Gardening for wild game meals

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Dennis Clay

There was a successful garden at my house this year. It was a splendid gardening year. The cucumbers produced at an abundant routine. Due to circumstances which isnít quite clear, we ended up with 15, maybe 20, plants in the ground.

Cucumber plants usually come three to a container. However, many times they can be found five or six plants to a container. Plus, a friend gave me six plants.

The number of plants doesnít bother me one bit. They spread all over the ground, making it difficult to search without stepping on the vines, but this is all part of the game.

The interesting part of cucumber farming is finding the actual cucumber. Those buggers hide. One day there are none in a section of vines and the next day three too-large-to-eat vegetables are located in the same spot. How does it happen? They hide from you, for sure.

After finding a couple large ones, they were allowed to just grow as large as they could. The largest was 15 inches long with a 10-inch circumference. No, it was not eaten.

We were picking 20 edible cucumbers per day, during one period this summer. A bunch of the vegetable was eaten, plus we gave a bunch away. The last batch was picked on Tuesday, as the vines were nipped a bit by frost recently.

There are a number of ways they are enjoyed at my house. Simply peeling them and adding diced tomatoes as part of a salad is one way. Garnet makes a delicious version of bread and butter refrigerator pickles.

The recipe calls for sprinkling salt over the cucumber slices, stirring gently and cover, then let sit for a couple of hours. She whisks together sugars, white and brown, along with apple cider vinegar and white vinegar, mustard seeds, onion powder, celery seeds, ground turmeric and chili flakes and simmers the mixture over medium until all sugar is dissolved.

The rinsed cucumber slices are placed in a glass bowl, the hot mixture is poured over them and they sit for an hour or so. The soaking slices are then placed in pint jars and the liquid is added to the jars.

These are refrigerator pickles and last only a couple of weeks, maybe. So, Garnet made a batch every week or so, with the last batch put together yesterday. Iím going to miss them.

Our buttercup squash was very productive, with the vines growing into the Virginia Creeper, where several of the of the fruits have matured. Garnetís giant pumpkins are monsters, but they will not be weighed. The largest has a diameter of 26 inches and a circumference of 72 inches.

Several onions were planted. It is a wonder why Columbia Basin gardeners plant them, as the Basin produces so many. Still, they grow every year in my garden.

Another bright spot in my garden were the heirloom tomatoes. John Bromiley started 15 for me. My favorite is the strawberry, along with the serendipity. There were a few others, but these two varieties are large and delicious. Instead of BLTs, we make BOTs, with a slice of Walla Walla sweet taking the place of the lettuce.

Why is a garden so important to be the subject of an outdoors column? In my world, everything goes together or fits together. The more my actions interact, the better the world seems to me.

Example: Bill Will told me years ago, ďThere is nothing like putting a burger on the grill, picking a large tomato and slice it, pulling a Walla Walla sweet and slice it. When the burger is cooked, add a slab of tomato and onion and enjoy.Ē

Of course, the burger is better if it is from an elk or deer downed by my rifle. It is better if the elk was shot will a bullet reloaded by my hands. It is better again if the deer hair is used to make a fishing fly to catch a trout or kokanee.

The same goes for the duck, grouse, goose, pheasant, quail or turkey shot by my shotgun. The feathers from these birds are used in many fly patterns.

A favorite recipe of mine is to use a slow cooker and ground meat from an elk or deer. Tomatoes from my garden will be added, as well as onions. Basin potatoes will also go into the concoction, with lots of garlic.

A friend taught me how to butcher wild game years ago. My hunting group butchers our big game as this exercise adds more camaraderie to a successful hunt. We reload rifle and shotgun shells, which, also, adds to the fellowship.

It isnít difficult to understand how my life revolves around hunting and fishing. Using the vegetables and fruits from my garden to use as ingredients in my cooking of the wild game meat is rewarding. Using the hair and feathers from the birds and animals taken by my hand is satisfying.

Topping all other reasons is being able to spend time with friends and family.

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