When I was a boy growing up in the Smokies I often heard adults use the phrase “as slow as Christmas.” Of course they referred to the impatience of youngsters awaiting the arrival of the grand day, although I must say that my mother, who had little Christmas cheer as a girl, was at least as enthusiastic and “can’t wait” as any kid. Dad didn’t have much in the way of gifts as a boy either, but thanks perhaps to his stoic nature and reluctance to show much emotion, he never showed anything approaching the eagerness of Mom and children.
I mention the phrase and the memories it evokes simply because I’ve been as slow as Christmas in getting this newsletter done. I really don’t have any excuses other than that it’s deer season, I’ve had a welcome welter of article assignments due, I’m seemingly slower and less productive than once was the case, a couple of small game hunts have gobbled up full days, my daily visits to Ann (I always try to go at dinner or supper in order to feed her and thereby know she’s eaten well at least for that meal) take considerable time, I’ve been busy on a couple of projects long overdue for attention, deaths of dear friends and a family member, and more. Come to think of it, I guess I just enumerated a whole bunch of excuses, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m late, late, late. Hopefully there will be a few words somewhere in the material which follows that will, at least in small measure, excuse my laggardliness.
I’ll continue the autobiographical coverage of my evolution as a writer, although this time around I’m keeping it short and seasonally focused.
THE FORMATIVE YEARS—PART 3
Up until my graduation from high school, and to a slightly lesser degree completion of undergraduate studies, the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons loomed large in my development as a writer. These weren’t times when I actually wrote but year after year I was accumulating experience and material which would eventually stand me in good stead.
Thanksgiving meant the opening of rabbit and bird seasons, and by that time any squirrels within walking distance of home were either history or else so paranoid dealing with them was a highly problematic proposition. The opportunity to listen to some beagle music, watch the wonder of a covey rise, or just set out on my own on an old-fashioned mixed bag hunt was at hand. Throughout the holidays I was afield almost daily, with Sundays and strictures from Dad about not wearing our beagles down to a frazzle being about the only stopgaps.
For me small game was a training ground, the foundation upon which my entire career as a hunter and hunting writer has been built, and a never-ending joy. Over the decades since those halcyon years of youth and young manhood, I’ve written literally hundreds of magazine and newspaper stories on small game. Beyond that, whatever skills I have as a deer or turkey hunter derive in large measure from those wonderful hours spent dealing with squirrels, rabbits, quail, and grouse.
Dad was an integral part of much of the hunting, although he also allowed me to venture out on my own from the age of 12. I didn’t actually hunt with Grandpa Joe all that much, but mere mention of a day of rabbit hunting or a tale of having flushed grouse (he called them partridges) would put his tale telling into overdrive. Little did I realize that his stories were training me as a storyteller, although most of my efforts on that front would eventually be in print as opposed to the spoken word.
Mine was a blessed boyhood, one that had all the vital elements of connection to the natural world so important to my eventual emergence as a writer. Maybe it’s possible to do a first-rate job of writing on the outdoors with little actual knowledge of or exposure to the subject at hand, but to my way of thinking the “been there, done that” nature of hands-on experience lends authenticity and credibility to hunting or fishing stories. I know that any time I’m writing about something with which I have little familiarity I’m concerned, and in truth I’ve generally avoided such assignments over the years. Or, to put it another way, I can almost always detect the fact that a writer knows little of his subject matter, and more often than not that knowledge is a turn off for me. To put it crudely, I’m neither interested in nor inclined to read those endeavoring to baffle me with bullshit.
Next month’s newsletter will continue this ongoing exercise in autobiography, but I want to leave with a message. Savor the experience, whatever its nature, and do yourself and posterity a favor by taking kids hunting or fishing. As a boy I was fortunate beyond measure to have a father who was an avid sportsmen, a paternal grandfather who readily shared his love of the outdoors, and a whole bunch of adult mentors who tolerated my presence even as they taught me things I needed to know (and occasionally were examples of behavior patterns I knew should be avoided). I was blessed.
This month, in recognition of the Christmas season I’m offering book specials galore. They range from package deals to significant reductions on individual books and encompass a wide variety of reading material.
SPECIAL #1—For the month of December only, take 10 percent off the list price of any book in the lengthy Africana list. If your purchase totals more than $100, take 15% off AND I’ll pay the shipping.
