Imagine a cabin overlooking your own private lake full of fish waiting for your dinner plate. The idea of having to catch your own dinner and be involved in the food gathering process appeals to me. It reminds us that food just doesn’t come all nicely cleaned and wrapped in cellophane. An animal was sacrificed to fill our belly. Getting food, especially meat, is messy.
Fish have to be gutted and scaled with sweat bees flying around your head. But there is a satisfaction in catching your dinner. The focus of the food preparation process is more about getting the food and getting it ready to be cooked rather than just the act of cooking of it. It’s easy to go to the fish market and pick out a nice piece of fish. One doesn’t think too much about what the fish looked like when it was swimming in the water, how it met its end or who gutted it and chopped it into the gleaming white fillets sitting on ice. But catching a fish, throwing back the bass because you want walleye for dinner, deciding if the fish reeled to the boat is an appropriate size for your meal involves you in a process that would otherwise be forgotten. And so we caught our two perfectly matched walleye for dinner, gutted and scaled them at the gutting table located away from the cabin as to not attract the bears. And in the end we had two beautiful pieces of fish, just as if we had gone to the market, only how these fish got to our plates will not be forgotten.
Fish isn’t just for dinner
With fish just-off-the-hook fresh, a simple preparation works well. Lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and dusted with cornmeal. Panned fried until golden brown. But this method isn’t limited to just dinner. For lunch the fish can be layered with tomato and mayo for a garden fresh fish sandwich.
Foraging can be just as involved as catching and cleaning fish. Blueberries from the market come in a neat plastic container, a quick rinse and they are ready to add to your pancake batter. But wild blueberries take a little more work. In this case a lot more work. First of all there was getting to the blueberry patch, a boat ride across one lake, a 10 minute walk along a muddy path – best to wear tevas – to another lake, another boat ride, a scramble up a rocky embankment to an old logging road. Along this road the low blueberry bushes can be found around rocky open areas, but be sure to make plenty of noise so as to not surprise the bears. They too like blueberries. You may also want to wear insect repellant but it doesn’t seem to help much in deterring the biting flies. The blueberries themselves are quite tasty and sweet but oh so small, 1/3 the size of the commercial varieties, so patience is in order. With a little diligence you can soon have a quart container of these purple beauties.
But what to make? Pancakes seemed too simplistic and obvious. I wanted something that really showcased the berries to commemorate all the effort it took to gather our bounty. However staying at an outpost on a lake you do not have the luxury of going to the market and picking up the missing ingredients. Surveying our provisions I decided on a blueberry crisp. We had muesli, mostly oats and flavored with cinnamon, and butter substitute – real butter of course would have been tastier. I found some flour and sugar, thankfully left by a previous guest. First I prepared the fruit, carefully culling the berries and taking out all the stems and undesirables – I have to admit that in the heat of the day with the mosquitoes snacking on my forearms and the back of my neck, the berries were picked in a bit of a rush. I didn’t want to adulterate the fruit by adding too much sugar, so I mixed them with just a scant ¼ cup to a quart of berries. I poured them into an 8 x 8 baking dish and placed it in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes to get the berries cooking. How hot I can’t be sure as the temperature markings were worn off the knob. I was hoping for a standard 350-375. Meanwhile, for the topping I mixed 1 cup of muesli with ½ flour, ¼ c sugar and just enough melted butter substitute, 1/3 c or so, to make a crumbly topping. When the berries looked hot but not quite bubbling, I distributed the topping evenly over the berries and baked it for another 15-20 minutes until the fruit was bubbling and the topping was golden. The results, I have to say, were fantastic. The small size of the berries made a for a not overly juicy fruit base that held up to the topping, which added just enough texture and richness to complement but not overwhelm the berries. It tasted all blueberry, not too sweet, just berry.
Coming back to the cabin from gathering the berries, scrambling down the rock embankment and trudging through the muck, I swore I would not be getting more blueberries. But with the first bite of our blueberry crisp warm from the oven, garnished with just a splash of milk and accompanied by a fresh cup of percolated – not drip – coffee, the memories of the mucky path, mosquitoes, and biting flies quickly began to fade. The next day with only mouthfuls of the crisp remaining and the insect experience a distant memory, we started to consider another crisp. All out of muesli, I had fortunately found some packets of instant oatmeal, also left by a previous guest. Looking around the shores of the lake we noticed possible blueberry sites. We would explore and let fate decided if there was another crisp in our future.
And so there was. Just a short boat ride and a quick scramble up a wooded hill we found a blueberry patch, once picked over, but with the second round of berries perhaps bigger and sweeter than in the previous patch. We steadily filled our Nalgene bottles working toward the 500 milliliter mark each. The day was pleasant, fewer insects and worth the effort for just one last crisp.
I don’t really believe in fate, but sometime I do think it is fun to let fate make the decision for me, especially when it fulfills my true desire, just one more pan of blueberry heaven.