Joe flipped down the bail on the old-style canning jar, pulled the tab on the rubber seal, and lifted off the glass cover. Careful not to spill anything, he poured the contents into the hot frying pan, stirring slowly. “That’s the last jar of deer meat,” he said ruefully, setting the empty jar and cover in the sink. “Well, the season opens tomorrow,” I replied. “With any luck, one or the other of us should be able to hang up a buck before long. We’ll just have to take another batch of venison over and have Moira Glubb can it up for us.”
Those who have never experienced the taste of canned deer meat have missed out on one of the great delicacies of rural cuisine. Properly canned, venison makes its own gravy in the jar, needing only a little seasoned flour to thicken it before eating. Even the toughest sections of lower leg meat fall apart under the pressure of a fork and the steaming hot mixture, poured over bannock or fresh biscuits, is fit for a king’s table. The canned meat will last for years with no other attention than to keep it from freezing and from getting too hot.
For years, Moira Glubb had canned our year’s supply of deer meat in return for a plentiful supply to add to her own larder. Moira was an elderly Mooseleuk widow who lived alone in a small house on the outskirts of town. Between Social Security, sewing and selling patchwork quilts, and the wild fish and game provided by people like me and Joe, Moira managed to live fairly comfortably.
“I don’t think Moria’s gonna be able to do our cannin’ this year,” Joe said thoughtfully as he stirred the meat and gravy in the pan.
I stopped cutting gup bannock into our plates and looked at home. “Why not?”
“Heard they’d moved her into that new retirement home by the river. Seems she fell and banged ‘er hip a while back an’ her relatives down in Kittery figured she’d be better looked after in the home. I don’t ‘spect the folks that run the home will take too kindly to her takin’ over the kitchen out there to do her fall cannin’.”
Slowly, I began to set the table. Outside the cabin windows the wind had died and the temperature was starting to drop. It looked like tomorrow would be a great day for hunting deer. But the idea of Moira penned up in a retirement home and the prospect of facing the winter without an ample supply of canned meat cast a pall on my good mood.
The next morning was cold and still. Me and Joe separated north of town to hunt the piece of woods above Slocum Deadwater. As I moved along the low ground bordering a hardwood ridge, I came upon the fresh track of a young buck. Just the thing for good eating, I thought. It looked like the buck had been feeding in Hobe Jillpoke’s back pasture during the night. From the leisurely pace of the tracks and the direction of travel, I figured the deer was going to lay up on the south slope of Tanner Ridge where the warm rays of the rising sun would warm him in his slumber.
I immediately swung off to the south, downwind, and hurried along through the swampy growth to get ahead of the meandering deer. I came out in the thinning trees just east of the ridgeline and settled down to wait. Quietly, I checked the loads in the old .30-30 Winchester carbine I’d inherited from my father. The gun sported a narrow leather sling, a peep sight, and an uncanny habit of laying 170 grain Remington Core-Lokts right where I aimed.
It was a half-hour later when I caught a flicker of movement down-slope to my left. The buck, a fat forkhorn, worked slowly up the hill, taking full advantage of every bit of cover and stopping frequently to scent the breeze and watch his back trail. Using a hemlock branch for a rest, I waited until he paused a scant 40 yards away. Then I took careful aim and put my bullet right where the heck joins the head. The buck fell in its tracks.
I’d just finished field dressing the buck when Joe came sauntering down the slope. “Hear yore shot. Figured you must have connected. That’s a right fat little crotch horn. Be nice an’ tender. Looks like it’s fresh liver an’ onions for supper tonight.”
“Yeah, but it’s too bad we have to do our own canning this year. Maybe we can borrow some jars from Moira. Let’s go over and visit her after we get this buck hung.”
That afternoon it clouded up and was spitting snow as me and Joe walked into the reception area of the Mooseleuk Sunny Seniors retirement home. At our request to see Moira Glubb, someone disappeared down a long hall. Presently we heard a slow, clumping sound and Moira appeared in the doorway, leaning on a cane.
“Wanted to bring me down in one of them dang whellchairs. Be a cold day in the nether regions when I can’t get around on my own two feet, even if I do need a cane now and then! How you boys doing?”
“We’re doin’ fine, Moria. Heard you’d banged yer hip. How’s it comin?” Joe asked.
