Clayton: Holiday pork tradition
The tradition of having wild game on the table for the holidays is a long standing one with my family. When I was a youngster, I can remember my Mom requesting my older brother to, “Take your shotgun down to Pecan Bayou and bring me back four fat mallards. It’s time for some Christmas baked duck, rice and gravy.”
She would slow-roast those mallards with plenty of fresh garlic, salt and pepper. There was always a pot of rice awaiting the natural duck gravy. Mother demanded the ducks be "picked" rather than the popular method today of removing only the breast halves. The fat on a wild duck is where the flavor is, she would say, and she was right.
Through the years, wild game is no longer the main dish for our holiday meals but I see to it that the tradition is kept alive for those of us that enjoy eating the fruits of our hunts. I will either have a pot of venison or wild pork chili simmering or possibly a Mexican dish made from venison. Bacon wrapped venison backstrap is a quick and easy staple at many of our meals.
This holiday season, I had a plan that began with a phone call from my longtime friend and hunting buddy Terry Tate. Terry informed me that he has a sounder of hogs on his place that would be easy to hunt and shooting a couple during daylight hours should be pretty easy. I’ll still "set on" hogs at night with my night vision but I much prefer to harvest my pork during the daylight hours for several reasons. As a "mature" (aka OLD) hog hunter, I relish my sleep more than I used to! Besides, it’s much easier to field dress hogs in daylight rather than by the headlights of a truck! When Terry and I set the date for the hunt, I began making plans as to how I would put some fresh pork to use.
I definitely wanted to cure and smoke a couple of small hams. Terry had informed me that there were plenty of eater pigs in the 30-50 pound range coming in to the feeder. I could taste a couple of those little hams cured, smoked and loaded with brown sugar and honey.
I have a late-season mule deer hunt coming up in far West Texas and a big skillet of tender chicken fried pork steaks, rice and mushroom gravy would go well as a camp meal. I would also barbecue some of the tender pork and grind some for breakfast sausage as well. But, first I had to put the hog/hogs on the meat pole!
I know Tate well enough to know that when he says chances are very good for taking a hog or two, it’s time to sharpen up a couple of skinning knives!
Terry is a devout air gun hunter and when we settled into the blind a couple of hours before dark, the confidence level was very high.
“They might trickle in to the feeder and I hope they do, we might just have multiple opportunities to shoot those eater pigs you are after. They will be fat, our acorn crop was light and they have been hitting this feeder for several weeks now.”
This may go down as one of the easiest hog hunts of my career. Right on cue, when the feeder activated, the first "wave" of porkers came trotting out of some heavy cover nearby. They had obviously staged there in anticipation of feeding time! We managed to drop a couple of 35-pounders as the remainder of the sounder trotted back into the brush.
Terry and I remained in our stand and in about 20 minutes, we noticed movement back in the brush and then, out came five or six pigs, one was a bit bigger, a 50-pounder. The 50-pounder, along with the two smaller pigs insured that I would have plenty of very fresh pork for my upcoming holiday meals and later, camp meat for that West Texas mule deer hunt.
The hams that weighed about 3 pounds apiece were well received at our Christmas dinner. Of course, we had turkey and dressing with all the trimmings but I noticed a few of the non-game eaters were enjoying that fresh ham. Truth is, you simply cannot buy ham that tender at the store.
I barbecued a good portion of the pork over an open pit, using kiln dried B&B mesquite wood. After the pork was well done, I boned the meat out and placed it in vacuum freezer bags with a bit extra BBQ sauce. This will make tasty lunches on the upcoming deer hunt. I sliced several of the backstraps into medallions and plan to make the fried pork and gravy ahead of time rather than spending the time cooking while at camp. The front shoulders and trimmings I ground and turned into country sausage, with the exception of a couple pounds, which I reserved for chili meat.
Many folks have no idea just how tasty wild pork can be. Granted, old tougher boars can make good sausage, but it’s the younger pigs that I target these days. My plan is to remove them from the sounder before they can reproduce and enjoy them in all sorts of tasty camp dishes!
• WINTER OUTDOOR RON-DE-VOUX PLANNED Remember to mark your calendar for our second annual winter get together on four wooded acres a few blocks north of downtown Greenville March 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We will have a big campfire, outdoor cooking, booth, live music and an antique car show. For more information, contact Randy Koon 903-456-3048.
Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton at www.catfishradio.org