Tag Archives: locavore

Summertime in Hell

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Hell’s Bay in the Everglades backcountry of southern Florida is one of the best, and most diverse fisheries in the southeast. With summer right around the corner, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s beginning to heat up. The fishing is, too. Before you go racing off into the backcountry, keep in mind a few helpful tips that will make your trip safer, more enjoyable, and hopefully more successful.

Boats 

Though I’m a big fan of kayaking and paddle craft, I have to advocate the use of power boats in Hell’s Bay and the surrounding areas. There’s simply too much water to cover. With the closest kayak launch being over 12 miles away at Flamingo, you’d end up spending your whole day paddling. Instead, shallow drafting flats boats, or the ever popular Gheenoes are perfect for this area. You can cover a lot of water much faster and they’re overall safer than a kayak. Why, you may ask?

Sunset over Hell's Bay, Florida [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Summertime storms. South Florida’s rainy season is already underway and when these big thunderstorms boil up in the afternoons, you have to be prepared to dodge them. That’s something that is very difficult to do while paddling a kayak, especially when you’re 10 miles from safety.

Safety

Hell’s Bay and the entire surrounding area is a massive mangrove swamp. Twists and turns, bayous, creeks, and small bays are what make up this place. And it all looks the same. Exactly the same. You absolutely need some form of navigational tool. I will not go out on the boat with at least a nautical map of the area, a compass, and a GPS. Preferably, more than one GPS with spare batteries. Getting turned around out there is a real possibility.

Glimpse of Hell's Bay in Florida on a sunny day [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

In addition to that, sun protection is your next top priority. There’s no shade anywhere, so long pants, long sleeve shirts, and wide hats are a must. During the summer it’s oppressively hot. So sun gloves and sun buffs make that necessity list, too. And with it getting hot, the bugs begin to become a very big issue. Early morning and late evening is obviously the worst time, but simply being out of the wind or in the mangroves can be a one-way ticket to losing gallons of blood from mosquitos. Definitely bring plenty of bug spray.

Fishing

So why suffer through all of this? Well for the fishing of course!

Angler holds a snook at Hell's Bay, Florida [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Snook, tarpon, and redfish all call Hell’s Bay and the backcountry home over the summer. Flipping weedless jerk baits or DOA shrimp alongside the mangroves can be a sure ticket to some of these fish. Just be sure to bring plenty of extra tackle as losing fish in the mangroves is a harsh reality of this place. Also take special note of the tides. These fish need tidal movement to begin feeding and the more movement, the better the bite. Look for drop-offs and creek outflows to land some of the bigger fish. Like most fish, early morning and late evenings are the best time. Just be sure to give yourself enough daylight to navigate back to Flamingo where the only boat ramp is.

So, if you find your way down in sunny south Florida this summer, don’t hesitate to give the backcountry a try. It’s a fantastic fishery that shouldn’t be overlooked at any time of the year, especially not summer. Just be sure to plan ahead, bring plenty of tackle, and maybe just an extra can of bug spray.

After the Hunt: Wild Turkey Recipes for Spring

Don’t wait until fall to devour that gobbler! These three wild turkey recipes are perfect for dining al fresco this spring. Looks like it’s time to fire up the grill.

Wild Turkey Mole

Courtesy of Jonathan Miles at Field & Stream

Wild turkey mole [Image Credit: Johnny Miller]

Image Credit: Johnny Miller

Mole originated in southern Mexico, and traditionally includes dozens of ingredients cooked over the course of many days. This recipe, adapted from Chicago chef Rick Bayless, is less demanding but still has so much of that traditional flavor. When grilling the turkey, remember not to overcook! This recipe serves 4. Leftover mole can be frozen.

