116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A ‘wild’ Thanksgiving feast
Wild Side column: At Orlan Love’s house, holiday include birds and fish found at the source
Orlan Love - correspondent
Dec. 15, 2022 7:00 am
Neither inflation nor supply chain disruptions affected the price or the quality of my Thanksgiving dinner.
That’s because I sourced my main courses at the source — wild turkey and pheasant from the fields surrounding my hometown and perch from the Mississippi River.
Wild fowl have long been the centerpiece of my holiday meals, but this year I kicked it up a notch with the addition of deep-fried perch filets as an appetizer.
I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest cook, but I have a few specialties I have mastered through many years’ practice. These include wild turkey, pheasant, deep-fried fish, sautéed morels and not much else.
In my estimation — and in that of many other fish connoisseurs — yellow perch are the highest expression of wild table fare. Cousins of walleye and sauger, they swim the same water as northerns, crappies and bluegill — all eminently edible species. But there is something about the delicate sweetness and texture of perch filets that elevates them above all other freshwater fish.
Unlike those other tasty species, which can occasionally persist as leftovers, perch filets are the kind of delicacy that people will eat until they are gone.
So it was on Thanksgiving Day, when my 11 guests consumed 66 perch filets in the time it took my grandchildren — Michael and Lanni Love — to carry the platters of golden morsels from the sizzling peanut oil in the garage to the kitchen counter.
Nor did the hors d’ oeuvres impair my guests’ appetites for the main courses — turkey and pheasant breasts cut into serving size pieces, tenderized with a wooden mallet, browned in hot oil and braised in gravy until fork tender.
Based on my guests’ comments and my own perceptions, the flavor and wholesomeness of the food consumed at my table exceeds that of their commercially produced and processed counterparts.
I know for a fact its procurement was more enjoyable than the purchase of shrink-wrapped frozen seafood, turkey or Cornish hen.
My friend Dave Patterson of Atkins and I harvested the perch during a three-day, mid-October visit to the Mississippi that included periods of intense activity in which we caught fish on nearly every cast.
My friend Arthur Clark of Quasqueton and I, hunting behind his German shorthaired pointer Willow along a buffered creek east of town, harvested our turkeys on Oct. 27.
An hour into the hunt, without even a hint of suspicion of the presence of turkeys, Willow slammed into a point within 5 feet of me. Before I could summon Arthur for backing, the gobbler erupted from cover, its large, powerful wings generating loud, concussive waves of wind that I could feel in my eardrums.
Recovered from my initial demoralization, I killed him at treetop height with my second shot and retrieved him myself since Willow apparently wanted nothing to do with the 25-pound gobbler. Smart as dogs are, she probably realized that she couldn’t even drag him, let alone carry him.
A half-hour later she pointed and retrieved Arthur’s young-of-the-year male turkey, which was half the size of the gobbler.
The soft-mouthed Willow also contributed to the harvest of the four pheasants I served — all of which, almost miraculously, had perfect breasts, untouched by dog tooth or bird shot.
While others at the table said grace, I silently gave thanks for the bounty of nature and, especially in the wake of the two preceding COVID-lonely holidays, for family to share it with.