beds running the full length of his lot.

Finally, here are the super tall pole beans with a beautiful herb garden growing at the base.

The gardens and homesteads we saw on the tour were just amazing.  This is the first of three posts that I plan to share about the tour.  I’m so grateful that all the participants agreed to let me photograph and share their homesteads here, as well as opening their yards to the public.

Edit:  I mistakenly stated in my original post that the Bray family had the city ditch moved, however, the ditch was hand dug in 1863 and it has been in the same place since that time.  Instead, the Bray’s worked with the city to narrow the ditch at the corner of their property back to its original size (8 feet wide) as stated above.  I apologize for my mistake. 

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Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

No Spend October

Have you all seen the No Spend Month that NWEdible is heading up for October?

The premise of the challenge is to set a budget for one month, not including your regular bills (mortgage/rent, utilities, etc.), that allows you to save a bundle of money by… not spending it.  The budget should include money for food, gas and whatever household expenses you normally have.  But this budget is radical. You are cutting your expenses way, way down.  Down to nil, or as close to it as you can manage.

Like, instead of spending $750 on food for the month, you are only going to spend $120.  Instead of racking up the miles in your SUV, you rack up the miles on your bike, because that gas costs money.  Instead of getting coffee at the drive through, you brew it at home.

Then, at the end of the month, you have a pile of money that you saved.  Maybe enough to jump-start that emergency fund or make an extra house payment, or pay off a credit card.

To join the challenge, you have to do three things: one, set the budget; two, track your expenses; and three, set a goal for what you save.  It’s been a while since I’ve joined in on a challenge.  This one seems a bit overdue for us.  Doing a no-spend month is a great way to hit the reset button on out of control spending.

I read about the challenge over the weekend and decided to go for it.  But I didn’t actually get off to a great start.

Yesterday morning, it started raining at 6:00 am and Rick wanted a ride to work instead of getting soaked on his bike.  So I took him.  The boys, used to going to the bakery on mornings we drive Rick, begged for pastries.  I, weak from lack of coffee, gave in and spent $10 on the way home for buttery, flaky goodness.  Later, as I was cleaning up the crumbs, I remembered it was October 1st!  ARGH!   It’s NO SPEND MONTH!  $10 in the hole already.

It’s ok.  The whole month isn’t shot because of one slip-up on the first day.  I know we can make the ten bucks up later.  We actually used to run a really tight ship around here.  But as we’ve paid off various debts (two credit cards, a car loan and a student loan done!  Woo!), we’ve gotten a lot more relaxed about our spending.

Our budget for October is $335.  We are a family of five, and to be honest, I think we could go lower.  However, we have a few commitments for the month already involving friends and family from out-of-town, that I just don’t feel good about backing out of.  Even so, this will allow us to save $1000 this month.

I plan to put that $1k in a separate savings account towards an emergency fund.

Because I’m always curious how others come up with their budget numbers, I’m going to share mine more specifically with you.

For food, I know we can mainly eat out of the pantry and freezer, except for dairy and flour.  So I budgeted $30 per week for food.  This actually allows for some wiggle room, but I figure that’s a good thing.  I’m hoping I can get some Halloween candy to give away out of this too.

For gas, I cut what we normally spend in half.  This pretty much has no wiggle room, and I think it will be the toughest category for us.  Especially if we get some bad weather.   $60 is about a tank and a half for the month, plus the 3/4 of a tank right the 4Runner is at right now.

Our dining out budget would have been a zero for the month, but since I already blew that yesterday, I accounted for the ten dollars already spent.  Otherwise, we’ll be cooking at home and Rick will brown bag it.

I budgeted $30 for Rick’s hair cut.  He’s been putting it off for a couple of months and is getting pretty shaggy.  When I proposed doing the No Spend month, his only request was an allowance for a hair cut.

E and H both just hit a growth spurt.  H needs new shoes.  I’m budgeting $20.

