Even though I love to read, somehow I had never read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows until this past winter. The book was chosen for a class I have been teaching, and I love it so much that I am already excited about the idea of Rolley Len and Cason reading it one day. For now, I am content discussing the adventures of Billy, Little Ann and Old Dan with my class. Considering the book is about hunting, I am sure it will not surprise you if I tell you it warmed my heart to see the kids in my class get as excited about the story as some kids might about a new video game.
For those of you who have not read the book, it is the story of a boy’s determination to have his own coon hounds and his resolve to use the two dogs to help his family during hard times. One of the best things about the book is how Rawls uses so much detail it is easy to visualize the tale. He peppers his story with mentions of home-cooked food creating a sense of comfort in the reader. Even though the story is not set in the Deep South, the food is distinctively Southern and familiar to most of us. From leftover cornbread pork sandwiches to chicken and dumplings, Billy is well-fed.
Having food on the table is a way to show love for your family, especially in hard times. Being poor, Billy’s family eat what they grow or raise on their farm and leftovers are not wasted. Stretching your provisions is a necessity for many people today whether they are considered financially poor or not. At our house, we hate to waste food and try to extend meals as best we can. One way we do this is to try to use leftover deer meat in different ways rather than just reheating the same meal.
If Jason is going to be away even for a night, he usually cooks something for us before he leaves. The last time he went rabbit hunting, he made a huge pot of spaghetti sauce with ground deer meat. As much as we love spaghetti, there was no way the kids and I could finish it all in a weekend. We made noodles the first night and saved those leftovers for the next day’s lunch. On the second night, I decided to try something different. I used the sauce to make deer pizzas and then froze the remaining spaghetti sauce for later.
Deer meat is so versatile it is actually the only ground meat we keep in the freezer in bulk. When Jason processes it, he bags it in small amounts so we can easily thaw a pound or two quickly. Thinking long-term about meal planning during hunting season as you bring home your deer can allow you to stretch your food supply throughout the year. For example, instead of freezing only larger cuts like roast, freeze some thinly-cut back strap or bite-size pieces for stir-fry. Also, be sure to grind a lot of the meat because the uses are almost unlimited. Ground deer meat can be used just like hamburger meat can, but because it is not fat like hamburger it just needs more seasoning.
When making spaghetti, hamburgers or chili, Jason and I both use a lot more herbs and spices than we would for hamburger meat. Jason adds fresh vegetables to the sauce so we all get servings of zucchini and carrots along with the usual spaghetti and pizza sauce ingredients like onions, mushrooms and bell peppers. The deer pizzas already have whole wheat crusts to help keep them healthy, but the extra vegetables in the sauce adds even more good nutrition.
In Where the Red Fern Grows, even at a very young age, Billy understands that times are tough for his parents. He shows great maturity and dedication as he saves his own meager earnings for two years to buy his hunting dogs. Then he plans to sell to the raccoon furs he gets using his dogs to get money to help his family buy the things they need and want. Today, in that same spirit, so many hunters do what they do not just for sport, but to provide for their families.
Teaching your children to hunt can help them appreciate and understand sacrifice, discipline and determination. Teaching your children how to cook, about good nutrition and how to not waste what they are given is also important. Knowing how to provide food for your family is a skill they will never regret learning. And, as your children try to bring home your family’s next meal, you might even be able to teach them some life lessons about economics and finance while making lasting memories.
DEER SPAGHETTI SAUCE
A few carrots, cut lengthwise
2 small zucchinis, cut into bite-sized pieces
About 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, diced
½ bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
2 (14-16 ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Italian seasoning, to taste
1½ pounds ground deer meat
Brown deer meat in a skillet, drain. In a large pot, add all of the other ingredients, bring to a boil. Add browned meat. Reduce heat and simmer until desired thickness.
Whole wheat flatbread
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Deer meat spaghetti sauce
Preheat oven to 400°.
Spread about a teaspoon of olive oil on the flatbread. Sprinkle some garlic on top. Place the pizzas (without toppings) on a pizza pan or cookie sheet. Put in the oven for a few minutes while the oven preheats. Remove from oven and spread with spaghetti sauce. Add any additional toppings you have. Add a layer of cheese on top. Place back in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.