SPECIAL #2—Again for December only, the same offer as SPECIAL #1 is available for anything on the Asia list.
SPECIAL #3—For the month of December only, take 15% off any listed book that I wrote or edited. Again, if your purchase totals more than $100, I’ll pay the shipping.
SPECIAL #4—I’m offering the quintet of Archibald Rutledge books I’ve edited and compile (Hunting & Home in the Southern Heartland; Tales of Whitetails; America’s Greatest Game Bird,; Bird Dog Days, Wingshooting Ways; and Carolina Christmas), a total retail value of $150, for $120 AND I’ll pay the shipping. Of course I’ll sign and inscribe the books per your wishes as well.
SPECIAL #5—Any book on the lists of Amwell Press, Premier Press, or The African Collection (both trade and deluxe editions) is discounted 10% for the month of December only.
SPECIAL #6—Cookbooks—For December only any cookbook Ann and I wrote or edited is available at a 20% discount.
SPECIAL #7—The Greatest Quail Hunting Book Ever. This 350+ page anthology which I edited contains more than three dozen great quail tales and short stories, fine art work, a bibliographical essay, notes on the contributors, and more. Retails for $35 but for December only $27.50 postpaid.
After a hectic October, the past few weeks have been comparatively quiet. I’m something of a homebody by nature, comfortable curled up with a good book, working away in the yard, or sitting in the woods quietly contemplating while hoping a nice buck or a fat doe will wander by. I did make one interesting and delightful trip this month to the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) in Middleburg, Virginia. I was there to give a chat session type talk to a small group of avid supporters of the NSLM in connection with an upland game weekend they were enjoying as a fundraiser for this truly special place. A few years back I had a research fellowship at the NSLM connected with my ongoing work on the life and literary legacy of Archibald Rutledge, and in my comments I talked about my background and what led me to a writing career, shared some anecdotes from my beloved Great Smokies’ boyhood, discussed my experiences as a Fellow, and shared some thoughts on Rutledge. It was a real joy to meet the folks in attendance, sign some books, and enjoy a delightful evening that included tours of the library’s special collections and a display on the horse in ancient Greek art at the adjacent museum.
Otherwise I’ve enjoyed one outing for quail, been saddened by the death of a longtime hunting buddy as well as those of two residents at the nursing home where my wife now resides who had become special friends, lost a first cousin, and spent a good bit of fruitless time in deer stands. The word “fruitless,” incidentally, applies only to lack of success on the hunting side of the equation. Anytime I can spend a few hours in quite thought while listening to and watching scurrying squirrels, being a part of a new day as night gives way to light, and simply being in a setting far removed from life’s daily burdens is a special time. That closeness to the good earth and the peace it brings is a soothing and sustaining factor in my life.
I enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving at the new home of my daughter and her family even as I realize, thanks to things such as the small lot on which their big and really nice home is situated, how profoundly (and to a considerable degree willfully) ignorant I am of modern technology, that I have a general outlook which can only be described as a country boy living to no small degree in a world and with a world view that is rapidly vanishing, and that I’m aging and something of an anachronism. That’s fine, I’ll wear being old-fashioned, loving to read real books rather than e-books, and having a deep attachment to the natural world along with an aversion to technology as my personal badges of honor.
On the work front I’ve complete a pair of pieces for Carolina Mountain Life, another profile (of Joseph S. Hall) for Smoky Mountain Living, a “close to my heart” essay on the potential squirrel hunting has to shape a youthful sportsman for South Carolina Wildlife, and some work for Quail Forever magazine. Add to that a couple of pieces for the daily blog, “Sporting Classics Daily,” my regular book column for Sporting Classics magazine, and newspaper work and I guess I haven’t been quite as non-productive as it feels like. I guess being behind with this newsletter has just given me the work ethic heebie jeebies.
Finally, if you are in desperate need of some sleep and are seeking an antidote for insomnia, I’ve got just the ticket. Several weeks back I spoke at Western Carolina University on the reprinting of Sam Hunnicutt’s classic book, Twenty Years Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains. The folks there recorded the presentation and if you will Google “The Legacy of a Mountain Man” or Jim Casada + You Tube you can listen to my talk. As is typical I ramble a bit, use no notes whatsoever, indulge in all sorts of asides from mentioning long ago classmates who were in the audience to giving my rendition of the eight-note call of a barred owl, and more, but the overriding thrust of the talk is my view of Sam the mountain man.