Ingredients

  • 1 wild turkey breast, whole or split
  • 2 dried ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed
  • 2 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil, divided
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • ½ cup dry-roasted unsalted peanuts
  • ½ cup roasted unsalted almonds
  • 2 slices white bread, torn into chunks
  • 1 chipotle chile with sauce from a can of chile con adobo
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 quart chicken stock, plus slightly more if needed
  • ¾ cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Tear the dried ancho chiles into pieces that will lie flat in the pan. Toast the pieces on both sides until they begin to crackle, but flip or remove them once they start to smoke. Transfer the toasted chiles to a bowl filled with hot water and soak for 30 minutes.
  2. While the chiles are soaking, heat 1 tablespoon of lard or oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is deep golden brown (about 8 minutes). Remove pot from heat.
  3. Arrange the tomato halves cut side up on a sheet pan. Place the tomatoes under a broiler set to high. Roast the tomatoes until blackened and bubbling, about 5 minutes, then flip tomatoes and roast the other side for the same effect. Allow the tomatoes to cool, then peel off as much skin as you can. (Some charred bits left behind on the tomatoes are fine and will add character to your mole.)
  4. Scrape the tomatoes and any juices into a blender, then add the cooled onion and garlic to the blender. Drain the ancho chiles, discard the water, and then add chiles to the blender. Add nuts, bread, chipotle, cinnamon and about 2 cups of chicken stock to the blender, and blend until very smooth. (Note: Stop and scrape down the sides of the blender to make sure all ingredients are blended. Add more stock as needed to yield a smooth, pourable puree.) Press the puree through a sieve into a bowl.
  5. Over a medium-high burner, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon lard or oil in the same pot or Dutch oven (rinsed and wiped clean). When the oil begins to smoke, add the puree and stir constantly for 5 – 7 minutes, or until the mixture has considerably darkened and thickened. Add the remaining chicken stock, wine, vinegar, and bay leaves, and reduce heat to low. Simmer this mixture, partially covered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally and adding more stock or water as needed to maintain a saucy consistency. Add salt and pepper along with a tablespoon of sugar, to taste. Keep the sauce covered while you cook the turkey.
  6. Allow the turkey to sit out covered, at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking. Light a medium fire on one side of a charcoal grill, leaving the other side open. (If you are using a gas grill, set the burners to medium on one side.) Rub the turkey breasts with olive oil, and generously salt and pepper them. Place the turkey on the grill, directly over the heat, and cook each side for about 5 minutes to brown it. Move the breast to the side without coals and cover the grill. The turkey is done cooking when a meat thermometer placed in the its thickest park reads 150°F. (The size of the breast and temperature of the grill will determine cooking time.) Wrap the cooked turkey breast in foil and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Gently reheat the mole as needed.
  7. To serve, slice the meat across the grain. Ladle the mole onto plates and nestle the turkey into the sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Grilled Wild Turkey Rolls

Courtesy of Something Sweet Something Salty

Grilled Wild Turkey Rolls [Image: somethingsweetsomethingsalty.wordpress.com]

Image: somethingsweetsomethingsalty.wordpress.com

These mouthwatering wild turkey rolls are so easy to make. They would make a great addition to any BBQ. Even the leftovers are delicious!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb thick-cut peppered bacon
  • 1 can pickled, sliced jalapenos
  • 1 1½ lbs wild turkey breast

Marinade:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together ingredients for marinade.
  2. Cut meat into 1½-inch cubes. Add meat to marinade in bowl. Let meat marinade for a minimum of two hours.
  3. Cut each piece of bacon in half. Into the center of a bacon slice, place one slice of jalapeno over one cube of turkey. Tightly roll bacon over turkey and hold in place with a toothpick.
  4. After cleaning the grill, heat to medium heat (around 300°F – 350°F). Place rolls on sides and cook slowly, turning every few minutes. Since bacon grease will be dripping down, keep a spray bottle handy to chase away flare-ups. When the bacon is fully cooked, the meat should also be fully cooked.
  5. Remove cooked turkey rolls from grill and let stand for five minutes before serving.

Grilled Turkey with Greek Lemon Sauce

Courtesy of Martha Daniels at Missouri Department of Conservation

This delicious wild turkey recipe reminds us of the Greek street food, souvlaki. Just make sure to make enough – everyone at the BBQ is going to want thirds.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lbs wild turkey, skin removed, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest

Directions

  1. In a medium-size bowl, stir together olive oil, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons oregano, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Add the turkey slices to this marinade. Cover and place in refrigerator to marinade for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. To make the lemon sauce, mix together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
  3. When finished marinading, place the turkey on wooden skewers to help hold in moisture. Grill over medium heat until done, about 10 minutes or more.
  4. Serve skewered turkey with lemon sauce.

Summer of the Snapping Turtle

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

By Jack Kredell

One of the first things my grandfather told me when I went to visit him on the Abita River in Louisiana was that if I was bit by a snapping turtle it would not let go until it thundered. I was nine years old then, and in my imagination where the snapping turtle had taken hold with its vice-like jaws, it has yet to thunder. Many years later, after deciding with a friend to make use of the area’s abundant snapper population for turtle soup, I realized he was probably referring to Macrochelys temminckii, the Godzilla-esque alligator snapping turtle, and not the more diminutive common snapping turtle, which can be taken legally throughout the Northeast.

That summer the snappers were everywhere; we saw them splattered on roadsides, roving between water hazards on golf courses, and once, while fishing, I saw a turtle the size of a municipal trashcan lid dart out of the tea-colored depths and give chase to a hooked bluegill. That turtle, which we called King Snapper, became the turtle of our dreams, the turtle of legend against which all other turtles were measured. But we knew that King Snapper would not be caught, or if he was, it come at the price of our sanity and livelihoods, so we focused on small to medium-sized turtles (which were supposedly better for soup).

Catching snapping turtles isn’t as easy as it looks. They’re nimble swimmers and the moss that collects on their shells makes them hard to spot. Our early tactics were based on a series of Youtube videos that showed a guy waist deep in pond scum using a hiking staff to feel for submerged turtles. Armed with newly made turtle staffs, we trudged through the stream behind our houses, stopping every so often to prod the bottom for the knock of a turtle shell. We logged 15 to 20 hours of futility using this method. The closest we got was a set of turtle tracks that ran up a muddy bank. At least they were in the area.

