Hunt and Gather: Venison Pastitsio and Crabapple Nut Bread

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For a fortnight last October, the most exciting pattern I experienced involved a steady stream of deer coming to scarf up fruit under a pear tree. Setting up nearby, I ended up killing two fine does with my crossbow, plus gained the pleasure of several times watching two 1½-year-old bucks sparring in the tree’s vicinity.

If you haven’t considered pear trees as possibilities for food plots, then maybe you should, says QDMA member Benny Hallman whose family operates Hallman Farms in South Carolina.

“Some years back, pears were definitely an overlooked food for deer,” said Benny. “But a Quality Whitetails story promoted this fruit, and ever since it seems that more land managers are planting them. A real advantage of pears over apples is that in many of this country’s warmer areas, such as the coastal regions in the Southeast, pears have fewer disease and insect problems. In colder climates, both apples and pears grow equally well, and the deer don’t seem to prefer one fruit over the other, just whichever is ripe at the time.”

As I write this, it is time for the venison from those two “pear” does to become integral parts of several recipes, one of which is Venison Pastitsio. Pastitsio is a Greek-style lasagna that has bechamel sauce in addition to pasta, meat, and cheese. My wife Elaine usually couples this dish with a green salad and fresh bread. Here is Elaine’s recipe:

 

Venison Pastitsio (Serves 8)  

Tomato-Meat Sauce:

 3 Tbsp. olive oil  1 large yellow onion, chopped
 2 lb. ground venison  3 cloves garlic, minced
 2 tsp. cinnamon  1 tsp. dried oregano
 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves  1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce  2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper

 

 

 

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot.
  • Sautee the onions 5 minutes, then add ground venison and brown it until no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, and thyme. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Simmer for 40-45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. While the oven is preheating, prepare the Bechamel sauce as follows.

Bechamel Sauce:

 1½ cups of 2% milk  1 cup half and half
 4 Tbsp. butter  ¼ cup flour
 ¼ tsp. grated nutmeg  1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
 2 eggs, beaten  2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
 3/4 lb. pasta shells  1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper

 

 

 

  • Heat the milk and cream together in a saucepan until simmering.
  • In a separate medium saucepan, melt the butter.
  • Add the flour and cook over medium until the flour turns tan, meanwhile whisking constantly for 3-4 minutes.
  • Pour the warm milk-cream mixture into the butter, whisking constantly. Cook over medium for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and smooth.
  • Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
  • Stir in ¾ cup of Parmesan cheese, and 1/2 cup of the tomato-meat sauce. Let this mixture cool for 10 minutes, then stir in the eggs and yogurt and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot until tender but not overcooked because the pasta will continue to cook as it bakes. Drain and set aside.
  • Add the pasta to the remaining meat sauce and pour into a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Spread the Bechamel sauce over the meat and pasta, covering evenly. Sprinkle with the remaining ¾ cup Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake for 1 hour until golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

 

crabapple_bread

Crabapple Nut Bread

Several years ago, I read a Quality Whitetails article touting the virtues of crabapple trees as a wildlife food; one of the varieties discussed was the Dolgo. Three years ago, Elaine and I planted a Dolgo and it is already producing fruit. Though we planted these trees to provide food for deer, we gathered some of the “fruit of our labor” for ourselves, too! We turned a few crabapples into this delightful bread last fall. Simply remove the core and seeds of the crabapples, leave the skin on, then chop to prepare the following recipe.

 1/2 cup butter  2/3 cup sugar
 2 eggs  2 Tbsp. milk
 1/2 tsp. lemon juice  2 cups flour
 1/2 tsp. sea salt  1 tsp. baking soda
 2 cups roughly chopped crabapples  1/2 cup chopped nuts

 

 

 

  • Cream the butter and sugar.
  • Add eggs, milk, and lemon juice.
  • Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together; add to butter mixture.
  • Stir in the crabapple and walnuts until combined.
  • Grease a large loaf pan.
  • Add batter and bake at 350 for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out cleanly.
  • Cool then slice.

About the Author: Bruce Ingram is a QDMA member and freelance outdoor writer from Fincastle, Virginia, and he is a regular contributor to QDMA’s Quality Whitetails magazine. Bruce and his wife Elaine write a weekly blog at Bruce Ingram Outdoors.

  • Semaj

    I have hunted for years and am finally getting around to ‘exploring’ new venison recipes. I found this one (though 2 years from time of publishing) and thank you for it. Thanks again…..

    • Bruce Ingram

      Semaj, thank you for the comments. Elaine and I have venison in some form almost every day of the year.
      Bruce Ingram