By Chris Eberhart
At the beginning of the season I had a great offer that I just couldn’t refuse. A couple days before the opening of the Michigan bow season I incidentally met up with my brother-in-law’s mother, Lorna. She is perhaps in her seventies and was born, raised, and spent almost her entire life on farms in rural central Michigan. She is a recipe and cooking reservoir of unbelievable depth. Her home cooking is old style and simply fantastic. When the conversation got around to cooking we somehow got on the subject of canned venison. Both myself and her son, Dan, expressed interest in learning how to can meat, so she made us a deal. She would teach us how to can venison, if we could kill a deer within a day or two of the opener. It had to happen fast, because she would be on her way to Florida for the winter by the following Sunday. Though I was set to begin my trip west I decided to delay the start for this opportunity.
The pressure was on. Since Dan had to work and couldn’t hunt for a few days the task of getting a deer was squarely on my shoulders, and who knows when such an opportunity would arise again. I bought a couple doe tags and started hunting with the intention of killing the first doe that gave me an opportunity. What could be easier than that, right? Well, after two days of trying and seeing more than twenty does and fawns not a single one gave me a decent shot. Just when you need a deer the most, they become hard to kill. Figuring in time to hang the deer, and butcher it, I had one final morning to hunt, and still be able to make the canning lesson. Any deer was now my goal, brown is down became my motto. I simply needed meat fast.
That morning just after daylight I noticed a single deer moving through the understory right on the main runway feeding the oak I was sitting in. It didn’t matter to me whether it was a buck or a doe, as I had tags for both. I drew my bow while the deer was still a couple steps behind some cover. Two steps later it stepped into my shooting lane. A quick glance revealed the white glint of antler on its head. With my pin already on the buck’s chest I blatted lightly to stop the buck. Almost immediately my arrow was on its way. The spike buck bolted and crashed just over a sandy ridge, about fifty yards from my tree. The canning lesson was saved, literally at the last minute.
When Lorna showed up a couple days later I had the entire deer cut up into canning sized chunks just as she specified. She brought three propane cookers, and three pressure cookers, jars, flats, and lids, some copies of pages from an old canning book for me, along with homemade cinnamon rolls and carrot cake. The coffee pot was full, and after a few minutes of small talk over those cinnamon rolls and coffee everybody got to work. The canning lesson turned out to be well attended. Beside myself and my brother-in-law, my sister, Lorna’s other son, and another friend all showed up. With Lorna directing the operations we got down to the business of end of canning. With so many people on the job the work of jarring flew by, and before we knew it we were all gathered around two propane stoves in the garage, sipping more coffee, attending to the pressure cookers, listening to the hiss and jiggle of the pressure weights, and talking. Lorna and I chatted about the benefits of making pie crust with real lard, and I even offered my experience with rendered bear fat. It turns out she had actually made pie crust with rendered bear fat a couple of times. The entire experience reminded me of an old time food making get together. It was as much about the time together as it was the resulting food.
The ninety minute canning time passed like it was mere minutes. Removing the jars was about as exciting a food moment as I have had in a long time. We all watched and listened to the jars for that telltale snap of the vacuum seal. At the first one we all cheered and Dan and I even exchanged a high-five. All the jars sealed but one and that one became dinner. It turns out that canning isn’t that difficult, and is darn right fun with a bunch of good friends. Thank you, Lorna. Canning venison is now on my to-do list every fall.