Crisp, frosty air during a morning hike; fresh herbs sprinkled over a pan seared breast; and laughs of gathered friend and a smokey wood stove warming the night. Since my journey started, I’ve learned to associate gardening, cooking, and hunting with friends and family. The perfect trio to bring everyone together. Whether or not the activities were successful didn’t matter, it was the memories produced that made me love piecing everyday parts of my life into one meal.
Growing up on a small Maine Coast hobby farm and greenhouse business, I was first introduced to the whole process of gardening, where it still is a huge part of my family’s life. Gardening opens you to a world of amazing experiences and flavors. Some of my favorite plants by far are herbs and their simplistic nature allows them to grow easily in windowsills when square-footage is lacking. I love the assortment of species that have been cultivated to turn simple dishes into mouth-watering meals, let alone leave my house smelling like home!
Locavore, a term unfamiliar by name, but certainly felt by most, is what I would consider the bridge to starting my path to hunting. The term means individuals selecting a life where the food they eat comes from local sources, whether it be grown or harvested via hunting. My background in gardening didn’t save me while I worked as a wildlife research technician. It was easy to say the big bucks weren’t being brought in (no pun intended). Frugality with grocery bills made commercially raised meats seem the best option until a few co-workers made a communal meal with wild game meat, took me shooting clays and offered a spare gun for my first pheasant hunt. Suddenly the idea that I could harvest local meat products, for a fairly cheap price, seemed do-able and an adventure to boot! I shot my first turkey in the spring of 2014 and was hooked.
I won’t lie, I had my doubts about certain types of wild game meats, I’d heard how ‘duck tastes like liver’, and venison could be ‘so gamey’, but it took very little experimentation to switch my favorite meals to include wild game. My background with gardening and interest in herbs only made taste testing more exciting. Personally, I think ring-necked pheasant is probably the easiest meats to cook and besides being having a firmer texture, I can’t tell much of a taste difference from chicken. For those who cringe a little at tasting some gameness in wild meat, I can attest that adding a little sauce does wonder to the meal. Especially with this creamy Pheasant Pesto Pasta recipe!
This recipe was one of the easiest to alter, especially for new hunters or wild game cooks. I love cooking for people and think the first time I made Pheasant Pesto Pasta was on a pheasant research project for my coworkers. Despite initial hesitation over the wild game meat, the ‘yucky green’ concoction was soon gobbled up by all! Not many can withstand the smell of this bubbling on the stove! I think the best part about this meal is it is so versatile so that I use whatever’s on hand – turkey, quail, grouse – and wow I always get raving comments.
Every time I pull out a red onion, I am reminded of gardening with my dad. Slicing pheasant breasts recall thoughts of my German Shorthair on a perfect point. These sensory journeys while meal prepping wild game and gardened herbs make a savory blend easy for anyone to prepare and share with their loved ones. Locally sourcing food through gardening and harvesting wild game saves money and makes for a delectable meal with friends. What keeps me hunting is the knowledge of where my food came from and the amazing experiences with friends and family along the way plus – I get to create wonderful cooking memories at the end of the day!
Pheasant Pesto Pasta Recipe:
2 Pheasant Breasts (Other meat will work too: turkey, quail, or grouse)
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 small-medium onion, chopped
5-6 small mushrooms, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½-3/4 cup pesto sauce (store bought works but homemade yields best results)
1 – 10 oz can cream of mushroom soup
1 – 10 oz can cream of chicken soup
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 package medium-sized egg noodles