The Deer Hunter
Stan the Man informs me he’s getting off up the bush. Leaving tomorrow. Not sure how long it’ll take. He’s MAD: it’s freezing cold, damp and miserable here; what’s it gonna be like in the depths of wherever-it-is, the Kaimanawas or somewhere equally ethnic and daft? It’ll be just him and his hunting rifle, as per usual. What if he falls down a ravine and breaks his leg? What, indeed?
I’m waiting, but he doesn’t tell me he’s after “pig,” singular. Or possibly generic? Whichever, it is always the singular when they’re gonna kill them—sorry, it.
“Um, yeah—righto.” I’m still waiting but nothing more is forthcoming. “Um, you mean you’re going hunting, Stan?”
I get that macho grin. He’s not particularly good-looking—well, fairly manly, I suppose you’d say, looks a bit like Steve McQueen if you can imagine him twenty years on, poor guy: lost the pretty fair hair, lots of wrinkles. Still bloody fit, unquote. The macho grin doesn’t improve him—the top choppers are squareish, not too long, can’t stand horse-teeth on either sex, and the bottom ones are a bit irregular. Nevertheless it’s the sort of macho grin that’s guaranteed to turn the party of the second part, if female, to jelly.
“Might get after deer.”
Yeah, right. What this means, folks, is track them for hours, quite possibly days, through soaking wet, dense, precipitous, dark bush. Translation for those from the other side of the world: an impenetrable forest. The deer are vermin, of course, they’re not native to EnZed, so it’s all right to kill them, in fact it’s apparently doing the native forests a favour.
Um... technically I suppose the pigs are vermin, too: they’re not natives, New Zealand has no native warm-blooded animals—well, possibly a native rat, but I think it might actually be Polynesian—but the funny thing is, introduced though the pigs are, they don’t get called vermin by the macho men. Whether the ones he hunts are actually the ones known as “Captain Cookers” and said to have been introduced by Cook himself I don’t know and have never asked, ’cos if I do, ya know what? I’ll get the whole bit. And I don’t actually care. Why is it blokes always have to tell you?
Yeah, well, I’ll expect you when I see you, then, Stan. (Don’t say it.)
I haven’t bothered to ask if he’s got his rifle, because of course he’s got his rifle, it’s sitting snugly on the back seat of the car. Not in a proper case, no: if he’s on form, and when isn’t he, it’s loosely wrapped in a piece of old blanket, think that’s to stop it rolling on the floor, also to hide it from any prying eyes that might just peer into the car. I am not kidding. Half the time it’s in the car when he’s not even going hunting.
Isn’t that illegal? You may well ask. I have no idea.
A week later. He’s ba-ack!
Funnily enough I don’t get the full report on the hunting trip, instead we go to bed right away. Well, yeah, he is that keen, and this makes up for a Helluva lot. I don’t mean the macho crap, in fact I’m bloody glad he’s not a limp, helpless, namby-pamby git like some I could mention—in fact like the vast majority, including the grate sportsman type, you bet: all they want is a Mummy to look after them for the rest of their lives.
Some time after that. Lies back, linking his arms behind his head. –Very pretty underarm hair, about the colour his hair must’ve been, a soft pale fawn.
“Got a deer.”
It’s actually very hard to respond to this sort of remark. “Oh, yes?” doesn’t seem right. Nor does “That right?” And “Did you?” is inane. On the other hand, I can’t congratulate him, that’d imply I was thinking the macho man might not manage to hit one!
“Oh, good,” I reply extra-feebly. “Um, did it take you long to, um, track it?”
“Had to find it, first.” There’s more but I don’t really understand. He’s not a dog, so he couldn’t have been doing it by smell. Find out where they are, or might be—ye-ah... Eventually he reveals in intelligible English that once he’d found it, he had to track it for a couple of days.
I must be gaping at him, because he explains, well, he clearly thinks it’s an explanation: ‘‘To get near enough to get a clear shot.”
Yeah—um, but he’d already tracked it, hadn’t he? Feebly I venture: “No, um, you wouldn’t want to just wound it, of course.”
Now, to the distaff side, this seems a totally reasonable, indeed understanding remark. But, it was actually the wrong thing to say, folks! Quite an insult, really. He doesn’t actually say “Of course I wouldn’t just wound it, you hen!” but it’s there in his tone, you betcha. Okay, bad mark, Katy.
