Cookbook author's first feast of freshly bagged duck and ruffed grouse

  • Updated: November 21, 2013 - 3:55 PM

A cookbook author prepares her first fall hunting feast of freshly bagged duck and ruffed grouse.

hide

The author prepared a meal with super-local ingredients, including five plump ruffed grouse shot that very morning by her friend.

“Look for the mile marker off 61, just north of Silver Bay,” my host said from his crackly cellphone. But in November’s fading afternoon light, the demarcation between ditch and driveway blurred so that I missed the entrance twice. Circling back, I found the black mailbox, turned and warily rumbled down the grassy drive following the tire ruts. As I rounded the bend, in the sweep of my headlights, a stone and timber lodge emerged, as stately as any Scottish manor. Drawn to the scent of wood smoke and candlelit windows, I paused at the massive door, taking in the pines lined like sentries behind me. This was going to be good.

Having grown up in New Jersey, I bring a convert’s enthusiasm to rituals and traditions taken for granted by my Upper Midwestern friends. Just last week, I’d learned to put up sauerkraut. Now I wanted to understand the “fall opener” that drew so many guys into the woods.

When I mentioned this, my host Jack Driscoll, aka “Jacques the Voyageur,” was eager to share all he knows. A historian and seasoned re-enactor, “Jacques” entertains audiences and school groups across the region. Driscoll, himself, is a loquacious neighbor and an old friend — our kids played T-ball together. He’s also an avid outdoorsman. His family’s North Shore home, built by his grandfather shortly before WWII, is appointed with ironwork, woodland art and handcrafted furniture. This would be a magical setting for a fall hunting feast.

Driscoll laid out his kill on a butcher block in the kitchen — five plump ruffed grouse — shot that morning on his property. These birds, I learned, can be wary, either sitting like bumps or, if flushed, a blur on the wing. Ruffed grouse is uncommonly beautiful, too, its plumage a study in understated elegance. Minnesota’s most popular game bird, the grouse is a hearty, snow-loving native that thrives in severe winters that can decimate flocks of partridge, quail, pheasant and turkey. In our region, the population is nearing the low point in its ten-year cycle for mysterious reasons.

I am no stranger to butchering birds. As a journalist, I’d reported on a large turkey processing facility with its bloody kill floor, plucking machines and nose-singeing chemicals. And I’d helped a friend butcher her chicken for on-farm sale. Still, I was surprised by how clean and bloodless dressing these game birds can be when done properly. In one swift movement, Driscoll snapped off the head, then gently ran his fingers under the skin on the breast and deftly removed it in one piece. Having caught and cleaned “blues” on the Jersey shore, I found this whole process faster and less messy than filleting fish. Driscoll had also breasted out several canvasback ducks earlier in the week.

“Just don’t overcook them,” Driscoll said as he left me to join other friends now gathered at the enormous fireplace, playing cribbage and other card games. This meant I should use either high and quick, or low and slow heat.

Lean and delicate, grouse need both fat and moisture to keep from drying out, so I wrapped the breasts in peppered bacon to roast for just under an hour, using low heat, with apples, shallots, thyme and a little cider. I basted them often as the pan juices reduced into a salty-sweet sauce to spike with a splash of bourbon.

Canvasback meat is dark and succulent. Prized as table fare, “cans” were nearly depleted by market hunters in the 1800s. I cut strips to sauté quickly in sweet butter with onions and rosemary, then deglazed the pan with Madeira.

Baked butternut squash, with Driscoll’s maple syrup tapped last spring, hand-harvested wild rice and warm apple crisp with cream from a nearby dairy completed this fine meal. Relaxing near the fire, whose crackles and pops punctuated the day’s hunting tales, Driscoll’s son, Peter, later stretched out on the couch, loosened his belt and suggested grouse for Thanksgiving dinner. Driscoll was quick to chime in: “I’m game.”

Driving off the next morning, the sun glancing off the big lake, the grasses lightly frosted, I carried back into my city life far more than the gift of gorgeous feathers and the glad memories of an evening with friends. This hunting tradition, playing out in cabins and hunting shacks all over the state, carries forth the wisdom of ages. This tradition celebrates the bounty of our forests, prairies, lakes and farms, honoring our connection to each other and to this land.

Beth Dooley is a food and travel writer. She is the author of “Minnesota’s Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook,” the most recent among her three Northern Heartland cookbooks. She leads food-focused travel adventures for Wilderness Inquiry.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tampa 6 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 47 3rd Qtr
Houston 50
Golden State 5:00 PM
Boston
Philadelphia 5:00 PM
Indiana
Portland 5:00 PM
Sacramento
Charlotte 5:00 PM
Orlando
Oklahoma City 5:30 PM
LA Lakers
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Denver
Los Angeles 0 2nd Prd
Winnipeg 1
Tampa Bay 4:00 PM
Florida
Columbus 4:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Washington
Anaheim 7:00 PM
Dallas
St. Louis 8:30 PM
Vancouver
SMU 73 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Quinnipiac 65 FINAL
Manhattan 69
Fairfield 56 FINAL
Niagara 57
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 55 2nd Half 2:30
California 65
South Florida 46 2nd Half 3:30
Houston 69
Marquette 36 2nd Half 11:46
Providence 56
Michigan State 25 2nd Half
Wisconsin 36
Siena 9 1st Half 11:35
Monmouth 12
Pittsburgh 5:30 PM
Wake Forest
Oregon 6:00 PM
Stanford
Purdue 6:30 PM
Ohio State
Arizona State 7:30 PM
Colorado
Washington St 8:30 PM
UCLA
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
UMBC 73
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 FINAL
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 45 FINAL
Drexel 50
Illinois State 46 2nd Half 1:15
Bradley 54
Southern Ill 65 2nd Half 0:28
Loyola-Chicago 60
Northern Iowa 53 2nd Half 0:52
Wichita State 59
Minnesota 74 2nd Half 0:37
(17) Iowa 92
(15) North Carolina 61 2nd Half 6:32
(16) Duke 68
Alabama 58 2nd Half 3:20
Auburn 70
(9) Florida State 58 2nd Half 4:17
Miami-Florida 47
Arkansas 41 FINAL
Missouri 57
Georgia 49 2nd Half 1:15
Florida 45
Dayton 95 FINAL
Saint Louis 68
Drake 55 2nd Half 0:20
Missouri State 86
Colorado 21 2nd Half
(10) Arizona State 22
(19) Stanford 30 2nd Half
Oregon 29
Marquette 43 2nd Half
DePaul 46
Southern Miss 35 2nd Half
Texas-El Paso 37
Vanderbilt 4:00 PM
(6) Tennessee
(2) South Carolina 4:00 PM
(13) Kentucky
Utah 4:00 PM
Arizona
Ohio State 4:00 PM
Nebraska
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close