Along the Grapevine


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Pulled Venison with Wild Grape Ketchup

At this time of year, our hunter friends often regale us with a good supply of venison –  a real treat. I have learned how to cook it through experiment. As all game, it can be tough and needs some special care and attention, especially if it is not a young animal.  I  learned that an acidic marinade of wild fruit and berries, sometimes beer or wine is what it really needs as a tenderiser. So when I decided to try a pulled venison and found no suitable recipe on-line, I used my wild grape ketchup I made in the summer. As it is already rich in flavour, I added only some juniper berries as a spice along with garlic and onion. My own junipers are buried in snow, so for the time being cannot experiment with them. I used some commercial ones which you can find in most good shops selling spices.

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If you don’t have any wild grape ketchup on hand, you can use the recipe I have given and simply use a dark grape juice.

Pulled Venison

1 venison roast (approx. 4 lbs)

1 1/2 cups wild grape ketchup

2 onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

10 juniper berries, crushed

1 Tbsp liquid smoke (optional)

1 tsp salt

Cut the roast into four pieces. Place it in a slow cooker. Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over it. Turn the slow cooker on to high, and once it is good and hot turn to low and cook for 6-8 hours, until the meat can be pulled.

Remove the meat from the sauce, pull it with two forks. Meanwhile, continue cooking the sauce while pulling the pork. Remove about 1 cup to be used as a sauce, and put the pulled meat into the remaining sauce and heat through.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you could do it in a heavy, covered pan in the oven 325 F to begin with and then when hot lower it to 275 F for roughly the same amount of time.

This can be used as a sandwich filling, but I served it on a bed of mashed turnip, potato and parsnip with sauteed brussel sprouts on the side. It was every bit as tender and tasty as I expected it to be.

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Wild Grape Ketchup

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The wild grapes are finally beginning to ripen in our area, so I am now able to work on some recipes which were the ‘raisin’ d’etre for this blog. The birds have already taken many, so I picked what I could should they disappear soon. I am not sure of the exact variety of the ones I picked. These ones, as you can see are very small, about the size of a blueberry. I hope to find some larger ones for other recipes, but these small ones are excellent for this one.

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I started making grape ketchup a few years ago, as finding myself with a good supply of wild grapes, and not wanting to make either wine or jelly, I decided if there was not such a thing as grape ketchup, there should be. Sure enough, I was not the first to think of it, and there are plenty of recipes out there. However, most use cultivated grapes, which are larger and sweeter, but do not have the strong flavour or the nutrients of the wild variety. Also, I do not add water, which reduces the cooking time – good for me and the quality of the end product. Most any grape would work with this recipe, but I would recommend a fairly sour variety with a thick skin, which will add enough pectin to the mixture for it to thicken nicely.

It is good not only as a condiment but as a marinade for game and poultry, and I expect would go very well with lamb and pork too.

Apart from the picking, the ketchup is really very simple. Just wash the grapes and pick the berries off the stems, discarding any green ones. Place them in a pan, heat and simmer for about five minutes. Juice will begin to form at the bottom of the pan, but to help them along, use a potato masher to get as much juice out as possible.

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Then, strain the mixture through a food mill or sieve, measure, and return the juice to the pan.

For every cup of puree:

1/2 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)

1/2 cup wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. allspice

Simmer the mixture until it is the right consistency, a little over an hour. I test it by cooling a small spoonful. I make it less dense than a commercial ketchup, but about as thick as a creamy yogourt. I do not process the jars – just freeze them.

This is a fairly tart ketchup as I prefer it, but it could stand probably up to double the amount of sugar. You can easily add more as it cooks and taste it.

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I left a small amount in the bottom of a pan, and as a first use i deglazed it, added venison meatballs I had in the freezer and some quartered fresh plums. From that I deem the ketchup recipe a success.

One experiment often leads to another. Left with a pile of grape seeds, which are supposed to be highly nutritious and, I have noticed, are sold in granular form in health food stores, I decided to dry them and see what I could do. I rinsed and drained them, removing some of the skin that rose to the top, but certainly did not get it all. I then put the dripping seeds in the oven at 275 for about an hour, and as they were getting too hot and the water had mostly evaporated, I spread them out in the sun for another couple of hours. I don’t leave anything in the sun too long, for fear of botulism, but by that time they were sufficiently dry. I ground them in the coffee grinder – and then on to my next experiment.

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I mixed a large spoonful in some hot water. It was a creamy pinkish colour but the seeds at the bottom were not very appetizing. Next experiment was to simmer the same amount in a small pot of hot water for about an hour and strain. The colour was browner, but the taste was equally good and no junk at the bottom. All in all, a pleasant surprise as experiments go, and for anyone who wants to get all the goodness out of the grapes, might be worth trying.