Category Archives: Let’s Eat!

Casts and Blasts from Gumbo-thon, 2014

Some smells are just meant for certain seasons….the smell of freshly-cut grass the first time in the spring. Those of us old enough, remember the smell of burning leaves in the fall. Yesterday the smell of simmering gumbo filled our house, a sure sign that we’re in probably the coldest week of the winter. I call it gumbo-thon. Here are a few bits about it -

About four gallons of gumbo that includes turkey, pheasant, venison and, unfortunately, store-bought sausage.

About four gallons of gumbo that includes turkey, pheasant, venison and, unfortunately, store-bought sausage.or the coldest week of the year, and make it early enough that it can sit and season for a few days and take us through the weekend. A few facts -

– I learned how to make gumbo from Margaret Simien, mother of Wayne Simien, Jr., past KU All-American. She’s been like a big sister to me since we worked together in Leavenworth when I was in college. She learned it from her mother-in-law, a Louisiana native.

– She taught me how to make it per “batch.” though the least I’ve ever made is a double batch. A batch contains, roughly, one onion, one bunch of celery, the meat of about two chicken breasts and a package of tube sausage and, of course, shrimp.

– Tuesday morning I really intended to just make a double batch, but ended up making a quatro-batch, which is about all my large plug-in roaster will hold. I have that problem of stopping once I get started making gumbo. No matter, it freezes well and we always seem to have plenty of friends wanting to help reduce the load.

- I started with the legs and thighs from a mature tom turkey shot last week. I separated them at the joint, placed them in a tall stock pan and added about a gallon of water, one chopped onion and one chopped bunch of celery. With the lid on, I let them simmer for about five hours. The meat was tender enough to be easily shredded with my fingers and I had a great starting stock for the gumbo.

- I added all that to the roaster, with three more onions and three more bunches of celery chopped. The water was sprinkled liberally with seasoned salt, garlic powder and Creole seasoning, and tasted for testing. I like my stock to be almost too spicy for me to handle. That will make it about right when more meat is added and the gumbo is put on rice when eaten.

Gumbo is an excellent destination for the thighs and legs of wild turkeys, simmered with onion and celery for about five hours.

Gumbo is an excellent destination for the thighs and legs of wild turkeys, simmered with onion and celery for about five hours.

- As for other meats, I kind of went to the “beer and worm” fridge in the garage, and found what hadn’t been frozen yet from hunts the past week or so. That included all the thigh meat from six pheasants, and one slab of turkey breast meat. From the freezer I added a loin and roast of venison, too. All was cubed, of course, and added to the gumbo that was not at a high simmer.

– I hate to admit it, but I had to buy four packages of sausage (oh, the shame!). I used to take elk or wild pig into Parson’s in Derby, and have them make it into brats, but not this year.  I also used to use Johnsonville New Orleons style sausage but I can’t find it any more and I refuse to pay the shipping on the real stuff from Louisiana.

– In the past, I’ve also added duck, spoonbill catfish, bison, elk roasts, moose roasts, limb chicken (squirrel), cottontails, a lot of wild pig, and several things I can’t remember, I’m sure.

– Yes, I can make a roux from scratch but no, I don’t. Every couple of years I’ll order several large jars of what’s basically a concentrated roux from cajungrocers.com.  This batch used about a cup, first dissolved in boiling water, then added to the gumbo.

– The entire conglomeration simmered together for about four or five hours before I moved the entire roaster to the cold garage. One of the secrets of making really good gumbo, is to not eat it until it’s set for at least a day or two.

– I’ll share about half of this year’s batch with some friends living west of Newton (Yes, PJ, that includes you!). They’ve had several people sick and were very kind in letting me enjoy some of the best pheasant hunting of my life, on their lands.

– Oh, I don’t like to add the shrimp until just before the gumbo is re-heated and served. This year, though, high shrimp prices may mean quite a few bowls without shrimp. Ste. Kathy, my wife, actually prefers her gumbo without shrimp.

– No, I don’t use okra, but I sometimes add peanuts or cashews to a bowl to give it some crunch.

Bad winter to come —so says the persimmons

American persimmons grow on high, rocky ground over much of eastern Kansas.

