At this point in his life, Bob Walden, 67, enjoys few things more than throwing a shotgun to his shoulder when a pheasant breaks cover or watching from a tree stand as a big buck meanders through a stand of timber.
A close second is preparing, for family and friends, what he harvests.
The outcome of the fare depends on how it is prepared, Walden said.
“If you want venison to taste good, you have to be careful about the processing after you take a deer,” he said, which includes keeping meat clean of hair and blood and removing sinew and other waste parts in timely fashion.
With deer, Walden is particularly fond of the tenderloin, a length of prime meat along the backbone, and removes it quickly. Hindquarters are hung in refrigeration for aging.
“We cut off the rest of muscle mass and make some into minute steaks, with tenderizing an absolute must,” Walden said. What doesn’t become steaks is ground or processed as summer sausage.
“We use the ground venison to make meatloaf and chili,” he said, using the ground meat as a substitute for hamburger.
Walden likes minute steaks floured and browned in a skillet and then placed in a casserole dish, submerged in a broth of mushroom soup, and cooked in the oven until tender, usually 45 minutes to an hour.
The tenderloin is another matter and is prepared according to a recipe shared by former Iolan Pat Mourning.
The first step is to slice away the membrane covering the meat and then smear with cooking oil. Next, Walden sprinkles the meat with garlic powder, celery salt and “a lot pepper.”
“Then you fold the smaller end under to make it uniform and place it on a rack over a dish or cookie sheet,” Walden said.
Baking in an oven preheated to 425 degrees takes about 50 minutes for medium or 35 to 40 minutes for rare.
Once out of the oven, Walden said the tenderloin should be kept on the rack for at least 15 minutes before cutting to keep juices from running out.
“If that happens, the flavor won’t be as good,” he said.
In addition Bob and his wife, Shirley, like to make a sauce, which may be used as a dip for the meat or poured over the tenderloin. The sauce is made from two cups of water and a half-cup of red wine with two bouillon cubes mixed in, and simmered before used.
WHILE VENISON is in season with the recent opening of archery season and firearms season starting on Dec. 1, the Walden household often is filled with other palate-tantalizing smells, such as those of roast goose and pheasant and duck dishes.
“Used to be we’d have quail, but with the population so low I haven’t hunted those birds for several years,” Walden said.
When he did, quail were prepared in two ways: Breasts were removed, soaked in buttermilk, floured with only slight draining of the liquid and then plopped into a skillet filled with several inches of hot cooking oil, “kind of like deep-fat frying,” he said; legs, a favorite of Shirley’s, are fried in an open skillet.
The buttermilk treatment first came Walden’s way when he was hunting pheasant with Dr. John Corpolongo, a former Iola physician, in western Kansas.
“One afternoon he told me to shoot a couple of pheasant and he’d prepare them for us,” Walden said.
Corpolongo cut the breasts into strips, put them in a bowl of buttermilk and let them soak overnight, Walden said. “The next morning he made biscuits and deep-fried the pheasant strips. I’d never tasted anything that was much better.”
Walden said in more recent years he has prepared duck, a favorite quarry of grandson Seth Walden, and crappie the same way, with an overnight soak in buttermilk.
“Just about anything would be good that way,” he quipped.
Cooking his goose — pun intended — is another matter.
“It’s pretty hard to find a way to make a goose taste good,” Walden said, “but here’s a recipe we use that works.”
After plucking the bird, Walden powders it with a mixture of salt, pepper and flour. Next he browns it in a cast iron skillet holding a quarter to three-eighths of an inch of hot grease. The cavity then is filled with a stuffing made of half an onion, half a jalapeno pepper and enough celery — all ingredients are chopped into small pieces — to fill the bird.
After removing the goose from the skillet, Walden adds a water-thin mixture of milk and flour to make a gravy that is used to baste the goose frequently while it bakes in a 325-degree oven for three hours or so.
Sliced goose is served over wild rice with ladled gravy, which thickens while the goose cooks.
A variation for pheasant came from Grace White, whose husband, Bud, and son, Dick, owned the Chevrolet dealership in Iola years ago.
“Grace’s pressed pheasant loaf is made with one large pheasant, three stalks of cut-up celery, half a chopped onion, a clove of minced garlic and a package of plain Knox gelatin,” Walden said.
Boil a large pheasant (a chicken may be substituted) with celery, onion and garlic until it drops off the bones. After the bird cools, remove meat from the bones. Soften the gelatin in a little cold water. Boil down the broth until reduced to about one cup. Cool and skim fat. Warm the gelatin in the broth and add salt and pepper. Mix in the pheasant, after cutting it into small pieces. Put in a glass pan, form into a loaf, chill and then slice and serve with saltine crackers.
WALDEN doesn’t remember when he wasn’t eager for hunting season to arrive.
“I grew up hunting quail, just like most other kids in Iola then,” he said. “My dad (Andy Walden) took me and I remember he had one of the first bird dogs in town. Even though back then there were so many quail you really didn’t need a dog.”
He also remembers his first successful pheasant hunt, at age 13, as well as when he and friends — he mentioned Wayne Ryherd — would go after rabbits anytime snow fell.
Squirrel hunting was about the only form of the sport he shied from.
“I’ve no sense of direction and I always was fearful of getting back in the middle of a timber by myself,” Walden said.
In more recent years deer hunting has become a favorite, along with turkey, and he takes advantage of land he owns, not only to hunt but also “just to enjoy wildlife. There’s not much of anything better than sitting and watching animals.”
When sons Bill and Shawn came along he introduced them to the outdoors, and now is eager to take grandchildren afield.
“Seth is at KU and he calls just about every day to talk about hunting, particularly ducks,” Walden said.
He also points out a philosophical approach that he thinks is important for those who enjoy the sport.
“I like to take a trophy buck, but nothing I get ever goes to waste,” Walden said. “If we don’t eat it, then we make sure it goes to someone who will.”