All of this month’s recipes are, in a sense, a trek back into the past. Quail were plentiful when I was a boy and young man. By far the most memorable meal I ever ate with my in-laws came in the aftermath of a highly successful quail hunt with my father-in-law. I think it fair to say that up until that time he had little use for me, and certainly that was true of my mother-in-law. They figured (rightly in many ways) that their only child had married far beneath her. However, after a day of hunting the farm of a friend of his, one where we seemed to find another covey every half hour, followed by a fine quail supper with biscuits, gravy, and all the fixin’s, his view changed quite a bit. I might note that it moderated even more when, a few months later, I caught a whopping stringer of bedding bluegills with a fly rod and popping bugs.
Of course Mom fixed quail anytime we killed them, usually as a by-product of running into a few coveys while rabbit hunting, and to this day I continue to think quail are about the finest fixin’s a body could want. The recipes which follow vary appreciably, but I’ll acknowledge up front that fried quail, all health considerations aside, are my unqualified favorite.
EXTRA CRISPY QUAIL
For the ultimate in delicious, crunchy crispness pluck your quail. It’s a tedious process but for many the end result is worth it. Even if you skin ‘em though, there’s no denying their scrumptiousness.
Pat individual quail dry with paper towels and use meat scissors to cut part way up the breast so it will lie flat and cook more evenly. Use a Zip-loc or plastic bag to coat the birds thoroughly with flour. Then brush each bird with an egg wash and repeat the flouring process. In effect you are getting two layers of flour. Fry in piping hot oil in a deep cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven (do not put birds in until your oil is hot and do not use too much oil). Cook until thoroughly browned, turning carefully one time with kitchen tongs. When done, remove from pan and place atop paper towels to remove any surplus oil.
Keep the quail warm while using the drippings to make milk gravy. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes and a green salad or favorite green vegetable. Honesty compels me to confess I’ll devour three of these without a second thought.
6 whole quail, thoroughly cleaned
1 stick butter (the real thing)
¼ cup olive oil
2 (10-ounce) cans chicken with rice soup
½ cup cooking sherry
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown the quail in a mixture of butter and olive oil in a skillet. Arrange the browned birds in a baking dish. Pour the soup and sherry into the pan drippings in the skillet. Bring to a boil and pour over the quail. Cover and bake for an hour. Serve with rice and curried fruit.
MARINATED QUAIL ON THE GRILL
Combine equal parts of bourbon and apricot jam, seasoning with salt and pepper, for a marinade. Split the quail down the back and soak in the marinade in the refrigerator for three to four hours. Prepare the grill and cook the quail, inside downward, until well browned. Turn and brown the other side.
1 (2 ½ ounce) package chopped, pressed, cooked beef
1 cup sour cream
1 (10 ¾ ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
Line a greased, shallow one-quart baking dish with chopped beef. Place quail on top of beef. In mixing bowl, combine sour cream and soup; pour over birds, Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for an hour or until the birds are tender. If you wish you can also wrap the quail in slices of beef secured with a toothpick.
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
1/8 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup chopped sweet onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon dried thyme (or ½ teaspoon fresh thyme)
1 cup apple juice
Mix flour, salt, and paprika; lightly flour quail. Melt butter in a cast iron frying pan and brown quail. Push quail to one side of pan. Add onion and sauté until tender (add butter if needed). Add parsley, thyme, and apple juice. Stir to mix well and spoon juice over quail while bringing all to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and slowly simmer until quail are tender (about an hour). Serve with stewed apples and rice as side dishes.
QUAIL WITH CURRANT SAUCE
½ stick butter
4 quail, cut into serving pieces
½ cup currant jelly
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon brandy or to taste
Melt butter in a heavy skillet, making sure you don’t get the pan too hot. Brown quail slowly. Remove birds and add currant jelly, stirring well while jelly melts. Season with salt. Return quail to pan and baste with sauce. Cover and simmer slowly until the quail are tender. Stir brandy into sauce until just heated and serve immediately.