“Our harvest being gotten in,” wrote the Pilgrim Edward Winslow in 1621, describing that iconic inaugural Thanksgiving feast, “our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.”
It has been the same ever since, across America. Get your work done. Head to the woods. Rejoice. Granted, times have changed since that first feast. Those settlers would have traded a pile of deerskins for a rifled barrel. Yet with everything that has changed, a few things haven’t: The fact that hunters can walk the woods. The fact that we can walk out of those woods with a harvest. The fact that we can rejoice with our families. Worthy of thanks, all of that.
Now, on to the glorious gluttony that has marked this day across the centuries. We’ve gathered three wild-game recipes using three of our nation’s most heralded game species: wild turkey, mallard, and whitetail deer. So collect your harvest and get cooking. Rejoice. —T. Edward Nickens
Wild Turkey Recipe: Whole Roasted Thanksgiving Gobbler
- 1 wild turkey
- 3⁄4 lb. fatback, salted pork, or bacon
- 1 onion, minced
- 3 ribs celery, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 quart toasted diced bread
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 6 sprigs sage
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 8 sprigs parsley
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mince and render half of the fatback slowly in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Reserve and keep warm.
- Dry the turkey very well with paper towels. Using a brush, coat the exterior with some of the warm minced fatback and season well with coarse salt and pepper inside and out.
- Heat up the remaining minced fatback on medium. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Sweat for 5 minutes, then add the celery and sweat for 5 minutes more. Add the garlic and sweat for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add the toasted bread. Moisten with the stock and add minced sage, rosemary, and parsley (all stems removed).
- Taste the bread cubes to ensure they are moist and seasoning is correct. Add more broth and herbs as needed. Gently fill the cavity of the turkey with the mixture and cover the breast with remaining slices of fatback.
- Place the turkey, breast side up, in a heavy roasting pan and put into the preheated oven. Roast for 1 hour. Remove the fatback, increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and continue roasting for 1 hour to brown the breast. Check the doneness by poking the tip of a sharp knife or metal skewer into thickest part of the leg and using a spoon to collect the juice. Look for a very light shade of pink. Clear fluids will likely indicate an overdone bird.
- When cooked to desired doneness, let the turkey rest at least 20 to 30 minutes.
- Carve with a sharp knife and across the grain.
Venison Recipe: Grilled Whitetail Backstrap with “Deer Rub”
For the venison:
- 1 large backstrap, all silverskin removed
- 1⁄2 cup peanut oil
- 1⁄2 cup deer rub
For the deer rub:
- 2 Tbsp. cumin
- 2 Tbsp. coriander
- 1 Tbsp. raw sugar
- 1 Tbsp. long red chile, ground
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
- Let the backstrap reach room temperature. Rub it with peanut oil, then season with the rub.
- Heat the grill to 400 degrees. Sear the backstrap for 3 minutes per side.
- Remove the backstrap from the grill and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Slice thin and serve.
The Perfect Thanksgiving Leftovers Sandwich
Here’s the situation: You’re parked on the couch, falling into a food coma and looking forward to a hunt tomorrow. It’s fine if you retire early tonight, but don’t forget to wake up early enough tomorrow to spend some time in the kitchen, because inside the fridge are all the fixings you need to make the perfect field lunch. One that’s easy to fix. That’s compact, yet substantial. That requires no cleanup.
We’re talking about the Leftovers Sandwich—a meal so delicious it rivals Thursday’s main event.
First, the bread. This is the only part you need to buy specifically for the sandwich, so splurge on a good, crunchy loaf from a bakery and have it sliced thick. I like mine lightly toasted and slabbed with mayo. Next, the fixings. Pile some turkey on one slice. What follows depends on the leftovers you scored. I usually smear layers of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and maybe some green bean casserole. Finally, the secret ingredient: cranberry sauce. Homemade sauce will do, but I swear by the canned goods. I find the stuff downright addictive; plus it makes practical sandwich sense because you can cut it into thin rounds—just as if you were slicing a tomato for a BLT. When you’re all set, join both halves, slightly flatten with a light smash, and wrap in foil.
Eat this in your treestand or inside a duck blind. Eat it on a stump in the grouse woods or with your back against a fence in a pheasant field. Share it with your daughter on the back of your truck. This sandwich will taste good anywhere. And with so many leftovers in the fridge, it’ll taste good when you make it again tomorrow—and again the day after that. —Colin Kearns
The Hunter’s Thanksgiving Prayer
Give us this day our daily bread…
I’m the last one out of the kitchen. When I step into the dining room the lump that has been inching toward the top of my stomach suddenly vaults to my throat, and I have to shut my eyes for just a passing few seconds. Let the wave of emotion settle down. This happens every Thanksgiving.
Give us another dawn with golden light in the decoys, light that lifts our hearts toward heaven…
Family rings the table. There is an embarrassment of food. Oddly enough, the food hardly registers. It’s the sheer weight of blessing that rocks me back on my heels. Every face reflects a memory of time outdoors: My wife hanging on to the console, the boat bucking in a horrid blow, lightning crackling. My mother beside me at the base of a squirrel tree, white-gray curls barely controlled by a camo cap.
Give us a sunset whose promise is tomorrow. Give us a hunger to taste the wild places that yet remain…
And also the blessings left behind by those no longer gathered here. But they still have their place at the table. Sensing this, I shut my eyes again.
Give us this day a glimpse of the glory found in the pool of a stream, in the wild cackle of a goose…
Then we join hands-—generations linked by intertwined fingers and futures. I sneak in one last look. I bow my head to pray.
Give us this day. —T.E.N.
A version of this story originally ran in the November 2010 issue of Field & Stream.