Now comes the previous commitment part.  We had already committed to a high school football game (cheap), a double date (yay – it’s been so long), and a pumpkin patch (it is October after all).   I figured $12 for the game if we fill the kids up before we go and bring snacks from home.  I’m budgeting $50 each for the date and the pumpkin patch.  That’s cutting it a bit close, but I really want to try to stick to it.

If you add all that up, it’s $362.  I also have $90 in swim-lessons coming up for the kids this month, which Erica says is exempt from the budget.  Together, that’s $973 less than our average monthly expenses.  I wanted to make it an even $1000 in savings, so I’m going to see if I can make up that $27 somewhere.

I plan to keep track of how we’re doing and report here on it once a week.

What about you?  Are you down with No Spend this month?

Please comment and tell me if you are going to join in on the challenge, what you are budgeting (you don’t have to get all specific if you don’t want), and what you want to do with your pile of saved dough.

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

September Garden Photo Tour

Time for a garden update!  I’ve had a particularly good year in the garden this year.  It’s not been without failures, but overall, I’m pretty happy.

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I really feel like the new bed layout has done wonders for our little crops.  They’ve gotten more sun, the drip system has given them more consistent water and, as you can see by the GIANT tomatoes, they are loving it.

We’ve pulled the beets, garlic, and a few other crops, spread some finished compost and have room to start more crops.  Rotation plans are in the works for next spring.

I even peeped over the neighbor’s fence (the other neighbors).  They moved in this spring, in the rental tri-plex unit next-door.  And two of the households worked together to plant a huge garden in a tiny strip of dirt.  I’ve been so impressed with their hard work!

Want to show off your homestead?  Denver Botanic Gardens is still looking for entries for the upcoming 2012 Urban Homestead Tour on Saturday, September 22 from 10am to 4pm.  Click here for an entry form.

Categories: Food, Garden, Hugelkultur, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Removing Bitterness from Eggplant without Salt

Some years are corn years and some are melon years.  This year is the year of the eggplant.  I keep seeing pictures of beautiful aubergines all over Facebook, from the West coast all the way to New York.  Local Kitchen has called it “Eggplantocalypse 2012,” a term which totally cracks me up.

It seems like eggplant is either a love-it or hate-it fruit.  I think a lot of people want to love it, because lets face it, eggplant is beautiful.

I received this amazing Nubia eggplant in my CSA share last week.

The problem is eggplant tends – heavily – toward the bitter.  Coupled with its weird texture, it just becomes hard to palate.

Eggplant also has a thick, rubbery skin.  Unless I really feel sentimental about its pretty color, I usually peel it completely.  I will at the very least peel half.  In general, the skin is a bit too tough to really enjoy.

I’ve heard all about salting eggplant to help remove the bitterness, but honestly, I don’t like this process.  I’ve never felt it helped all that much, plus it takes too long.

I recently read a novel in which a French man taught a young South American boy to cut and cook an eggplant.  The Frenchman told the boy to remove the seeds.  The boy forgot, but cut the eggplant so beautifully, the man did not care.

This got me thinking, “How would one remove the seeds from an eggplant?  Why would you, since they are totally edible.”  But then I remembered that eggplant is a member of the nightshade family.  It’s the same plant family as tomatoes and peppers.  The pith and seeds of bell peppers are bitter.

I decided to try it.  I sliced my eggplant length-wise and used a spoon to scrape out as many seeds as I could.

Then I chopped it and cooked it up in some ratatouille.

It was sweet and delicious.

Could it have been a fluke!?  Rick suggested I try it again to prove my theory.  So I did, again and again.

All summer long, we’ve been enjoying sweet eggplant… without salting it.

Suddenly I’m hearing my three-year-old say, “I love eggplant.”

I felt like I discovered a whole new way to get kids to eat eggplant!  Wait, no…  I know how to get people to eat eggplant!

It’s magic!!  I know how to remove the bitterness from eggplant!

I searched online to see if anyone else knew about this.  There wasn’t much, although I did discover that eggplant is also related to tobacco and that is why the seeds are so bitter.

