Venison overload? Canning and jerky-making great options

As much as I enjoy venison and the benefits that come with a full freezer following a successful deer season, I have to admit that the time comes when a little variety is appreciated.

My wife Adrienne and I are always looking for different things to do with venison, which has included the purchase of a meat tenderizer for making cube steaks. We also seek out alternative recipes such as venison fajitas.

On a recent winter weekend, however, we entered into more of a preservationist mode as we set aside some time for both making venison jerky and canning venison using a pressure cooker. Both are time-tested methods practiced by our ancestors. Like me, if your family history extends from a rural background, it’s likely that your parents, or at least your grandparents, practiced one or both of these methods on a regular basis.

Canning, especially, was simply part of everyday living. You grew your vegetables, raised your beef and poultry and preserved much or all of it through the canning process. Once the harvest was secured in a canning jar it was shelved in the cellar and available for later consumption.

Our hunting group, the Iron Sight Gang, always butchers and processes the deer we take each season. Since we hunt as a party, we split everything evenly among the households in our group, and there’s always a big pile of so-called scrap, stew or grind meat to be sorted through.

Adrienne and I have done our share of canning, and although we let it slip a few years, this year we vowed to get back at it with the venison. So last fall, when vacuum-sealing the cube steaks and backstraps, I set aside large portions of the scrap meat to be canned at a later time. Sure, I ground up some burger and packaged some up for a pot or two of stew, but after a few deer we had all of this we needed, especially considering there’s just Adrienne and me in our household.

Prior to a winter weekend, I took from our freezer about 20 pounds of this venison and set aside about half of it for canning. I took care of filling the jars, which were mostly pint- and half-pint size for us, while Adrienne got the pressure cooker going. In less than a couple of hours we had eight jars of canned venison. We’ll keep some for ourselves but will also ship some off to friends and family from out of the area who will really appreciate it.

And what of that other half of meat? Well, we ground that up a few days prior to the weekend, mixed in some jerky seasoning and let it cure. Using a jerky shooter and a food dehydrator we made three batches of venison jerky, which we’ll enjoy for months to come.

There are thousands of jerky recipes out there and we all have our preference. We like ours on the sweet side. As for canning, we simply added a bit of salt, pepper and garlic before we sealed the lids. This all turned out to be a great way to pass some time on a quiet winter weekend while making the most of the fall deer harvest.

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