Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Bountiful Earth

Today was one of those days in which we were reminded of how bountiful the earth truly is.

It started Friday night, when Mama Daughter and Mr. Field&Stream saw a car hit a deer. The driver didn't want the deer, and so after it was tagged by the police, Mama Daughter and Mr. Field&Stream brought it over here. Deus Ex Machina spent the afternoon butchering it. We didn't weigh it, but there's probably a months' worth of meat ... if we ate deer meat every day for that month. It's a lot of meat.

We put part of it on the grill, where we cooked it over wood chips to give it a smoked flavor. It was very good.

And even though the weather has been rather wonky of late, the maples still gifted us with enough sap to boil another batch of syrup. It was slushing (kind of rain/snow very wet and messy precipitation), and so Deus Ex Machina put up a lean-to over the fire so that the stuff wouldn't fall in the sap.

We ended up with another 1/2 gallon of syrup. The total, so far, is about three-fourths of a gallon of syrup. We need another two and a half gallons to get us through the year. Hopefully, we get a lot more than that, but we'll see.

It was a lot of work processing all of the sap and meat today, but it was also a very good reminder of how much we have available to us, if we just know where to look.


  1. Questions! I have questions! First off, does your syrup acquire a smoky taste from being reduced over open flame? That might be pretty cool if it did. Have you ever figured the cost of making your own in terms of firewood? I assume that making it as an incidental on the woodstove you use to heat the house isn't feasible - would the wallpaper peel off the walls with that much humidity? I love maple syrup and would probably consider making in myself if I had an abundant supply of wood. But we don't. I'm pleased to be able to find syrup from Pennsylvania though. Probably it's not quite as good as syrup from New England. But when poured over grains and mixed with dried fruits or yogurt, the finer distinctions of quality are pretty well a wash.

    Secondly, what are the issues around eating meat from an animal that is killed accidentally rather than slaughtered? I have in mind here the fact that most meat animals bleed out when they're killed, which must affect the meat in some way. Whereas roadkill and probably even animals killed in hunting (at least sometimes) probably do not bleed out. I'm not turning my nose up at fresh roadkill or meat from hunting, merely curious. Do you know?

  2. Kate, I'll take a stab at these ... I hope you don't mind Wendy.

    Our syrup does not taste smoky. It tastes just like the syrup we can buy locally. It does tend to get very dark sometimes, although this year the syrup is a light amber and clear. We have not quite perfected it ... we must be overcooking it because in the bottom of each jar we get a bit of crystallization (maple sugar). I suppose we could allow the syrup to cool prior to putting it in jars. That would allow the sugars to form in the pan. There is nothing wrong with maple sugar though!

    As far as eating roadkill ... the deer got a little stiff. I am not sure that this was a problem of bleeding out or not. This particular deer was hit in the head (skull was crushed) and there was very little damage to other parts of the body. There was plenty of blood when I cleaned it. Of course, being as near a carnivore as I am, I did sample some meat very quickly (no, Wendy, it was not raw ... cooked in the fire for the maple syrup). It was very tender and did not have any questionable flavors. Afterwards, we cooked one of the front leg whole on the grill ... what a treat! The funny part was that the policeman asked Mr. Field and Stream if he was sure that I wanted it ... it might be tough and gamey. I am not currently aware of any ill effects of hunted or roadkill and it seems a shame to waste what amounted to a large quantity of meat and another opportunity to practice tanning hides.

  3. Deus Ex Machina: Mien blog ist ihr blog ;). Great answers, but you know that I have to put in my two cents, too ;).

    Kate: We've never paid for any of the firewood we've used in our maple syrup production. Last year when we made maple syrup, we used some brush that had over-wintered from a tree the neighbors had cut down the previous fall. This year, all of our firewood was from downed trees from the previous spring's storms, even the stuff we heated our house with, and so we didn't even pay for heat this year. We've also learned how to identify and harvest standing dead wood, which can be burned as soon as it's harvested, and we used some of that as well. So, as far as wood goes, our syrup is free. The only things we've paid for are the taps and buckets, and depending on the amount of syrup we get, the savings will pay for the cost of the supplies in no time.

    Really, though, I don't think it takes as much wood as some sources say it does. Deus Ex Machina, being the engineer that he is, calculated the size of pan he needed to achieve the maximum efficiency in the boiling down of the sap. He discovered that a wider bottomed, shallower pan would boil the sap at a higher rate. So, that's what we have. Our pan will hold about eleven gallons of sap. If you're interested in making small quantities of maple syrup, you might try boiling a few gallons of sap on your rocket stove. Forty gallons of sap makes one gallon of syrup - roughly. We boil eleven gallons of sap at a time for, roughly, a quart of syrup.

    We don't boil it in the house, because, as you imagine, the humidity would be too much. We do finish it off in the house, though, and there are no problems, so far, with doing it. It's pretty much akin to my summer canning sessions ;).

    As for the eating the deer meat, we haven't been able to find any sources that indicate it would be dangerous. Basically, the only issue we've been able to find in the research we did deals with taste, and as Deus Ex Machina pointed out the meat tasted fine. I am a bit anal when it comes to the safe handling of meat, though, and I always make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked ... sometimes getting it too well cooked ;) - much to Deus Ex Machina's dismay, but it comes from my "country roots" and a people who learned that improperly handling and cooking meat can be deadly. Anyway, the bleeding out seems to not be for safety reasons, which is the only thing that would have kept us from trying it.

    ... Oops, I think that was more than two cents worth :).

  4. Thanks to both of you for the detailed responses. I think it would be pretty cool to try a maple syrup with a slight smoky taste. I'm pretty fond of smoked foods though. But I'm sure any homemade syrup would be delightful.

    As for the issue with bleeding out/not bleeding out, I never suspected that that in itself would create food safety issues. Both kosher and halal slaughtering rules require the animal to bleed to death. The Salatins follow the same practice, which is apparently prescribed in Leviticus. And even many industrial slaughterhouses use the same method, if I'm not mistaken, at least for cattle. So I just figured there had to be a good reason for it, if two religions and even the kill-you-slowly-to-make-a-buck, never-met-a-shortcut-we-don't-like industrial food system all do this. It might be purely cosmetic. Or it might influence texture. I just don't know, but I'm curious. Deus, the stiffening you saw could easily have just been rigor mortis, which would subside on its own.

  5. I have been told that rigor mortis is not a problem for meat, but that when the meat "loosens up" again the meat is no good. He, he, he, you called me "God".