American Plate - Bite #4: Venison

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Modern Americans tend to prioritize convenience over a lot of other attributes when it comes to eating. Getting something cheap and fast often trumps everything else - even flavor. It wasn't always so. Our continent's first residents had far more pressing concerns. Native Americans had limited options when it came to eating, so they made the most out of every food source. Anyone who lives near a forested area knows that deer are extremely fleet-footed, but native tribes developed several systems of hunting them - driving them into rivers or enclosed spaces to be picked off by bow and arrow, for example. They were more than worth it; deer was an invaluable resource to countless natives.

Hides were made into clothing, blankets, and shelters. Antlers, bone, and teeth were fashioned into weapons and tools. Tendons were stretched into webbing for shoes and papooses. There were a ton of other uses, too, but let's get to the meat. The importance of venison cannot be overstated. It was the primary source of protein for a lot of tribes. Though it's a very lean meat in comparison with cattle, the rendered fat from deer was a popular way of providing important caloric bursts to tribes that may have gone hungry otherwise. Venison was also easier to preserve than other foods. Natives would hang strips of the meat over slow fires in order to make jerky for the winter months.

Once European settlers arrived, domesticated animals became the dominant source of meat on the continent, but for a long stretch of American history, venison was king. And it's not as if those Europeans had no interest in deer. Trading for animal products was a large source of commerce in the colonies. In fact, a single deer skin could be traded for about a dollar, which is why to this day, we use the word "buck" to signify that amount.

I adore venison, but unlike most other meats, it can be difficult to get my hands on. Grocery stores rarely sell deer meet, and even butcher shops tend not to carry it. There are plenty of local hunters, though, so it may just be a matter of finding a local venison hookup on the down-low. I hope I can find a consistent supplier soon, because there are countless ways to enjoy it. I used to go down to my ex's family place in Georgia for the holidays, and his mother made a venison stroganoff that was out of this world.

Recently, I came into a bit of good luck. I was hanging out at a friend's place, when another of his friends dropped by, his arms loaded down with both ground venison and venison loin. An impromptu grill session commenced on the spot, and we were able to dive face-first into platters of deer burgers and steaks. It was a dream come true. Venison is not only leaner than a lot of other meats, but it has that gamey, pungent flavor I love so much. The holiday season (and its attendant frigid weather) is almost upon us, and I already know what's going straight to the top of my gift wishlist: The name and phone number of a local deer meat purveyor.