There are a few applications when seeding an eggplant is not really desirable, like eggplant parmesan or for a pizza.  For those recipes I use a Japanese eggplant instead, as they tend to be less bitter to start with.

For everything else, seeding is the way to go for me.

Easy Lunch-Time Summer Pasta with Eggplant

1 eggplant
1/2 small zucchini
1 bell pepper, any color
1 large heirloom tomato
olive oil, salt and pepper
pasta, any shape

Slice, peel and seed eggplant.  Seed and chop pepper, halve and slice zucchini and chop tomato.  Combine and toss all with olive oil, salt and pepper in a shallow pan.  Roast in a medium-hot oven (375-400°) for 20-30 minutes, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, being careful not to over cook.  If the eggplant roasts too long it will become mushy.

Meanwhile, boil pasta in salted water until al dente.  Reserve 1/3- to ½-cup pasta water and drain.  Toss cooked pasta with roasted vegetables and reserved pasta water.  Enjoy.

And, here’s the proof…

Categories: CSA, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

Wild Elk and Venison Jerky on Northwest Edible

From the Native Americans to The Hunger Games, people have carried jerky.  You know that if the zombie apocalypse hits, you’ll want some too.

I’m so excited that Erica at Northwest Edible Life has allowed me to do a guest post on her blog about my favorite way to preserve meat.

Rick got this recipe from his mom.  All the men in Rick’s family are big-time hunters, and my mom-in-law is the designated jerky maker for the family.  Her sons, brothers and dad all drop meat off at her house to have her transform it into this good stuff.

I’m sharing the secret recipe over at Northwest Edible.

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Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Homestead Failures: Confessions of What I Didn’t Do

Every once in a while I come across someone who describes me in the most peculiar way.  There’s a great homesteading blog that says something like “the most organized homesteader I know.”  Or, one that shocks me even more, “This woman can do it all!”  Yeah.  Not so much.

I’m a bit bothered by these statements actually.  I try to be pretty honest on my blog – not just all shiny-happy all the time.  I’m not joking when I call myself the LAZY homesteader. I’m really, really great at coming up with an idea, gathering all the materials, and not following it through to completion.  Rick often plays clean-up to my projects.

I’m not sure if I’m more bothered by the fact that I’m somehow failing to communicate the realism of my life ( I have THREE kids that sometimes drive me to drink, people), or if it’s the imagined (implied?) pedestal that someone thinks I’m on that gets to me.

There are a lot of Judgey-Judgertons out there ready to tell you you’re not doing enough, you’re doing too much, you’re doing it wrong, or what you’re doing isn’t as important as what they’re doing.  I’m so not that.  I don’t ever want to communicate that.

I’m not sure exactly what the communication break down is, but I wanted to pause a moment to illustrate for you just how imperfect my life really is.

Please, come with me into the urban homestead confessional.  Forgive me Followers, for I have sinned.  It’s been 11 months since my last confession:

  • This year I planted beets that I failed to harvest until they were good for nothing besides pig food.
  • I’ve completely lost track of my Independence Days challenge this year.  I still have an egg count going though.
  • I never made pickles this year.  And I ignored the fact that my melons and cukes didn’t germinate, I didn’t replant them.
  • I decided to take on the Riot for Austerity.  And then I didn’t.
  • Last summer, I over-bought peaches.  I feel like I still have as many peaches in the freezer this year as I did last year.
  • This spring I used not-quite-finished compost in the garden and then grew lots and lots of weeds.  I generously gave some of this same compost to the neighbor.  I send H to pull weeds for him.
  • In 2011, I gave myself a 20 week organizing challenge: twenty weeks to organize twenty things.  I stayed on track for 8 weeks, went all sporadic, took a five month break, did three more posts on it at the beginning of the year, and then completely blew the project off.  I still have four items to go.
  • I collected too many chickens.  I was like the crazy cat lady of chickens.  We had 14 and they were all stressed and dirty and it stank.  We butchered three and are holding steady at 11 right now.  They are much happier and we’re loving the eggs.  But really I need to find a home for 4 more of them; I’m putting it off because I’m all attached or something.
  • I bought a grow light to start seeds with.  I sat it on the dryer and never opened it.  After four months, I dusted it off and returned it to Lowes for store credit.
  • I drove two hours, round trip, to pick three boxes of tomatoes from my CSA.  I let the husband wash them and then left them on the counter for 19 days until all but 22 were rotten.  At that point, I divided the remainder between the chickens and the compost bin.