Uh—keeping downwind of it, uh-huh... Oh! Right! “I see! Otherwise it’d smell you!”
Why this remark, which frankly to the distaff side seems totally inane, pleases the macho man, do not ask. But it does: he corrects my phraseology pleasedly to: “Scent me—yeah.” And launches into further... Uh-huh. Tracked it for hours and hours and hours through soaking wet, dense, precipitous, dark bush, is wot. Reading between the lines, that is, he’s not actually admitting it.
“I’ll come over on Sunday and we’ll have venison stew,” he promises.
Er... not out of my kitchen we won’t, mate.
“Bring a bottle of decent red, too,” he decides, getting out of bed.
That seems to be that. One can only wait and see what eventuates.
Okay, he’s cooked it at home—great.
I’m not asking what, if anything, the wife thought of this. According to him they don’t speak, they’ve got separate bedrooms, and he makes all his own meals. Also according to him he won’t leave her because of the kids. You’d think they were aged between about five and ten, but no, the girls, that he’s always fussing over, have all left home—well, shacked up with blokes is the technical term, here—including the one that took off to live with the boyfriend when she was only sixteen but, mind you, is bright enough to get a scholarship to university if she wanted to (isn’t the proof of the pudding supposed to be in the eating?), plus and, has psychological problems. Gee, does she? How surprising: with parents that get on that well! The son’s just left school and is still living at home. Periodically one or other of the daughters is also at home, having busted up with the current—You goddit. Doting Daddy apparently cooks for them, too. Well, okay, Stan, actually I don’t wanna be a wee wifey, let alone have anything to do with your horribly spoilt kids—the son sounds okay but the daughters are all real little madams. Do anything at all, up to and including drugs, yep, safe in the knowledge that Daddy’ll come galloping to the rescue. He is that sort, yeah: knight in shining armour. Unfortunately for him the wife isn’t the sort that wants or needs that and has, apparently, more than let him know it.
Plus and, this is a strong factor in his decision not to upset the marital boat, he is twenty-four years older than me. Yeah, okay, it happens. And you don’t ask a bloke how old he is before you leap into bed with him at a bloody conference that you only went to because your misguided tutor pushed you— Forget it. I’m not the domestic type, and I do know by now it’s written on my forehead and they can read it—yep.
We’re gonna have the venison with this bottle of red—help, it’s actually a French red, I better like it—and have I got any potatoes? Fortunately, yes. Okay, he’ll mash them. If he says so. Vegetables? Um, I think I might have some carrots. Well, heck, when somebody else says they’ll bring the dinner— Yeah. (Don’t say any of it: just hunt frantically for carrots.) Okay, I can peel the carrots while he does the potatoes and carefully warms the venison stew.
Thinks: Or I could just go into the front room and watch that TV programme I was gonna watch this evening, before he rearranged my schedule for me...
He’s finished peeling the potatoes and puts them on, so now the carrots— Oops, not finished. Doesn’t tell me I’m a dreamer, just competently takes over.
“Why don’t you go and sit down? Make us both a drink.”
Good idea, I can do that!
On second thoughts... “There isn’t any gin.”
“Whisky’ll do,” he says generously.
Yes, it would, in fact I’d rather have whisky than gin except on a hot day, when a very cold gin and tonic with loads of ice just hits the spot, but funnily enough there isn’t any, because I drank the last of it last week when you were somewhere in the depths of the temple, I mean bush. (Don’t say any of it.) “There’s sherry. Amontillado?”
“That’ll do!” Stan agrees happily.
It ought to, it cost a bomb. I don’t point this out: there was nothing forcing me to buy it, except that the wholesalers had it in—real Spanish sherry, well-known English shipper—and I hate bad Antipodean sherry. –That’s redundant, all Antipodean sherry is bad. And I’m just very, very grateful that he’s got such an equable temperament and, unlike some males I could name, isn’t going into a sulk because he isn’t being offered what he wanted. Or, put it like this: he’s an adult, whereas most of them never grow up, do they?
So I pour us both a sherry. He pats my bum and tells me to go and sit down.