American persimmons grow on high, rocky ground over much of eastern Kansas.

Forget the National Weather Service, Accuweather and all those other fancy forecasting conglomerations….Steve Harvey says his personal weather forecasters are saying it’s going to be a danged hard winter.

His forecasters, by the way, are persimmon fruit on the hunting lands he manages in Bourbon County.

American persimmon trees, also known as opossumwood, grow over most of the eastern and central U.S., including much of the eastern one-third of Kansas.  I’ve seen some in western Butler County, a few miles north of Kellogg and Santa Fe Lake Road. They’re normally found on rocky hilltops, growing in clusters about the size of an average two-car garage or smaller. The trees are normally about wrist-thick, and 10 to 15 feet tall.

Country lore says that if the inside of a persimmon seed holds something shaped like a spoon, a hard winter is on the way.

Country lore says that if the inside of a persimmon seed holds something shaped like a spoon, a hard winter is on the way.

They produce a sweet fruit that appears to be like a cross between a date and a plum, though about the size of  a ping-pong ball. When ripe, the fruit is orange and sweet. When literally green, one bite will leave you puckering for quite a while, and never biting a green persimmon again. Historically, people either ate ripe persimmons raw or made them into puddings. I have friends in Elk County who turn persimmons into some mighty tasty, and potent, wine, too.

Persimmons are hugely popular with wildlife, and deer can often be seen feeding in persimmon groves this time of the year when the ripe fruit is dropping to the ground. A heavy wind can also shake the thin trees enough to drop more fruit to the ground. Raccoons often climb the trees to knock down the fruit. Opossums like persimmons a lot, too.

A persimmon grove in Bourbon County is loaded with fruit.

A persimmon grove in Bourbon County is loaded with fruit.

Stopping to snack on some fruit at one of the many groves that was loaded with persimmons last weekend, Harvey, a native from southern Arkansas, pulled out a pocket knife and sliced into a seed. He and Wayne Simien, Sr., said they’d long been told that if the inside of the seed held what looked like a small spoon it meant a lot of snow and cold would come this winter. If the inside held what looked to be a fork, the winter would be mild.

Wouldn’t you know it, the permission seeds Harvey tested had the smallish spoons.

Wayne Simien, Sr., eats a persimmon, a wild fruit much like a date.

Wayne Simien, Sr., eats a persimmon, a wild fruit much like a date.

So I guess we’d best bundle up since the persimmons say it’s going to be a bad winter. One thing about it, their accuracy rate can’t be much worse than those of the major weather services.

Crappie Time!

NIce crappie are spawning in the shallows at most central Kansas lakes.

It’s here. After probably a half-dozen half-hearted starts and stops because of weather fronts, it appears the 2013 crappie spawn is running full-speed in central Kansas.

Craig Johnson, Wildlife and Parks biologist for El Dorado Reservoir called this morning to say he saw a lot of anglers, catching a lot of fish, at the lake on Monday. Johnson, an avid angler, said most traditionally popular areas held fishermen.

Up at Marion Reservoir last evening, Alex Case said he probably saw about 60 anglers spread out along the lake’s dam, catching nice-sized crappie and white bass. Arriving late, Case said he kept a half-dozen nice crappie and released more than that number of white bass.

Bob Roberts, of Salina, traveled to Milford Reservoir with a friend just to check out the fishing conditions. Fishing from shore they caught most of a five gallon bucket of nice crappie. Roberts has heard it’s been some of the best spawn crappie fishing the lake has seen in a while. He also reports that the spawn has finally started in earnest at Glen Elder Reservoir. (Any making the trip to Glen need to remember their 20 crappie limit this year.)

Further north, former KU All-American Wayne Simien, Jr. caught a dozen nice crappie from the shore at Clinton this morning and predicts he may be a tad late for work again tomorrow morning.

Of course the great action is the result of steady weather and the water finally warming into the 60s. No clue how long the fishing will stay hot, but it’s never more than the next cold front away from turning off.