What are some things you had the best intentions for but didn’t pan out as planned?  Have anything to confess?

Categories: Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , | 33 Comments

Venison Stew

When Rick and I got married, though I possessed a decent degree of skill in cooking, my meals were rarely balanced (“chicken breast is dinner… what to you mean what else are we having?”).  It took some time for me to learn that a meal included more than one thing.  But there was an exception to this; soups and stews.

I grew up in a home that made soups and stews regularly.  They were a staple in my parents’ home.  Both of my parents worked outside the home, so my mom is proficient at pressure cooking which made soup an easy weeknight meal.  She is also the master of slow cooking a stew for hours to get it just right.  I used to tell people my favorite foods were easy to remember; sushi, steak and soup!  (Mom makes a mean rare rib-eye too).  It’s tradition for our family to have a big pot of potato soup on Christmas day, which keeps everyone out of the kitchen and allows us to spend time together as a family instead.

I don’t know how Rick felt about stew before we got married.  I don’t get the impression that he had it much growing up.  For me it’s soul food.  There is nothing so good as a hot, delicious soup to warm you up at the end of a long or cold day.  I think our kids feel the same way.  If you were to ask H what is favorite food is he will either tell you potato soup or chicken noodle soup – the homemade stuff – which is my favorite as well.

Naturally, having wild game in the freezer means venison stew shows up on the menu pretty often in our home.  This recipe is one that I’ve developed by marrying my mom’s beef stew with elements of a venison recipe that an ex-coworker of mine shared with me from some now-forgotten cookbook.

Venison Stew

8 slices of bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 lbs venison, cut into 1-inch cubes
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
12 oz beer – something you like to drink, but not Guinness
4 cups water
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoram
2 dried bay leaves
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp black pepper
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch rounds
3-4 potatoes, peeled or not, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup fresh parsley, snipped

In a 4 quart dutch oven or other large pot, cook the bacon until crisp.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and save for later.  Saute the onions over medium heat in the bacon grease until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Turn the heat up to medium-high and quickly brown the venison.  Add the garlic and saute for about 30 second.  Turn the heat back to medium and add beer, water and spices including salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for about two hours.

When venison is nearly tender, add the carrots and potatoes.  Simmer, uncovered for another 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender.  Taste for salt.  If you wish, thicken the stew by mixing 1 cup of cold water and 1/3 cup flour in a separate container and slowly add it to the stew while stirring.  Reheat the stew to boiling  for 1 minute.  Serve topped with reserved bacon and snipped parsley.

Categories: Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Gamey Taste of Game Meat, Part II

Every so often I publish a blog post either about hunting or with a picture of an elk steak in it.  Usually after this I get at least one or two questions about how to prepare game meat so that it doesn’t taste so “gamey.”  I hear lots of people saying they would hunt but they don’t like the taste of the meat, or that they just don’t know how to cook it. Likewise, whenever we serve game to friends and family, we get lots of surprised comments about how flavorful and good the meat is, not at all gamey as they expected.

In part one of this series I talked about the differences between beef and venison and how that affects the tenderness and juiciness of the meat.  It is important to know that wild game is not beef and therefore must be prepared differently and will taste different.  Today I’m going to talk about processing wild game and its relationship to the “gamey” flavor that venison often has a bad reputation for.  This is not a how-to, but rather an overview of the entire process.

What does venison taste like?