Right, I’m up for that! ...Blow, that programme isn’t on after all, must’ve got the day wrong. Which gives me time to think, is the wife the sort that can’t let the hubby do a thing but always has to, take your pick, do it first, do it better or do it because it’s her preserve? Perhaps not in the kitchen, though, if he cooks. Or maybe that was the trouble, perhaps he muscled in on her territory and she couldn’t stand it? Well, who knows, they’ve been together for years, any number of things could have gone wrong. Well, he likes sex and she doesn’t, that’d sour any marriage, eh? She refused to do it any more after she had the last of them. No: I tell a lie: I think he said he got to do it, um, four times after that? This is the son, the one that’s just left school—work it out. It wasn’t total abstinence on his part, there was a lady that he very nearly—Mm. Whether she wanted the whole bit, full-blown domesticity with the gold ring on the finger, and held out for it, or he confessed all to the wife and there was a terrific row, which she won, I don’t know. Well, poor old Stan.
Personally I quite enjoy cooking, but he’s a miles better cook than me, I’d much rather he cooked, actually. I don’t need to undertake a load of household tasks in order to reinforce my selfhood, thanks, oh, Grate Middle Classes.
“Penny for them.”
Shit! I’ve jumped ten feet where I sit. “Nothing, really. Well, I was wondering if you marinated the venison first?” –Not entirely a lie, I was sort of thinking that at the same time, with part of my mind, y’know?
Terrifically pleased, sits down beside me, puts an arm round me and proceeds to tell me...
Yeah. Well, I’ve sort of got it, fighting my way through the macho off-handedness. It’s really just like a beef stew done in red wine. If you added some mushies you could call it Chasseur! (Don’t say it: I might get the giggles, and you never know, he might not see the funny side and get his feelings hurt.)
So we have it. Yep, tastes very like a beef stew done in red wine. Venison is a drier meat than beef, very lean—zat so? This is lean, all right, but it isn’t dry, how could it be, it’s been soaked in wine for days and then simmered in the stuff slowly for ages.
Grins at me over it. “Nobbad, eh?”
What can ya say? It tastes just like beef? “Yes, it’s really great, Stan.”
Well, it is. A very, very nice dark red meat stew. Good big chunks of meat in it. You don’t have to get hold of some venison, or, as Robin McDouall, poor deprived Pommy, puts it in his Cookery Book for the Greedy, “own a mountain” to make it: you can produce something very like it with a lean cut of beef. It’s more or less a Beef Bourguignonne recipe, in fact. That is, if you don’t know that, according to my ancient copy of Le Répertoire de la cuisine, that should be casseroled in the oven. All the modern versions stew it on the stove top. I’ve only found one recipe that uses the classic approach and that’s an early one of Graham Kerr’s—he learned his trade in the sort of kitchen that produced the Répertoire. It’s very, very long. A simpler one will do.
Of course, if you want the Word on venison you could go back to Isabella Beeton. Most English cookery books, and hers is not an exception, assume that you want to roast a haunch, and give other recipes, if at all, as a sort of afterthought. Here’s her recipe for a sort of stew—I think these days we’d call it a pot roast!
1051. INGREDIENTS.—A shoulder of venison, a few slices of mutton fat, 2 glasses of port wine, pepper and allspice to taste, 1-1/2 pint of weak stock or gravy, 1/2 teaspoonful of whole pepper, 1/2 teaspoonful of whole allspice.
Mode.—Hang the venison till tender; take out the bone, flatten the meat with a rolling-pin, and place over it a few slices of mutton fat, which have been previously soaked for 2 or 3 hours in port wine; sprinkle these with a little fine allspice and pepper, roll the meat up, and bind and tie it securely. Put it into a stewpan with the bone and the above proportion of weak stock or gravy, whole allspice, black pepper, and port wine; cover the lid down closely, and simmer, very gently, from 3-1/2 to 4 hours. When quite tender, take off the tape, and dish the meat; strain the gravy over it, and send it to table with red-currant jelly. Unless the joint is very fat, the above is the best mode of cooking it.
Time.—3-1/2 to 4 hours. Average cost, 1s. 4d. to 1s. 6d. per lb. Sufficient for 10 or 12 persons. Seasonable.—Buck venison, from June to Michaelmas; doe venison, from November to the end of January.
During the century that follows, the English writers seems to follow in her wake, usually advising port with venison, done one way or another, and often redcurrant jelly as well. In those days the meat would be well hung, of course.
Mrs Beeton’s “Roast Haunch of Venison”
This is more or less Stan the Man’s recipe. It’ll work with beef.
