Monday, 16 March 2009

How we won the war and ate the Elk

Cazadero, my home town, used to be the home of Pomo Indians. I've always been fuzzy on the dates, since my dad used to claim that the scars on his back (from cyst removals) were actually arrowhead scars, earned in feats of bravery as he defended our land from the natives. And when I was five, I could see it: my dad with the antique shotgun kept in the back bedroom for scaring away the noisy bluejays, and the Pomos, their bow and arrows tense, ready for the battle.

Of course my dad won. We were here, living, after all.

But signs of the Pomos still remain: there are large rocks down by the creek which runs along the length of our property with deep grooves in them. Maybe from meditative pounding, maybe for cooking; no one really knows, it seems. When I was little, mostly with my friends but sometimes we'd let my little sister Laila tag along, we would collect acorns and pound them in the rock pits. I guess we heard a story somewhere that acorn soup was a Native American favorite. Unfortunately, not only were the acorns bitter and nasty (raw, pounded on dirty rocks...what were we expecting?) but we probably did a very good job defacing those remnants of past cultures. But heck, we were seven.

Also, deer. They were everywhere. And rabbits (jack). And squirrels. I'm sure, although at the age of seven I was watching Disney movies on repeat and could never entertain the idea of eating those fluffy things running around in the garden, that the Pomos really enjoyed them. And hogs! We have so many wild hogs out here, I can just see one roasting over a fire, handfuls of acorns in the flames, charring and popping like roasting nuts.

Now, the idea of living off the land, so to speak, is fascinating to me. I don't know if I'd really be up for it, when push came to shove, but harvesting sorrel from the fields, or dandelion greens from alongside the driveway, or blackberries from down by the creek is very satisfying, in a pioneer-woman kind of way. And although I'm not quite ready to shoot and barbecue one of the rabbits that leaps down the driveway alongside our car every evening, I don't mind enjoying the fruits (and meats) of other people's pioneering skills.

This weekend I had elk. Not a native to this area, but, through the four degrees of my friend's friend's girlfriend's uncle in Colorado, an elk was shot, divided, and transported within a day to our table - that is, the boyfriend of my friend's table. It's a complicated but direct journey that those beautiful filets took, but they showed no signs of stress after a few days of travel. On the contrary, they sat on the counter in their little plastic container contentedly, shining with a jewel-like clarity. A deep magenta, they were free of all fat, and just seemed eager for the heat of the grill.

Michael, the bearer of the meat, seasoned the filets strongly, sprinkling garlic salt, cumin, pepper, and a few good dashes of worcestshire sauce all over them. Grilled to perfection, on the plate they sat next to fresh pasta (made in the next town over) with plenty of garlic, mushrooms, and chili, and a slab of tri-tip to make sure everyone had their fill.

The elk (the smaller of the two meats above) yielded gently to the knife, but still held a satisfying chew. It was half as toothsome as the tri-tip, and the seasonings, which I was afraid would be too abrasive, melted delicately into the fatless meat. No taste of gameyness was there (a word I heard fly around the table a few times).

We munched and slurped happily, washing everything down with some Cabernet made by the person sitting next to me at the table. Pioneering, as long as I include the wine under the category (it was local after all), didn't seem half bad.

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