Deer, elk and antelope (as well as other game animals) each have a distinct flavor.  Antelope (pronghorn) and whitetail tend to have a bolder, wilder flavor, while elk tends to be less so.  Yak and bison taste the mildest, most similar to beef but slightly sweeter.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to them all as venison, despite the differences between the animals.  Mule deer, which is what we most often get in Colorado, is somewhat middle of the road on the wild-flavor scale.

First and foremost, let’s talk about what venison should taste like.  It should taste:

  • fresh
  • richer and more “meaty” than beef
  • bold with a lot of depth
  • of a mild sage or juniper flavor (depending on the animal’s diet)
  • according to some, similar to mutton, but much leaner
  • depending on the species, mildly sweet

Venison should not taste:

  • “off” or rotten
  • pungent
  • bitter
  • overly sweet
  • bland
  • like beef

Venison is darker in color than beef and should not ever smell bad or be tinged green or grey.  It is my opinion that the bad reputation of venison’s “gamey” flavor comes from poor processing habits and the serving of meat that is actually rancid or at least borderline.

What effects flavor:

The key to fresh tasting meat it to get it cool and skinned as fast as possible.  Leaving it hot or leaving the hide on will cause it to rot quickly and leave your meaty tasting quite “pungent” (i.e.: rotten).  This is important whether you plan to butcher the animal yourself or are taking it to a pro.  If you leave the hide on longer than necessary or don’t cool the meat quickly, it will have a bad flavor.

Often I’ve seen hunters leave their meat hanging, skin-on, in the garage to “age”  or “cure” the meat in hopes of making it more tender.  While properly aged meat is delicious, doing it in your attached garage is a very good recipe for rotten deer steaks.  Leaving your deer carcass hanging for days in a tree, barn, pole or garage is not aging it – it is rotting it.  Colorado weather is not conducive to the traditional buck poles of the Great Lakes states.  If you wish to age your venison, take it to a butcher or meat processor where it can be done safely, in a temperature controlled environment.

Additionally, avoid meat from trophy hunters, and avoid becoming one yourself.  Trophy hunters are usually after great big, hormone-filled bucks in the middle of the rut (mating season).  All those male deer hormones add a distinct musky flavor to the meat.  Does and cows taste much cleaner and nicer than bulls and bucks depending on when the animals are harvested.  Also, meat harvested during archery season in Colorado is going to tend to be more mild than meat from rifle season, because the archery season is before the rut.

Field dressing and cooling your meat:

Hunting is a tradition that is passed on from generation to generation, and so is processing meat.  “Processing” is a nice term for cutting and preparing an animal for consumption, including gutting, skinning and cleaning (a.k.a. field dressing).  While you can learn to do this on your own, I’ve found that most hunters have learned to do this in the field, taught by an experienced relative or friend.  Rick learned from his grandfather and uncles.

This means that if the teacher has bad meat processing habits, he (or she) will most likely be passing them on to the student.  And this leads to bad tasting meat.

Please, please, if you are not confident in your ability or the ability of your teacher to effectively process your animal, find someone who’s game tastes delicious to teach you.  Ask tons of questions, or just take it to a professional processor.

Packing out meat using game bags.

The real work of hunting is not in the tracking down and killing of the animal.  That is only where the work begins.  After harvesting an animal that is fully grown, looks healthy and is of the sex you have a license for (preferably with a shot through the heart and lungs), you should immediately open it up and gut it.

Be very careful during this process not to nick the intestines with your knife or let any of the digestive juices or fecal matter touch the meat.  Take your time and have someone who has more experience show you how to do this in the field.  Any meat that has come into contact with fecal matter or digestive juices is essentially ruined. 

Once gutted, your next move should be to remove the hide.  Take care to keep the hair and any dirt or debris off of the meat.  If it is a large animal, like an elk, you will need to quarter it to pack the meat out.  Put the skinned meat in game bags.  Game bags are inexpensive, protect your meat, and allow you to remove the hide in the field so that the meat can cool as quickly as possible.  They are well worth the small investment for the taste of your meat.