Beef or Venison Stew
1 kg lean stewing beef or venison, cut in fairly large chunks
2 rashers bacon, diced; 2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed; 1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf; 2 tablespoons flour
olive oil; salt and pepper
8 large mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in butter
1/4 cup cognac
For the marinade:
2 cups (about 450 ml) red wine; 1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced; 1 good sprig thyme
1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns; 1 bay leaf
1. Marinate the meat at least overnight; if using venison longer if possible; turning occasionally.
2. Drain meat and dry thoroughly.
3. Strain marinade into a small saucepan, boil fiercely until partly reduced.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan and brown the bacon. Remove.
5. Add 2 sliced onions and fry until lightly browned; put aside.
6. Brown the meat a few pieces at a time in the hot oil.
7. Put browned meat, bacon and onions back into the saucepan, sprinkle with the flour and stir till it is absorbed.
8. Add brandy, if using, otherwise pour a little marinade into pan, and while it bubbles scrape meat juices with it from bottom and stir in.
9. Add reduced marinade with 2 cloves garlic, crushed, and new sprig of thyme and bay leaf.
10. Cover saucepan tightly and simmer slowly for 2-3 hours.
11. Add sautéed mushrooms if using, remove thyme & bay leaf, cover and cook for 1/2 hour more.
12. If the sauce seems too thin, thicken it with a little beurre manié (flour and butter rubbed together), stirred well in.
Tastes even better if kept overnight in the fridge and gently reheated.
My only addition is a rounded teaspoonful of sugar, which I always use with a red wine sauce if it doesn’t have brandy in it. It just seems to make it slightly more mellow.
Later in the week. It’s still freezing cold, damp and miserable.
“I’ll be off overseas soon.”
What? The stunned silence not to say the open-mouthed gaping, must have penetrated, because he reminds me that he has told me he’s due for sabbatical leave. Uh—yeah, but it’s not even Christmas! I mean, his term hasn’t ended. He reminds me that the academic year starts in September in France.
Uh—oh, yes, la rentrée. “So, um,”—swallow—“when do you leave, Stan?”
End of the week. Friday.
The day after tomorrow?
I’m still gaping. Cheerily he assures me that it might take him a while to get settled, but he’ll write when he does.
Yeah, sure. A whole year’s relationship by letter. Lovely.
That’s that, then. I don’t know if I can even last out that long—and what if he meets someone else over there? The wife isn’t going: no, well, more fool her.
He gives me a big hug and kiss, and goes.
Funnily enough it’s still freezing cold, damp and miserable. In fact it sounds as if it’s pouring, again. Why did I ever uproot myself and come back to this gloomy, wet, and very, very chilly Hell hole?
Two guesses? Right, ya will only need one.
When I met Stan the Man at that bloody Lang. & Ling. conference I was just finishing 3 years of post-grad study in French literature, unsupervised by my so-called tutor; what the man was actually paid for I never discovered, but he certainly never read a word I wrote. And as he didn’t write down any instructions for my year in France (when I stayed with Gégé), the professor was very annoyed indeed to discover when I got back that I hadn’t signed on with this, that or the other over there... Of course nobody came to my conference paper, the audience numbered three and they all looked asleep.
Wellington was where Stan was lecturing. His subject is French, but he’s a mediaevalist, we’ve got very little in common on that level, I can barely stagger through the Chanson de Roland with a crib. At that period I was in Auckland, but my scholarship had finished and after a couple of episodes of him driving 650-odd K at breakneck speed from B to A, arriving dead keen at midnight for the weekend, I decided to looked for a library job down there. Which I had been trained for, yes: when I was an undergrad I had a Govt. studentship for several years, which had to be repaid in kind, after the training. A year’s enforced librarianship training after your degree with a roomful of people that couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation, in classes at a level aimed at— Yeah. All very nice people, of course, and very earnest indeed about their chosen profession. Gee, what proportion of the population actually reads? Most of them call magazines “books.” Well, in large parts of Auckland they do, for sure!
Later still. It’s freezing cold, damp and miserable.
“Have you heard from Stan?” my American friend Susie asks sympathetically. –Of course she knows; my siblings also know: what’s the point of hiding stuff from your own generation? Naturally the parents and the aunties don’t know, I may be infatuated but I haven’t entirely lost it.
Flatly I report: “Yes. He’s found a flat in Paris. It’s just round the corner from Gégé’s old flat.”
She gulps, poor thing.
Yeah. That about says it all, really.