Friday, September 23, 2016

The Legend of the Swamp Buck

Now everyone who knew my mother well knew there was never a penny she couldn't pinch. I don't think she was naturally miserly, but was of the generation who had to survive the Great Depression. Mostly it served us well, though there were frustrations growing up. I mention it here merely to give the proper emphasis to the family story I'm about to relate.

I was in a conversation with my middle son this afternoon when he started talking about trapping and butchering rabbits. He's currently in a survivalist phase. Or maybe not just a phase. Time will tell. Anyway, having raised rabbits to eat, I had a few tips to pass along about the butchering process: where the meat was, what to avoid, etc. I cautioned him that when splitting the pelvis he needed to use extreme care not to cut the bladder or urethra. Tends to spoil the meat, you know.

That led to my asking him if his grandfather had ever told him - say, 30 times - about the swamp buck he shot years ago. Rich hadn't heard the story, so I filled him in.

Back in the early 50's, the family lived on a resort in central Minnesota. Times were still financially challenging, and hunting grouse, pheasant and deer, as well as keeping the fish we could catch from our and surrounding lakes were a regular way of filling the larder. We'd also head out into the countryside to pick bucketfuls of blueberries, raspberries, chokecherries, and lowbush (swamp) cranberries. I have great memories of these trips, except for freaking out over the tiny spiders that made their way to the top of the berries and tried to get loose in the car.

One year when we kids were very young, my Dad killed himself what has come to be known in family lore as the swamp buck. He was a big old thing, way out in the swamp, and my dad had a heck of a time dragging it back to the car. But it would be worth it with all the meat it would bring to the family.

It went to the local butcher to be made into the usual various cuts of meat.

It was the wrong butcher.

Rather than carefully remove the meat from the bones, leaving them intact, before cutting or grinding up the venison, this fellow cut through the bones, just as if it were a cow. In case you don't know it, deer marrow has a very strong flavor. Very. I mean nasty. This method of butchering spread that marrow flavor into all the meat. Since we were already starting with an old, swamp-fed buck, what was already strongly gamey meat was rendered inedible.

Thanks to Mom, we tried. For several meals we tried. The final straw was when it was offered to the dog and even she refused to eat it! After that final rejection, the meat rapidly disappeared from the house, and the legend began.

By the way, we still all love venison. We just make sure it's butchered properly.

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