If you harvest a smaller animal such as a pronghorn or whitetail and wish to drag it from the field without quartering it, leave the hide on until you get it to a point where you can skin it as quickly as possible with out the meat becoming dirty. In either case, get the animal in coolers with ice as quickly as you can.  Keep coolers and ice in your vehicle.  If your animal is whole, saw though the sternum, pack the cavity with ice jugs and wrap it in a tarp until you can quarter it.

If it is possible, you should begin butchering the meat as soon as you are back to your work area.  If you must leave your animal overnight before you can butcher it, quarter it (if you didn’t before) and put the quarters in coolers with plenty of fresh ice jugs to get/keep it cool.

Some hunters will hang the meat, propping the body cavity open to allow it to cool overnight.  We have seen this done in the Colorado mountains where it gets below freezing each night during hunting season.  I don’t recommend this method of cooling because temperatures are not certain and can easily fluctuate, promoting bacteria growth on your meat.  If you choose to do it, make sure to quarter the animal and get it over ice first thing in the morning; sunny Colorado daytime temps can get well above 40 degrees even in late season hunts.  Also be aware that leaving your venison hanging overnight will invite bears and other predators to your camp.  Rick’s uncles have lost entire sides of an animal and incurred lots of damage to barn doors that way.

Butchering game:

Double-wrap and label your meat.

Before you begin butcher your animal, thoroughly wash your hands, knives, cutting surfaces, counters or tables and any other tools you might be using.  Butchering an entire animal is a big, messy job that most average kitchens can’t handle.  Many hunters end up using a garage or barn.  If you are among that group (we are), make sure your garage and work surfaces are scrupulously clean.  You are planning on eating this meat.  Don’t give yourself food poisoning.  Also, make sure you can keep the area cold.  Heat will rot your meat.  Dress in layers while you are cutting meat if you have to.  Lastly, make sure your knives are sharp and keep a sharpener handy.

While Rick’s family taught him how to process the animal up to this point, we don’t butcher the meat in the same way he was originally taught.  I cook quite differently than Rick’s mother and grandmother, so I prefer our meat in different cuts and thicknesses than those Rick used to bring home.  In this way, we are still learning to butcher meat ourselves.  We have read lots of books and studied diagrams, and still most of our cuts of meat (besides the back-straps and tenderloin) get the general label of “steak.”  Because of this, I’m not going to give specifics on butchering.  But here are the the points that I feel are important to share:

  • Keep everything clean.
  • Keep everything cold (40 degrees or lower).
  • Cut your steaks a little thicker than you think you should.
  • Throw away any blood-shot or bruised meat, typically around the wound.
  • Remove the silver skin (the white, inedible connective tissue over the meat).  It is easier to do it now than after you cook it.
  • Set odd bits and small pieces aside for hamburger or sausage.
  • Package your meat into serving sizes for your family.
  • Vacuum seal or double wrap your meat to prevent freezer burn.
  • Label your packages clearly with the date.

Finally, when butchering, don’t dawdle.  You are working against the clock to get your meat in the freezer before it rots.  If you need to take an extra day off of work, do it.  Don’t rush through the work, you must be careful not to cut yourself, but don’t put off the butchering.  It takes priority over other activities.

If you get the feeling that I’m blaming the negative connotations of “gamey” meat on it being rotten, you are right.  I stand firmly in the camp that if the meat tastes bad, it is bad.  By getting the meat skinned and cooled as quickly as possible, and by keeping it cold while butchering it, Rick and I have enjoyed much better tasting meat.  Not “gamey” at all, just fresh, wild and delicious.  The time invested after the animal is down is well worth it.  And enjoying the meat is the whole point.

If you’ve enjoyed what I’ve posted about cooking wild game so far, please subscribe to have my future posts shown in your RSS feed or emailed directly to your inbox by using the form in the sidebar at the right.  You can also find me on Facebook.  Thanks for reading.

Categories: Food, Hunting | Tags: , , , , | 14 Comments

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