Through my quarter century of outdoors writing and years prior to that as an avid sportsman, I’ve enjoyed some memorable meals while on hunting and fishing trips.
Other than the actual experience of being there hunting or fishing, it’s the flavor and smells of some of those tasty meals that are forever etched into the memory banks.
I thought it would be fun to share some of the experiences with you in this week’s column.
As a youngster, I often tagged along on hunting trips with my brother-in-law, Billy Joplin. I recall a cold fall morning back in 1960 when I was 10. Billy and I were guests of one of his Red River County friends, James Wooten. Looking back, James was as close to a mountain man as anyone I’ve ever known.
At the time, he lived in a cabin in the back country in the northern part of the county with his grandmother. During the morning hunt, Billy had shot a deer that left a sparse blood trail. Wooten had several good walker hounds back at the cabin, so we headed back.
“It won’t take long for Ma to cook us up a big breakfast. We’re got some cured ham hanging in the smoke house,” I remember Wooten saying as we bounced along the rough country road in my brother-in-law’s ‘56 Ford.
After arriving at the cabin, “Ma” proceeded to send her grandson to the smoke house to carve off a generous piece of the ham while she worked the dough that, once in her big wood stove, became the tastiest, most fluffy biscuits I’ve even eaten.
Our breakfast consisted of fresh yard eggs, real country ham, red eye gravy, fried potatoes, homemade grape jelly and butter. They even allowed me to swig a cup of hot coffee, diluted with plenty of fresh cream, of course.
It’s been 50 years since this breakfast but I’ll never forget it. We never did find that buck. It probably survived the shot. The dog’s barking disappeared a mile or so back in the bottoms. Wooten later told us his hounds came home later that afternoon!
EARLY FISH FRYS
I was raised on a poultry farm in rural Red River County. Every eight weeks, when the chicken houses were emptied, my dad would load everyone into our 50 International truck and we’d head to Long Lost Lake in southeastern Oklahoma for three days of camping and fishing.
My job the day before these outings was to catch enough perch from our farm pond to bait the trot lines. My dad’s goal was to have camp set up and the trot lines baited in time to catch enough of those tasty little 1.5 to 3 pound channel catfish for an evening fish fry.
Since those bygone days, I’ve enjoyed many tasty meals in fishing and hunting camps across much of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and even parts of Asia but nothing comes close to the smell of those fresh catfish frying in a Dutch kettle nestled over a hot bed of oak wood coals.
For several years, I make a yearly hunt to North Dakota, not far from the Canadian border. There are some mighty big whitetails up in that country and upland birds and waterfowl were always in good supply.
The outfitter and his wife were of German and Norwegian descent. Hunters were served a huge breakfast and light lunch which always included fresh baked bread and one of many German soups the lady was expert at preparing.
But those evening meals were the stuff great dining memories are made! Old world recipes are passed down generation to generation up in that region.
Even then, I couldn’t begin to pronounce the names of the dishes but they varied from sausages and cabbage to wiener schnitzels which is a thin, very tender well seasoned veal or pork steak.
I miss the excellent hunting I enjoyed up there and I’ve yet to find a German restaurant that comes remotely close to the great foods I enjoyed with my friends in North Dakota.
ALONE IN THE WOOD
Companions are great to have around to enjoy an outdoor meal, but not necessarily a prerequisite! Back in the ‘80s, I managed a big hunting lease up in Jack County.
My buddies and I had a little shack built on the place, nothing fancy, just a 10 by 12 building with bunks, a wood burning stove and gas burners for cooking.
I was off work during the week but couldn’t find anyone to join me for a few days hunting and living off the land so I spent a total of four nights and five full days up there by myself. I never left the property and spent the entire time hunting quail during the middle of the day and deer and turkey early and late.
One sunny day, I killed a good mess of quail, dressed them and let them chill until supper. Seasoned well with salt and pepper and dredged in flour, I fried the birds in my cast iron skillet until they were done to a turn and then added a can of cream of mushroom soup, a chopped onion, put a lid on my skillet and set it on top of the wood burning stove.
In another pot, I cooked a cup of rice. It’s tough to beat smothered quail with rice and gravy. I remember cooking a can of biscuits in hot oil on top of the stove to use to sop up the gravy!
If you’ve spent much time in the outdoors, I’m betting that you too can recall enjoying some very tasty meals. I hate to cut this column short but I’ve got a gallon zip lock bag of catfish fillets that have been marinating in Louisiana hot sauce and buttermilk for a couple hours. The grease is getting hot!
Cabela’s King Kat Tournament coming to Lake Tawakoni March 5. For more information, call 270-395-6774. To follow the tournament trail online, check out their facebook page, keywoods Cabela’s King Kat or www.catfish1.com.
Listen to Outdoors with Luke Clayton radio at www.catfishradio.com. Email Luke with fishing and hunting news from your area via the web site.