Posted by: acooksca | 04/16/2009

A Taste for Venison

Venison is a culinary term that can refer to the meat of wild pigs, elk and even hare.  But to me it means deer meat. Without venison we would often have had no meat on my early childhood dinner table. Hunting deer in the hills of California was early training in sitting quietly and looking keenly for movement in the brush. And for being grateful to the beautiful animal that yielded its dark, savory meat to nourish our small family.

Sue and me at the shack

Sue and me at the shack

In 1956 my father would take the train home from San Francisco to Palo Alto at the end of the work day. While daylight lasted, he and my mother worked on the house they were building. It was just competed when he lost his job. In the meantime, the neighborhood had “turned” and the sale of the house didn’t even re-coup the construction costs. They left for the cheapest alternative… renting a run-down hunters shack in the foothills near Yosemite.

My father got a job as a lumber grader in the town of Oakhurst. Lumber was a vital industry in mid-century California.  My mother watched my sister Susan (5 years) and me (3 years) and kept an eye for black bear and coyote which would occasionally skirt the property. She tried her hand at raising laying chickens, rabbits and tending a small vegetable garden on the cleared land around the shack. We had a dog that would bark furiously at rattle snakes. It seemed that every hot afternoon the alarm was raised and Susan and I would rush outdoors to see my mother aiming a .22 shotgun at a snake. In this rustic place my parents learned to hunt, not for sport but for sustenance.

One spring, my parents planted a small field of corn. My mother carefully hand watered the corn field, nurturing it into a stand of tall, beautiful stalks and ears. As the ears matured to harvest stage she noticed they were being munched during the night. The half eaten ears were far enough up the stalk to convince her that our corn field had become a buffet for deer.

One night my father shouldered his .30-30 hunting rifle trying to scare away the corn predator. He let a shot off into the blackness. Silence. He turned the car around and switched on the headlights. Unbelievably, he had bagged a corn fed buck. The kitchen lights remained on that night in the shack as packages of venison began to fill our small chest freezer.

We felt blessed by that deer. We couldn’t afford much meat at the country store in Ahwahnee, 10 miles up a dirt road on Highway 49.  My parents brought in only a couple of deer per year during the two years we lived in the shack but that meat was a vital source of protein to a young family. Venison is the first meat I remember.

Today I am no more likely to go hunting for deer than raise my own Thanksgiving turkey. Abundance surrounds us and I value the wildness of life that still inhabits the foothills of California. When I crave the deep, nurturing flavor of venison I place an order with D’Artagnan (see link below).

 D’Artagnan is a source for specialty meat, game and foie gras. They offer Cervina, the trade name for venison from

Venison Stew with Polenta

Venison Stew with Polenta

New Zealand. New Zealand supplies much of the world’s top grade farm-raised venison. Herds are allowed to roam pastures, grazing naturally, without steroids or growth hormones. It is nutritionally rich, low in fat and clean tasting.
Cervena is more tender than the wild California deer I grew up on and far easier to come by.

D’Artagnan was founded by Ariane Daguin, the daughter of a French Chef. On the web site she provides recipes for everything they sell. The image here uses her recipe for
Venison Daube a l’Armagnac, a rich stew with red wine and Armagnac. If you don’t have Armagnac (I didn’t) you can substitute brandy or a similar spirit, it should be just as wonderful.


D’Artagnan’s recipe for Venison Daube a l’Armagnac:




  1. […] Not that many years ago my family lived in a two room shack just a few miles up highway 49, see . Now my husband Bruce and I are sipping champagne by a stone fireplace and watching snow fall […]

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