“Better every day, but it still pains me in this kind of weather. Then them nephews of mine down to Kittery used it for an excuse to stick me in here. Still, I guess they mean well. But the food here is atrocious. They feed you things like artichokes and curried rice. I’d be like to starve if I hadn’t snuck in a few jars of canned deer meat to keep body and soul together. Speaking of which, I’m almost out. Isn’t it about time you boys were bringing me some fresh meat to can?”
“Why, yes ma’am, it is,” I said. “Fact is, we got a fat young buck this morning, but we figured, what with you being in here and all, that you wouldn’t be able to do it.”
“No such thing! You get that meat cut up and then stop by my house and pick up my canner jars, and…”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.” We all turned to see a tall, thin-featured man standing in the doorway, a frown on his pale face. “We certainly can’t allow any “home canning” in this facility.”
“Who’re you?” Joe asked flatly.
“My name is Hokely Cornfield, and I am the manager of this establishment.” He turned to Moira with a condescending smile. “Now, Mrs. Glubb, you must understand. State and federal statutes prohibit us from serving meat that isn’t federally inspected.”
“Don’t want you serving my deer meat here,” Moira replied emphatically. “I just want to can my winter’s meat and a little for my friends here. Surely there’s room in that big shining kitchen back there. I mean, how much room does it take for those cooks to boil up a few pots of mush?”
Cornfield held up a hand. “I’m sorry, but it is out of the question. I can’t permit private use of the home’s facilities.”
As Joe was about to come out with an angry retort, a tall, pretty woman with short auburn hair came up to Cornfield with a worried look on her face. “Hokely, I’m worried,” she began. “The doctor just wrote out another prescription, but Peter doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”
“There, there dear. I’m sure the doctor knows what he’s doing.” Cornfield replied soothingly. “We’ll just have to be patient, and keep a close watch on the boy.” The couple moved off, conversing in low tones.
Moira watched them with concern. “Their son, Peter, is about eight years old,” she murmured. “He’s been sick for three or four days. Upset stomach, no appetite, low-grade fever. The doctor has tried different drugs, but nothing’s helped so far.”
“Well,” Joe sighed, “I guess you won’t be doin’ any cannin’ this year Moira. Maybe we can borrow your stuff and do the cannin’ ourselves.” He paused, but Moira appeared to be in deep thought. Finally, she looked at us.
“You boys go ahead and bone out that deer. Then, on Friday, you stop over at my house and get my canning stuff. Bring the meat, the jars and everything over here in the afternoon.”
“But Cornfield said…”
Moira interrupted me. “Never mind what he said, just do as I say!” She turned and clumped off down the hall.
Me and Joe spent the next day cutting and packaging deer steaks and roasts and putting them into the freezer. We put everything else, the cuts that many people grind into hamburger, into a big container for canning.
On Friday, with a good deal of apprehension, we picked up the canning supplies at Moira’s house and drove over to the retirement home. As we carried the various canning supplies and the big container of deer meat into the lobby, Moira met us with a beaming smile. I noticed that she had given up her cane and was walking with barely a limp.
As we greeted her, Hokely Cornfield appeared in the doorway, a dark and ominous look distorting his long face. “What is the meaning of this? I thought I made it very clear that under no circumstances were you to do any canning in this facility! Who told you to bring this…this…paraphernalia over here?”
“I did,” Moira answered firmly.
“You did? And just what made you think you could do something here that I expressly forbid?”
“I told her she could.” Cornfield turned in astonishment as his wife walked into the room.
“But, Maureen, I thought I had made it plain that…” At that moment, a small boy came rocketing through the room, a toy airplane held high in one hand. With a loud ‘brrrrrr’ to simulate engine noise, he disappeared down the hallway.
“Was that…was that Peter?” Cornfield stared down the hallway in consternation.
“It certainly was, no thanks to that quack you hired,” his wife answered firmly. “Moira, here, has been feeding Peter broth made from canned venison for two days now. Today his fever’s gone, he’s eating like a pig, and he has more energy than two boys. Now Moira is going to can up this deer meat in the kitchen and what’s more, I’m going to help her. You men follow us.” With that, she put an arm around Moira’s shoulder and the pair of them moved off toward the kitchen, deep in conversation.
Hokely Cornfield stood with his mouth hanging open. “Well, I…that is I don’t know…”
“Don’t you fret about it Hokely, my man,” Joe grinned as we picked up the canning supplies and prepared to follow the women. “Jist you wait ‘til you get you a belly full of this here canned deer meat. It’ll likely cure what ails you, same as it did fer yore boy!”