My wife Mary Frances and I attended a wild-game supper awhile back at the Lebanon Maple Hill Church of Christ, hosted by Mike Graves, and it was one of the most enjoyable outings we've had in a long time.
It brought back memories of Mary Frances' first experience with cooking wild game -- some squirrels I brought home from a hunt shortly after we were married.
Being a city girl, my bride had never cooked wild critters, so I explained how to fry a squirrel: roll it in flower, sprinkle with sage, and pop it in a pan with hot grease.
I skinned the squirrels, turned them over to her, and went to wash up while she headed for the kitchen. A few minutes later I could smell the squirrels cooking, and went in to check them out. I lifted the lid on the skillet -- and there lay the squirrels on their backs, whole, with their legs sticking up in the air! They looked like roasted rats.
I explained to my new chef that where I come from, we cut up our squirrels before cooking them.
She explained that where she comes from, they don't eat rodents.
Over the ensuing 40 years my bride's wild-game culinary skills have improved considerably, but I've never eaten more delicious dishes than the ones at the wild-game supper.
Mike and some 200 guests prepared buffalo, elk, venison, duck, quail, dove, frog legs, wild turkey, catfish and crappie. There were fillets, steaks, stews, roasts, sausages, chili, patties and casseroles. You could choose deep-fried, pan-fired, grilled, roasted, baked, broiled, pickled, hashed, barbecued and smoked .
My favorite was hickory-grilled wild duck rolled in bacon strips. The fried quail and frogs legs weren't bad, either. Mary Frances had never sampled buffalo and elk. Her Cherokee ancestors would be proud.
A dessert table groaned under an assortment of puddings, pies, cobblers and cakes.
As good as the food was, the fellowship was even better. I ran into a number of old acquaintances, and made several new ones.
Mike recently got his mounted elk head back from famed Gallatin taxidermist Foster Butt, and had it on display. The mount is so realistic that the giant elk seemed to be keeping a glassy eye on the proceedings.
We were treated to a preview of the video of the hunt, which will be featured on an upcoming episode of Tennessee Wildside. It was narrated by Chris Nischan, who guided Mike on last October's hunt. Chris is a Tennessee Wildlide contributor and also guides on Butt's outfitter hunts out West. (Check out Kathy and Foster Butt Outfitters website.)
He fielded questions about the hunt and about the state's elk program in general. I've never met anyone with more first-hand hunting and fishing experience than Nischan. In addition to guiding elk, deer and turkey hunts, Chris last season guided TV celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern on a Sandhill Crane hunt that will be featured on the Travel Channel. He's also an authority on Caney Fork trout fishing.
I've always said that the finest people in the world are outdoorsmen, and the folks I met at the wild-game supper fit the mold. Along with the food and fellowship, I came away with a couple of turkey-hunting invites for the upcoming spring season.
If I bag a gobbler, Mary Frances has several recipes for preparing it, all delicious. She's come a long way from her rookie squirrel-cooking days.