My grandparents did not hunt or fish, so I sometimes wonder how my parents came to do both. Actually, my mother was not a hunter, but she could outlast all of us when the fish were biting.
She caught the largest bullhead I have ever seen one evening when the mosquitoes had driven the rest of us into the car. Dad rolled down the window a little and called her once or twice, but she kept saying that she wanted to catch “just one more good one.”
All of a sudden we heard a shout. Dad jumped out of the car and disappeared in the dusk. A couple of minutes later they came walking up from the dock, Dad carrying the fish pail and worm can and Mom with her rod and a huge bullhead. She had called for help because it felt like a monster to her. She was so excited that she started cranking the reel backwards, but somehow she managed to beach the fish.
That weekend I saw something that amazed me. After spending most of the afternoon trying to untangle the backlash on Mom’s reel, Dad cut the almost-new line off the reel. And he was a man who saved bent nails and taught me how to straighten them too.
So Mom got a new casting line and we had pieces of Mom’s giant bullhead to go with the bluegills.
Mom did not hunt, but she cooked lots of grouse and venison. Like most people who have venison in the freezer, she used some of it in chili. I hate to say it, but it was like most of the northern Wisconsin chili I have eaten: Tomato soup, onions, chili powder and kidney beans with hamburger or ground venison. Sometimes she even tossed in some chopped celery.
It’s okay, but here’s how to make a chili that is a lot better than Mom’s.
2 pounds venison (elk or deer)
1/2 pound pork sausage
2 T vegetable oil
1 large onion (about 4 inches in diameter)
6 cloves garlic
2 14.5 ounce cans beef broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
3 cups chopped fresh, frozen or canned tomatoes
1 small (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 green bell pepper
3 jalapeño peppers
1 habanero pepper
1 T chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 T brown sugar
1 T flour mixed with 2 T water
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice the elk or venison into thin pieces about an inch long. In a large Dutch oven or heavy kettle heat about two tablespoons oil and brown the meat. Season the meat with a half teaspoon salt and a quarter teaspoon black pepper. Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Add the onion, garlic, beef broth, water, wine, tomato paste and tomatoes, breaking them apart. Simmer for forty-five minutes to an hour.
Wash and cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and white membrane. Dice the habanero and jalapeño peppers fine and the green pepper medium and add them to the chili. Stir in the chili powder, cumin and sugar. Simmer for about an hour. Mix the flour with the water and stir it into the chili. Cook for three or four minutes, then taste and adjust the spices.
Serve with buttermilk cornbread, butter and honey or jam and shredded cheddar cheese or sour cream that guests can add if they wish.
OPTIONS: If you like your chili hotter, add some cayenne pepper or one or two more diced peppers. You can replace the habanero pepper with a teaspoon of hot sauce.
NOTES: You can substitute beef for the venison or use hamburger if you don’t want to slice the meat, but it really is better sliced Be sure to wear gloves when working with hot peppers.