I've talked before about the make-up of the average peasant's diet when writing about the origin of the Lenten fish diet. As I pointed out then, meat was an uncommon commodity on the plates of the common folk, likely limited to small birds, fish if you lived somewhere with access, and maybe small mammals.

Around that time, the only use for chickens was for fighting; and if you raised a pig, you can surely bet you sold it rather than ate it yourself. Even the offal or organ meats were expensive and reserved for the rich. Royalty, after all, were constantly pained with gout, presumably due to eating too many organ meats.

Some might wonder during this time of year why they didn't hunt or trap. That's because of lordships, fealty and all the laws that came with that. Those older than me might recall the tale of Robin Hood as told before "Men in Tights" or "Prince of Thieves," or even the Disney version of "Robin Hood" (probably still my favorite of all Robin Hood films).

When Errol Flynn played the charitable thief in 1938, I think it was a somewhat more well-known part of the legend that Robin Hood had been outlawed, in part, for poaching in the king's forest. The only mention of that in the films I've watched was the hilarious Sheriff of Rottingham's line, "He deered to poach the king's Dare!"

I actually had no clue this was related to the traditional legend! I was so young, I just thought it was silly.

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But there you have it. There were strict laws about poaching, and the definition of poaching was much wider at the time. We may scoff at license fees and nuances of hunting laws from time to time, but that will never compare to England in the 12th century. Just being in a royal forest, which made up one-third of England, could result in fines, imprisonment and physical harm.

Growing up, Dad kept careful count of how much fish, ducks, geese and venison was in the freezer, and it was an important part of budgeting the family's expenses. I know many families where that is or was the norm.

It turns out the number of families that hunt specifically to provide for their family is growing. According to an article from News From Responsive Management, in surveys in 2008, 22% of hunters said their primary purpose in hunting was to provide meat. In 2013, that increased to 35%, and to 39% in 2017.

Decadent Venison Backstrap or Tenderloin

Amounts will vary

  • Nonstick spray
  • Granulated garlic
  • Celery salt
  • Thyme
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Ground juniper berries (optional)
  • Ground caraway seeds (optional)

Start with a thawed piece of venison backstrap or tenderloin, large enough to serve all who will eat. Pat it dry with paper towels. Prepare a baking rack over a pan. Spray the top of your backstrap with nonstick spray and coat with a layer of granulated garlic before spraying again with the nonstick spray and repeating with each additional ingredient. Go easy on the celery salt so as not to overwhelm the meat.

Flip the backstrap over and repeat.

Bake this in a 325-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes per pound, but start taking the internal temperature at around 10 minutes. Venison should be served pink or red inside to avoid toughness. Rare is 120-130 degrees. Medium rare is 130-135 degrees. Medium is 135-145 degrees. You should not cook it to well done, but if you do it is 145-155 degrees.

Slice into medallions and serve with quality side dishes.


Amounts will vary greatly by how much meat you have on hand

  • 2 pounds of backstrap
  • 2 cups flour (or Bisquick)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup crushed saltine crackers, or corn meal or cream of wheat
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated pepper
  • 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • High smoke-point oil, such as vegetable oil or peanut oil

Slice your backstrap into 3/4-inch thick medallions against the grain. Next, lay down a piece of cling film, two layers thick and four times the width of your medallions. Place a medallion on one half of the cling film and fold the other half over on top of it before smashing the medallion with a rubber mallet, meat tenderizer or other heavy implement until you flatten it to approximately 1/4-inch thick. Set the medallion aside on paper towels to dry. Repeat with the remaining medallions.

Once all the medallions are hammered out, mix all your dry ingredients and spread them into a layer on a plate. Crack your eggs and beat them into yet another plate. Heat a thin layer of oil in a pan for pan frying.

Dip your meat into the egg batter, coating both sides, and then into the breading, coating both sides. Carefully place it in the pan to fry. Once one side is golden, flip and repeat until both sides are cooked on all pieces of venison.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.