Monday, November 19, 2007

Missouri: The Show Me State

WARNING: There are some rather graphic photos in today’s post, so if you are at all squeamish, I suggest you pass up reading this.

I’ve never been to Missouri before, but this past week I took my first trip. The trip coincided with the opening of deer season, which I wouldn’t have thought too much of, except my nephew Seth was taking his 13-year-old niece Naomi on her first deer hunt. They bought the camo gear, the orange vest, the Scent Off. They had already been through firearms safety class and had obtained their hunting permits. And off they went. Unfortunately, they did not have much luck. A buck did cross their path and Seth, being the good uncle he is, let Naomi take a shot. She missed. I was rather saddened that they came back home empty-handed. While my father and godfather were both hunters, I had never gone with either of them, never seen a deer gutted and skinned or a bird defeathered. Born and bred a city (or suburban) girl, these things were foreign to me. Yes, I have gathered eggs and had my own garden, but that is a far cry from raising your own cow or pig to fill the freezer or hunting your dinner and preparing it from scratch.

Fortunately, Seth went back out with his brother Jessie and they did have some luck. (They don’t have to go far, in fact they hunt on their own property in rural Neosho.) So Uncle Phil was called to help dress the deer and a half hour later Mr. B and I moseyed on over to Jessie and Angie’s house next door and experienced firsthand why Missouri is called the Show Me State. (I don’t think Mr. B was too thrilled to go, but he humored me.) The first photo here is of Jessie and Uncle Phil with the kill in the back of Jessie’s truck.

I was a bit disappointed that I got over there a bit too late and missed the initial gutting, but they kept out the wheelbarrow with the innards for me to see. Starting with the deer on the bed of the truck, Uncle Phil and Jessie had opened up the deer and taken out the internal organs, carefully removing the bladder (or as Naomi so delicately put it, the pee sac), so as not to spoil the meat and stink up the joint. I am ashamed to say that I had not brought my camera with me to Missouri, so had to borrow one to take these pictures. Because it was nighttime and there was little but the garage light, the little digital camera took photos that turned out rather dark. (In all fairness, I was in a hurry to take pictures and did not acquaint myself with the camera, which possibly could have been set to take better photos.) Brilliant Daughter came to my rescue and was able to enlighten me on the finer points of lighting levels in Photoshop Elements so all that picture taking wasn’t all for naught.

Once the insides had been removed, Phil skinned the back legs to make the deer ready to hang. There is a very simple hanger-like contraption that got hung up by a rope from the rafters of the garage. The deer gets hung on this, with the space between the two lower leg bones serving as the contact point for the hanger ends. This took some fancy maneuvering with Phil’s friend Okie (yes, that is his real nickname and what everyone called him) having to climb up Phil to reach the rafters and then had to hang himself upside down to do all the knots. I was so intrigued by the process that I forgot to take pictures. (Apparently a ladder would have made this step simple, but one was not available at the time.)

Once the deer was hung, the skinning process began. Right about now you are wondering why I am even doing this, right? Well, I do think that we take for granted how we get our food. We can be so far removed from the process that many people forget that the filet mignon wrapped in bacon that they had for dinner last night was once a cow and a pig, alive and well on some farm in the Midwest. I have always had a small suburban garden and used to get a lot of food from my godfather’s garden. I go to the farmer’s market, and even know farmers, and I even try to eat locally when possible, but this is another step in understanding the process. And it is, most certainly, a foodie thing to do. So the skin is slowly worked off the deer (picture #2). Down and down they go until they get to the head of the deer. Once the whole pelt is peeled down that far, it’s time to remove the head. Uncle Phil teased Naomi about the sound it makes, right before he did it. (Not near as bad you might think.)

Once the pelt and head are removed, Phil went about trimming off any unnecessary membranes, etc. (Picture #3). He also found that the bullet had done some damage to one part of the deer, and had to remove that portion, as well as the bullet. There was some discussion on the best ammunition to use to kill a deer. Phil prefers something a bit smaller than what Jessie used and showed me the two so I could see the size difference. In fact everyone was very kind to the city girl asking stupid questions, taking flash photos, and generally just gawking at the proceedings.

Once Phil was done, he and Jessie cut off two tenderloins and another tender piece of meat (Pictured #4) to go into the fridge. The rest of the carcass will hang for a few days in the cool garage letting the blood drain out. Then Jessie will finish cutting it up for the freezer. We actually got to have a portion of it for dinner the next night and it was good eating.

All in all it was a very interesting experience. The odor was not particularly bad or pungent. The process was actually pretty quick, maybe an hour all together. It wasn’t terribly bloody or horrendous and it made me appreciate more where my food comes from. I won’t be taking up hunting anytime soon, but if I were stuck out in the wilderness and had to do this, at least I wouldn’t be a total idiot and would have a visual knowledge of what needed to be done. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen…..

A big thanks to Jessie, Angie, Cody, Naomi, Levi, Seth, Phil and Okie for their hospitality and friendliness. Hope to do it again sometime!


Kristina said...

I appreciate your honesty in learning about where your food comes from. There's a reason why people buy "beef" and "pork" in sanitized packages in our supermarkets. We don't want to have to think about the fact that in order to survive, others must die. Even eating vegan (and I greatly respect those who choose to do so) means that others (plants, animals and sometimes even humans) will die in order to feed us. It's a hard fact of life but it happens and I really respect you facing that so honestly.

Mrs. B said...

Thank you Kristina. While I saw this as a learning opportunity I wanted to share, others questioned the wisdom of blogging about it, fearing I would get a lot of negative comments and that it would be too much for people to stomach. And I still may hear some harsh criticism, but I am glad I was able to witness the event and I certainly don't regret writing about it. Too may people are isolated from these types of things, and yet for others, like Phil in the story, it is a regular part of their life.

eatingplum said...

Eek!! It's fascinating but disturbing. I imagine that's why some people become vegetarians. I remember seeing a lot of that sort of thing in Taiwan though, so maybe it's not so shocking to me.


Nan said...

I'm really glad you wrote this. (And that I just found your blog). Having grown up on a farm, this is all pretty familiar, but I'm constantly amazed at how distanced most people are from where food comes from. Seeing animals killed really makes you think about what we eat!