Good food, good friends beat winter doldrums

17 years ago

I received an invitation to a dinner party a few weeks ago, and although I’m usually not big on such sophisticated social evening falderal, I couldn’t say ‘yes’ quick enough to this particular event.
No suit and tie nor tux and top hat soiree, no bone china dishes with crystal glasses and silver, engraved flatware at each place setting. And best of all, no boring speeches and weighty conversations about current events. Last week’s evening get-together was all about outdoor friends, hunting and fishing stories and food – lots of food – and most of it delicious recipes with some sort of wild game meat as the main ingredient.
My cousin Steve Hitchcock, who moved back home to Mars Hill after many years working in southern Maine, hosted the game supper. Having started this great meal tradition several years ago downstate, some of which I traveled to attend, Steve decided to continue the custom of delicious food and tall tales with a new set of sportsmen. Among the guests on the premier Aroostook game dinner were a well known local guide, a plumbing and heating expert, a Christmas tree farmer, two educators, one retired and one still slaving, and of course I managed to sneak in too. We all knew each other from shared outdoor experiences, and it was a perfect mix.
Besides being invited, the prime requirement of each guest was to bring along an entrée containing some sort of regional wild game. Everyone outdid themselves and brought along two or three side dishes of rolls, vegetables and dessert to accompany their main course recipe. There was enough food to feed a camp of lumberjacks. A huge crock pot of venison stew, teriyaki goose breast, Italian shells stuffed with mooseburger, barbecue bear meat, a pot of baked beans, antelope sausage, deer steak and venison stroganoff comprised the wild game offerings. Add to that two types of fresh yeast rolls, a dish of warm honey cornbread, potatoes, a huge, three-jell-o salad, crabmeat puffs, and warm brownies or pumpkin pie for dessert, and it’s easy to see that nobody went hungry.
One of the biggest taste treats for everyone was Steve’s old-fashion homemade brown bread. Anyone over the age of 50, who was brought up in the Crown of Maine, remembers the tradition of Saturday night beans and steamed brown bread. I hadn’t tasted any in 25 years or so, but the recipe that Steve and his wife found and perfected took me right back to my youth in my grandmother’s kitchen. Steam cooked in coffee cans, there was one batch with raisins and one without, and once a ladle of beans and juice was spread on top of a slice it was mouthwatering. Most of us had seconds, just to be sure it was as good as we thought the first helping was.
Now just in case it seems that the sumptuous supper was the main reason and the high point of the evening, let me assure everyone it was not. In truth it was the outdoorsmen’s camaraderie and sporting conversation; some serious, some hilarious, that made the hours fly by. We discussed the huge windmills that overlook Steve’s backyard and how essential green power truly is, and we bantered about these whirligigs eventual effect on tourism and local wildlife. Steve showed us a 4-weight, 7 1/2 foot fly rod he had built from components this winter and one of the boys brought a huge box of trout flies he had tied over the last two months. Both items made each of us long for spring and open water fishing, and of course spawned a whole school of trout, salmon and togue stories.
Several of the guests were avid bow hunters, and they regaled us with hit and miss adventures at big game that sometimes was only 10 yards away at the shot. It made this rifleman shake his head in admiration at their skill, and I’d already tasted the final results of some of the successes at supper. A few fur trapping and spring trolling tips were exchanged, and duck and goose hunting successes and failures from the past fall were compared. Everyone got excited and involved when the subject of wild turkey hunting actually being possible in northern Maine came up. More and more gobblers are being sighted around Bridgewater, Blaine and Mars Hill, now if they can only survive the winter.
Of course no gathering of serious outdoorsmen occurs without some thought and conversation regarding preserving our hunting heritage and game populations for the next generation or two. The right to hunt, and firearm ownership seem to be under fire constantly, and we all talked about ways to maintain this vital way of life throughout the Pine Tree State.
Yes, the conversation was as plentiful, assorted, and fulfilling as the wild game dishes prepared by our group, and the get together served the main purpose of its inception. During a season when frigid, blustery weather and a lack of cast and blast opportunities keeps outdoor adventures and companionship at a minimum, a sportsmen’s supper will refuel the spirit and rekindle the desire. What better way to beat cabin fever and winter doldrums, as well as getting outdoorsmen thinking about spring, than a meeting of kindred spirits with good food and conversation.
Perhaps it’s time for some of you area anglers and hunters to have your own game dinner, or at least call a couple of friends and meet for lunch at a local diner. Such socializing is just the ticket to help forget the cold weather for awhile, thanks to a warm feeling inside. I started spending more time at the fly tying bench thanks to our recent event. I can’t wait for ice-out spring fishing, and I’m already looking forward to next season’s game dinner.