Deer hunting season is one the most time-honored traditions in Michigan's outdoors.
The reasons why people hunt deer are probably as varied as the people who hunt them, but the vast majority share at least one common trait: They want to put venison on the table.
An excellent source of high-quality, low-fat protein, venison has become increasingly popular in the food world. And as the movement toward locally produced, sustainable food sources gains steam, venison fits perfectly; it comes directly into the food supply from the wild, absent the manipulations of the meat production industry.
Venison and other game can be safely preserved for use in stews, soups, barbecues and other dishes with these standard food-safety directions from Michigan State University Extension educators.
"Deer hunting is a special time of year for many people," said Janet Rathke, MSU Extension educator. "In some areas of the state, opening day is considered a holiday. For many, it is a time to be extra cautious when hiking in the woods or driving through deer-populated areas. Whatever your views are on hunting, venison does provide meat for many families and is a great source of lean protein."
If you are a hunter, you need to be sure that your game is disease-free.
If you have any questions about the safety of the meat, check the new, all-inclusive website created by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University at deer.fw.msu.edu/index.php.
Venison and other game must be processed promptly and properly. The carcass should be field dressed and skinned as soon as possible. If you do not have a temperature-controlled facility to hang your deer in, the meat should be butchered, wrapped and chilled as soon as possible after the kill.
"This may be contrary to the belief that the deer needs to hang and 'age' for a number of days," Rathke said. "Take all the pictures you want before the meat is processed, but, for food safety reasons, get the meat in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible."
Some take their deer to a certified processor; others do it themselves. If you are butchering yourself, be sure to do it in a clean, sanitary area.
Remove as much of the tendons, silvery substance and fat as possible. If freezing the meat, double or triple wrap it or use a vacuum packaging machine to reduce the chance of freezer burn.
Venison can be safely processed only in a pressure canner to ensure a safe shelf life. The following directions are from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and should be the only way you home-process venison in jars.
These directions can be used for venison, elk, bear, beef or other meat:
Meat strips, cubes or chunks
Choose high-quality, chilled meat. Remove excess fat. Strong-flavored wild meats should be soaked for one hour in a brine made from 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water. Rinse meat. Cut into 1-inch-wide strips, cubes or chunks.
Precook meat to the rare stage by roasting, stewing or browning in a small amount of fat. Pack hot meat loosely into hot jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to pints; 1 teaspoon to quarts, if desired. (Salt is not critical to the processing and can be omitted.) Fill the jar, leaving 1 inch of headspace, with boiling broth, water or tomato juice. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process as directed below.
Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to each pint jar; 1 teaspoon to quarts, if desired. (Salt is not critical to the processing and can be omitted.) Pack raw meat loosely in hot jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Do not add liquid. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process as directed below.
Process both hot- and raw-pack meat in a dial-gauge pressure canner at 11 pounds pressure or in a weighted-gauge pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure (pounds of pressure required vary according to altitude). Pints should be processed for 75 minutes; quarts should be processed for 90 minutes. Remember that timing does not begin until the canner has vented for 10 minutes and comes up to pressure.
If your pressure goes below the correct number of pounds, timing must be started over. Correct processing must be followed precisely to ensure a safe product.
Fresh venison can be prepared much like beef and can be very tender, tasty and healthy. Canned meat is easy to use in stews, soups or barbecue.
For more information about food preservation, nutrition, safe food preparation and other issues of interest to Michigan families, contact a local MSU Extension educator, either by visiting the MSU Extension website at expert.msue.msu.edu, or by calling toll-free 888-MSUE-4-MI (888-678-3464).