 

 

Morels are up…let the madness begin

A handful of happiness – a ripe morel. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PEARCE

My buddy Lonny must have sent me a half-dozen texts Sunday afternoon. Some had pics attached, while others did not.

For Lonny and thousands like him it was one of the best days of the year…morel mushrooms had begun appearing on his favored ‘shrooming lands.

As usual, his first finds were generally small and isolated to only a few of the many spots he’ll be patrolling regularly for a few weeks.

Oh, the place of his finds was south of Wichita, in the Arkansas River bottomlands.

Of course I could be more specific. Yes, I can drive right to the exact place. But I won’t.

Being taken to a someone’s best morel spot is somewhat of an honor, and shows you have his or her trust. It doesn’t even need to be implied that you’re to never return unless officially invited. To divulge even a general set of directions to the hallowed place would be akin to telling a complete stranger the friend’s work hours, the code to the security system at their house, and where in the home to find the guns and the heirloom diamonds and gold. Actually, it may be even worse.

People will do some things to find great-tasting morels they won’t do in other aspects of their life. We’ve had illegal ‘shroomers trespassing on our farm that would never illegally cross the fence to hunt or fish.

They’ll also stay up much into the night trying to figure out where this year’s morel motherlode could be. They’ll exhaust every rural legend they’ve ever heard about what makes ideal morel conditions, and how they can improve the ‘shrooming on their favored lands.

Me? I’m not that addicted, but walking from through the woods after Lonny’s texts with a nice gobbler over my shoulder, my eyes were locked on the ground. You just never know…,

YOU CAN CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MORELS.

 

New trend – new hunters kill their own food, and write a book about it.

I’ve long tried to explain to non-hunters that providing my own healthy meals is one of the greatest satisfactions I find in hunting. I often compare it to the process to gardening

“There is no honor or true appreciation in any meal that’s killed or grown by others,” is one of my favorite lines.

A New York Times article states a growing number of noted young people have decided to hunt for their own food. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, is one of them .

Now, it appears that a growing number of young, previously non-hunters are giving it a whirl, too, and some are writing books about it.

The linked-to  review by the New York Times takes a look at several such books, some of which are written by men and women who were previously vegans. I’ve yet to read any of the books because I have a pretty good idea what they’re going to say, but I might load one or two on my Kindle for down the road.

I did learn, though, that famed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged for a year to only eat meat from animals he’d killed to achieve a greater appreciation for life and his meals…at least I assume he’s still able to afford to buy his own food.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ THE GREAT BOOK REVIEW.

 

 

And yet another great use for zucchini/squash

OK, so we’ve eaten enough grilled squash planks to build a battleship.

After making 24 loaves, I’m about baked-out when it comes to zucchini bread.

So,  it was a really big deal when a relative told us about yet another way for our garden’s most prosperous veggies to be prepared. That it’s ultra-healthy doesn’t hurt, either.

All you basically do is get a sizable squash, with the skin still on, a cheap potato peeler, and go crazy.

Well, it helps if you can make the strips as long as possible. Keep rotating the zuke or summer squash until you’re about down to the seeds.

I steamed our long strips in a strainer over boiling water. I’ve heard stir-frying works, too. I added garlic, and thinly sliced red pepper and onion to the strips for added flavor. It only takes a few minutes, like three to five, before the strips are done.

Voila!…you have a very tasty, and healthy, substitute for pasta.

We served ours with a spaghetti sauce that I’d started with a quality version in a jar and dressed up with fresh garden tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, peppers and browned venison burger. I basically just squeeze the ‘maters into the sauce to get as much juice as possible.

That’s it. We thought we’d try it once and it will probably be a staple for us every summer from here on.

But we’ll still be doing the grilled squash planks, zucchini bread, squash stir-fry, sauteed zucchini, ….

Fool-proof way to freeze morels

Man, it’s been a llllooooooonnnnnggggggg time since we’ve had this kind of spring for morel mushrooms. I’ve been getting photos of buckets and big dish pans full of the wonderful-tasting mushrooms.

Some people have picked upwards of 50 pounds in the past week or so. I have friends with several hundred big ‘shrooms stored in their fridg.

