by Brooke Chilvers
Just like old Ernest Prossnitz predicted, the minute we met, Janis and I became the best of friends.
Yet the esteemed safari agent would never have imagined his “two girls” would haul themselves up mountains to hunt tahr in New Zealand, and travel twice to Canada’s Northwest Territories to hunt muskox and wolf. And when Janis’s husband Frederick died, we even went together to Gunsite to learn how to unload a household full of hunting guns and weapons.
That was all a while ago, and we content ourselves now with traveling as a quartet, with our husbands. (Yes, she’s remarried now, to Chris.) A houseboat on the Canal du Midi. Sachertorten in Vienna. The wallpaper museum in Alsace.
When Covid cramped our style even more than our spouses, cancelling dreams of cooking classes in Oaxaca or Chiang Mai, Janis kicked in with jars of homemade relishes, wine jellies, seafood bisques, and their overflow of last season’s pheasants, now due for cooking.
My survival genes kicked in and it felt like we were stocking up for winter. For Janis and I learned early the importance of procuring food for winter when we hunted muskox with the unforgettable Fred Webb, whose marvelous books, Campfire Lies of a Canadian Hunting Guide and Home From the Hill, should be read by every North American outdoors … person.
Due to the deadly dangers of propane heaters in tents pitched on ice, Fred obliged each client to sleep – and cook – with their guide. Doug, an experienced international hunter, chose the fattest guide, later confessing he’d reasoned that Andy would have the best grub. And he was right. They feasted on slivers of salmon and smoked chops.
Janis was newly widowed, so we gave her the best looking guide, John. Unfortunately, all he provided for the table were boxes of supermarket cookies and peanut butter snacks.
My guide, Johnny, who made me laugh and barely had teeth. But he did offer a decent assortment of tinned goods that I filled out with fresh meat as soon as the first animal was down, sending steaming Dinty Moore Stew à la muskox from my tent to Janis’s. She replied with a snifter (in a thermos) of Old Crown. I wrote an article about our hunt called “Thelma & Louise Hunt Muskox.”
By the time we returned two years later for winter wolf, we were making Canadian whisky snow cones. Not to be fooled twice, this time Janis came equipped with boxes of Zatarain’s rice dinners, and we feasted on jambalaya and gumbo enhanced with unlabeled game. Dark chocolate, high-fiber energy bars, vitamin C tablets. We had it down! I named that article “Little Red Riding Hoods & the Big Bad Wolves ” after our fire-engine red Arctic hunting gear.
I’ve checked with this weekend’s guests. No allergies reported. No non-glutens or non-dairy. No vegans. I haven’t really told them we’re having pheasant, and you can’t pass it off as chicken, as I did once with a deboned rabbit in a foie gras sauce à la Troisgros.
I first google NYT Cooking and find a 1991 article bemoaning the loss of wild game-bird habitat, judging the taste of farm-raised pheasants, and discussing Brillat-Savarin’s preference for aging his birds to the edge of decomposition.
A piece from 1994 describes the joys and mechanics of making your own sauerkraut at home, followed by a solid recipe for Choucroute Garnie with Pheasant. It recommends diners start with raw oysters, drink a chilled gewurztraminer, and finish with a pear or apple tart.
I opt to make a version called Braised Pheasant with Sauerkraut Alsatian Style. Our county is a supermarket desert, but I track down two brands of decent-looking sauerkraut at Wegmans, 35 miles away. We start with martinis, drink a Columbia Valley dry Riesling, and finish with Schnapps and Holl’s dark chocolates from West Virginia.
In the end, I’m not crazy about the lauded raw probiotic sauerkraut in which I’ve invested a decent Sylvaner, altering the recipe only by adding an apple. The bird is chewy but tasty, and no one has chipped a tooth on overlooked shot.
There’s another kraut in the fridge – and more birds. Hopefully, I can conjure up another table of convives who will find adventure in a pheasant.
Brooke Chilvers regrets that her picky brother and his squeamish wife would likely not sit down at this table.