Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stocking the Pantry & Filling the Freezer

Nov. 17, 2009

Today was another beautiful day, warm and sunny and here in the mountains, and opening day of deer season. Hunters are everywhere, parked alongside the roads and in fields, and all over the county there are signs on little country stores reading “Hunters Welcome!” Families plan big lunches around when the hunters will come in, eat, rest, maybe watch some football and go back out again this afternoon, if they were not successful this morning.

We do not hunt. Not that we are against hunting or are unable to hunt - we just simply prefer not to hunt and, as it turns out, it’s not necessary. That fact does not prevent our freezer from being filled with all manner of venison preparations – ground, chunked up for stewing and chili, Italian and breakfast sausages, pulled barbequed venison and of course, tenderloin for grilling. We are blessed to live in an area that is absolutely chock-full of people who like to hunt – but don’t have the time or inclination to process game. These folks hunt for the sport of it, not for the meat, and they give us a call when they are finished, delivering or requesting pickup. We process the meat, making up packages or pressure-canned jars of many different venison recipes for our own pantry and what is left we share with our neighbors. We’ve been doing this now for nearly 13 years, so opening day of deer season has become quite a routine for us.

If you have never eaten properly processed venison, you are missing a gourmet quality meal. Venison is extremely low in fat…a 3 oz portion has 26 grams of protein and only 3 grams of fat. Processed quickly and well, venison tastes very similar to grass-fed beef. We use it in place of beef in all recipes. After so many years, we find that ground beef has a more fatty, sometimes almost rancid taste unless it is fresh, so we seldom eat beef burgers. Many people like to add beef suet or pork fat to their ground venison to make ground meat or sausages, but we do not, preferring the taste of the low-fat version. The health benefits and the price (our time, jars and freezer bags) make it well worth the switch.

Our large, heavy duty meat grinder was purchased several years ago on e-bay for $69 and has served us and several neighbors well over the years. You can now buy smilar grinders at places like Tractor Supply. Don't bother with the meat grinder attachments for the larger mixers like the Oster. While the mixers is excellent, the grinder will not hold up to the heavy work of processing a lot of meat. Once the meat is ground of cut into appropriate sizes, we freeze the majority of our venison in small, two person size bags. Place the meat in the freezer bag, close the zipper part leaving about 1" open, lay it flat on the counter and flatten the meat as much as you can, taking care not to get meat in the ridges of the zipper. Push the meat as close to the zipper as you can, then finist closing. This removes most of the air in the bag, creating a vaccumn, and will lengthen the freezer life of your meat considerably. You can also buy vacumn sealers that will do a little better job of this, but our method is free and has proven to be successful. It's also one less appliance to buy and store over the year. We apply a label, package the meat and freeze it flat on a cookie sheet to make for easier freezer storage and faster de-thawing. The flat packages stack nicely and take up considerably less room. If you are feeling creative, you can design labels similar to the ones we’ve made using a word processing program like Microsoft Word, or you can just hand-write labels with a permanent marker. Some folks like to write on the bags. Which ever way you label your packages, be sure to add the date so you can rotate the meat, always using the oldest first. We find that our venison keeps for a year (or better) in our upright freezer without freezer burn. Refrigerator freezers don’t keep the meat as long – they aren’t as cold and the meat will freezer burn after about 6 months.

Grandma K’s Venison Chili

1 lb venison, 1” cubes
½ c green peppers, diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 qt tomato sauce
1 qt crushed tomatoes
1 qt canned kidney beans
2 tbsp chili seasoning (taco seasoning is also very good)

Sautee the onions & peppers in butter or olive oil. Add the venison & cook until brown. Place venison, onions, peppers & chili seasoning in a large (8 qt) slow cooker. Add tomato sauce, tomatoes & kidney beans. Stir, cover and cook for 4 hrs on high or 6 hrs on low. Serve topped with sour cream and finely diced green onions and a side of cornbread or corn pudding.

This also cans well in a pressure cooker for pantry storage. We like to can it in quart jars for an instant hot, winter-time lunch.


Home Canned Venison

Cut the meat into 1- ½ “ to 2” chunks, removing all the fat, gristle or bloody meat.
Brown the meat in a little butter n a skillet. Pack the meat into clean, sterilized wide mouth canning jars. For pints add ½ tsp powdered beef stock, (for quarts add 1 tsp. powdered beef stock) and fill with hot water to within 1” of the top of the jar. Run a butter knife along the inside of the jar, removing all air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims carefully – any grease or meat pieces will result in bad seals. Close the jar with hot, sterilized lids and tighten rings but don’t crank them down. The lids will seal themselves when the processing is over – the rings just hold them in place.
Process pints and half pints for 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure and quarts for 90 minutes, unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet and must adjust your pressure to suit your altitude. (See your canning manual for directions.)
As long as the seals are good & the jars are in tact in a cool, dark area, the meat lasts almost indefinitely. The recommended shelf life is 1 year, and I prefer to use everything in that amount of time, but the meat will stay good well past that.

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