One problem, though, is what to do with the excesses – BESIDES GIVE THEM ALL TO ME – because most attempts at freezing result in soggy morels that stay mushy when cooked and fall apart too easily.

This week Colette and Lonny Travis, the couple featured on Sunday’s outdoors page, came up with method that seems to work well.

Lonny said he breads the morels like normal, the browns them for just two minutes per side. Colette freezes them in single layers on cook sheets so they don’t stick together. Once frozen, they’re put in freezer bags.

Lonny said he puts them straight into hot oil from the freezer, and lets them finish cooking. They say it’s by far the best way they’ve ever tried freezing them.

They’ve eaten enough through the years, they should certainly know.

Morel Madness!

The place was about as close to being a jungle as you’ll find in this part of the world.

This spring's warm days, with last week's rains, has made for ideal conditions for morel mushrooms.

Saplings and poison ivy plants tall enough to be buggy whips grew thick on the forest floor. Skin and clothing-grabbing briars rolled through the area like World War I barbed-wire.

We sweated and I bled, and were often crawling on hands and knees to get from place to place or to pick some of the most coveted finds in the Kansas outdoors.

And pick them, we did.

Conservatively I’d say my host, Lonny, and I picked at least 200 morel mushrooms from a location I’m sworn to never divulge…like I’d do that to someone who takes me to their sweetest of spots, anyway.

Word around the state is that the morels are up early this year, and especially plentiful because of ideal amounts of warm temps and soaking rains. Lonny said it’s been one of the best years he’s had in several. In fact, he and his wife and already picked the jungle clean on Sunday morning.

I headed to The Eagle with an eight-inch tear in my shirt, scratches on several parts of my body and more than a gallon of morels. Every bite will be cherished.

After I left, Lonny headed to  a favored fishing hole with his father and caught about 60 nice crappie.

It’s a very good time to be out and enjoying the Kansas outdoors.

Some of the about 200 morels picked Tuesday morning, from a spot that produced more than 500 on Sunday morning.

 

 

 

Like strutting turkeys and the arrival of purple martins, asparagus says spring is here

Daffodils are nice. Tulips, too.

And it’s nice to see tom turkeys strutting around and purple martins cruising about. But probably my biggest “it’s here” smile came last Friday when I found a few spears of asparagus sprouting in our garden. Since, the number as gone up from six to nine or ten. Some of the spears seem to double in height every day.

Part of the joy is simple relief that something survived last summer’s desert-like heat and drought. Much of the happiness is that things will be growing and feeding us for the next five or six months…I hope.

The sight of a half-meal’s worth of asparagus popping up made it a lot easier to dedicate half of Saturday to spreading mulch, some farm-based fertilizer and do this spring’s roto-tilling.

It’ll be another month before I add much to the garden, and closer to two months before we get serious with things like tomatoes, squash, egg plant and others.

But at least now I can head out every day with some hope that something else may be growing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike and the bean stalk

Every year my gardening horizons widen a bit more.

Four or five years ago it started with a couple of tomato plants in five-gallon buckets. This year I’m expanding the garden about 50-percent and starting some seeds ahead of time indoors.

Lazy as I am I skipped the “work” or putting dirt and seeds in small plastic cups and bought a “professional greenhouse” for about $5.

It’s basically a sturdy plastic tray with a clear plastic lid. It also came with 72 peat disks about as big around as a checker and twice as thick.

The directions were so easy even I only had to read them twice – wet the disks, insert a couple of seeds in each and place them in the tray with the lid on.

I had no clue things would go so well.

I had sprouts of yellow squash, zucchini and green beans within three days so I removed the lid. Ten days after planting I had some bean sprouts 14-inches tall.

Seriously! We could almost sit and watch the little plants grow. The amazing part was how we got that much plant out such a tiny amount of peat that’s only walnut-sized when wet.

The speed of growth caught me way off guard and my garden’s not quite ready to accept the plants.

So in the meantime I’ll be transplanting about 20 seedlings into one of the whisky barrels  Kathy uses for flowers for a week or so.

It’ll be interesting to see if the amazing growth rate continues.

But if one ends up going into the clouds I’m not climbing it. I have this phobia about giants, you know.