In the meantime, our quest for turtles had become an obsession. We judged lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and wetlands on turtle potential alone. In our new snapper-inspired lexicon things were either turtley-slow, shallow, murky, foul-smelling-or not turtley-fast-moving, rocky, trout infested. If we happened on a clear and fast stream while searching for the turtle gold of stagnancy and putrefaction, we might disdainfully overturn a rock or two before leaving it for some fly tyer to explore. It was useless to us if it didn’t hold turtles. If you could drink the water after boiling it once, maybe twice, it was not interesting to us. Turtle water will kill you. Turtles thrived in human poison. To get closer meant poisoning ourselves.

Or so we thought. As summer progressed we began to refine our methods. We traded in turtle staffs for less labor-intensive jug lines that we manufactured from orange juice and milk containers. We also narrowed down our list of turtle waters to a few nearby lakes and ponds. One of the more promising locations was a shallow, seasonal overflow pond adjacent a popular trout-fishing stream. When I went to scout it I saw a 20-pound snapper furtively slip into the water from a tree stump where it was sunning itself. This was the place. When I got home I called up my turtle partner with the news and we drove over to set up a few jug lines baited with chicken gizzards before it got dark.

Though smaller, the common snapping turtle is no less fierce than its bayou-dwelling cousin. They will claw and bite you if handled improperly. We rode our bicycles over the next morning and found that something had taken the bait. The first line came in without resistance; we found nothing but a severely misshapen 2/0 hook. Whatever was capable straightening a steel hook was an absolute brute. Was it the monster I had seen the day before? When I began to draw in the other jug, which had been pulled from the bank to the middle of pond, I felt the writhing tug of a turtle, and then horror; the mono broke above the leader. Panicked, I waded in to see if I could grab the turtle. The line was caught on a limb and next to it, facing away from me, was a 15 pounder snapping turtle. I moved in and snatched it by its tail. The search was over. I pulled the snapper from the water like a mad turtle baptist.

We put our prize in an army surplus backpack made of thick canvas and started for home. The feeling of the turtle raking my back with its claws as we cycled down the highway filled me with sadness, not to mention a sense of the absurd. I felt sorry for the creature strapped to its own death, struggling to make sense of its dark canvas cell. But I also looked forward to the idea of soup, and to wearing the shell as a breastplate after the apocalypse.

Turtles must be purged before you can eat them. This is done by placing the turtle in a large plastic container and changing the water every other day for two weeks. A turtle is considered purged when you no longer have to change the water after 24 hours. It is also recommended that you bleed your turtle out by cutting off the head and hanging it upside down in the shade for a couple hours. Then comes the hard part. Turtles are resilient – if not the undead – creatures who will fight the butcher’s hand long after the head is removed (I mean for hours). Butchering turtles is not like other animals because the shell restricts your access from the top. Meat must be cut out rather than stripped away with neat linear cuts. Nevertheless, in a few hours the turtle yielded 5-7 pounds of very fresh, clean-looking meat. The soup was incredibly delicious, which we made that evening with the help of my friend’s kids. We topped it off with a little sherry and ate it with a side of sourdough. We were amazed that such a delicate and clean flavor could issue from mud and muck. In terms of flavor the meat is somewhere between alligator and beef, without being as chewy as the former nor as tender as the latter. We were very pleased.

Later that summer, I went back to the lake where King Snapper lived to fish for bluegill. When I arrived I was greeted by a vast wasteland of sun-baked mud. Evidently the state couldn’t afford the repairs needed to fix the dam so the lake was drained. I walked over the hardened flats collecting bits of derelict tackle. The thunder had spoken and the summer of the snapping turtle was over.

The Way of All Flesh

By Jack Kredell

The difference between store-bought meat and wild game is that the latter, even when it’s sitting in your freezer, is never really dead.

The pheasant bones in the stock I made are from the same pheasant that slashed my palm as I wrung its neck. The episode replays itself whenever I ladle out a bowl of soup. It’s a strange thing to be able to connect the food on your plate to the living animal whose life you took for this purpose. The pheasant persists in my memory of the hunt, and later, in the satisfaction of having had a delicious meal.

That feeling of ‘knowing’ the animal lingers long after you make the kill. By taking its life, you assume a responsibility to see the hunt all the way through-literally down to the last bite. You are both executor and inheritor of its flesh. You take on a debt to the animal that can only be repaid by eating it-or giving it away to friends.

Dead hen pheasant by rifle in field [Image Credit: Jack Kredell]

Image Credit: Jack Kredell

But while wild game is never really dead, store-bought meat can seem like it was never really alive. I’ll catch myself behaving under this assumption when I throw out store-bought leftovers that, had it been from a pheasant or deer, I would wrap up and put back in the fridge.

The fundamentals don’t really change with store-bought meat; while you are alienated from that animal’s death and all that follows, it was nonetheless done for you because you paid. Money assumes intention. The only difference between the pheasant and the factory-farmed chicken, when I really examine it, is that I “knew” the pheasant. I caused both to die, but the pheasant left its mark on my palm.

It’s a privilege to be able to have that perspective, one that doesn’t grant you the moral authority to call somebody a hypocrite for not shooting his or her own dinner. Even that deboned chicken breast comes from a place as real as the pheasant in my soup. The mark on my hand tells me that.