The Return of Venison

This lean, earthy meat-sustenance for our ancestors, fodder for gourmets-is back, and going mainstream.

It was a mid-'60s Sunday afternoon in the kitchen of a Tufts University frat house near Boston, and I was eager to impress my romantic interest of the moment. Today, the assumption that gender implies cooking prowess would be met with an icy scowl, but at the time, I took the challenge seriously—albeit with trepidation, since the deer meat in front of me looked different from any steak I'd seen. Choosing the straightforward approach, I washed off the hairs and fried it—and passed the test.As the deer hangs, enzymes within its flesh tenderize the meat by breaking down muscle fiber. A walk-in cooler is ideal for hanging game, but since few hunters have this convenience, they often use a garage or shed instead. We had neither, and as I calmly explained to my disappointed husband, lugging his prize up four flights of stairs to our apartment did not seem like an option. So he got back in the car and drove the carcass to a suburb of Boston—where he was able to hang it in a barn owned by a hunter friend of ours. Over the next few days, while the meat aged and tenderized, I made a trip to the library to do some research.

Since my husband brought home that first deer, we've left Boston for rural New Hampshire ourselves. We go hunting for deer every year now and have taught our five children how to track the animals, as well as the proper way to clean, hang, and butcher the meat. Deer hunting has become a rite of the season, and a link to what nourishes us—a basic self-sufficiency that is, for the most part, lost to modern civilization.