Let's talk about a matter of solemn importance to us all -- snacks.
Hunters and anglers treasure snacks. They make a day in a duck blind, deer stand, fishing boat or canoe much more pleasant. We are well aware that most of our favorites are not good for you, but hunting and fishing snacks are merely substitutes for the nutritious food we consume when civilized people are watching. Let's run down a few essentials.
Our header refers to the universal beef variety, but many deer hunters make their own deer jerky. Whichever you prefer, jerky is an essential food group for the outdoors person.
Jerky is a thin strip of meat dehydrated to prevent spoilage. We prefer it flavored, which is accomplished by marinating.
Ounce for ounce, jerky is way more expensive than ribeye or filet mignon, but we don't flinch when we need it for a hunting or fishing trip. Yes, we know that commercial jerky is loaded with nitrites and sugar. It's not healthy. We get it, but it's only an occasional indulgence, so give us a break.
Jack Links is a ubiquitous brand. We believe it to be cut from a higher grade of meat than other brands, and our experience reveals it to be the most tender. We also admit an enduring fondness for the classic, "Jack Links Presents 'Messin' With Sasquatch' " TV commercials.
Bridgford is a notch below Jack Links in overall quality. It always contains silverskin -- the white, fibrous tissue that encases muscle tissue. I never encounter silverskin in Jack Links. The Bridgford recipe flavored with Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce is our favorite. It's tastier than any Jack Links recipe, and it almost -- but not quite -- overrides our disdain for silverskin. Matador and Oberto are rife with silverskin, which means they are tough. Tough, dry jerky is like visiting a jaw gym. We're getting a bit older, and we do not appreciate such a vigorous workout. Jack Links and Bridgford are the most tender. If not for the silverskin, it would be a tie.
In the realm of unhealthiness, we offer faint praise for these gray meat tubes packed in aspic. We can't stand the sight of them anywhere else, but they are quite at home in a fishing boat or hunting pack. Bonus points if you can extract the first sausage from the can intact. One must usually dig it out in pieces.
Say it right. It's not Vienna, as in the Austrian capital. It's pronounced Vie-EEN-ee, always plural, with "sausages" omitted. "Vie-EEN-uhz" is also acceptable.
Vienna sausages on saltine crackers is a southern tradition. The elderly uncles who taught me much of what I know about hunting and fishing ate it religiously. I'll never forget the day I went crappie fishing on DeGray Lake with Grant Westmoreland of Sheridan and former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross. Come lunchtime, Westmoreland produced a can of Viennas and a ziplock bag of saltines. Ross ate them like they were good. You cannot fake that level of sincerity. Ross said it took him back to his Nevada County roots.
You think Viennas are unwholesome? Pennsylvania and New Yorkers are crazy about a meat product called scrapple. They cut it in discs and fry it like bacon. Let's not forget potted meat and, heaven forbid, Treet. Dicky Northington, who worked many years for the Pine Bluff Commercial, loved potted meat and crackers when he fished.
I spent a night in a shelter on the Appalachian Trail near Watauga Lake, Tenn. Each shelter on the Appalachian Trail has a logbook in which hikers sign their names and dates of visit, diary-type entries or messages for other hikers. One poor guy chronicled his stay while waiting for a weeklong rain to abate. His last entries were written in a frantic, desperate scrawl. One said, "Down to Treet and cheese sandwiches. TWO is my LIMIT!!!"
I couldn't have said it better.
I associate few sounds more closely to deer hunting than this. I'm sitting next to a child in a box stand, both of us bored to tears because nothing is happening. In the chilly autumn air, I hear the sound of crinkling cellophane, followed by the distinctive rip. The kid is tearing into a honeybun.
Our favorite is the Hostess variety with a sheet of white icing. This thing is a diabetes bomb of white flour and sugar, and that's why you don't eat the whole thing at once. You tear off a little piece at a time and consume it over the course of a morning. The last bite should go down the hatch about 30 minutes before lunch. Spreading it over several hours prevents it from putting you to sleep, but it also gives you something to look forward to every 30-45 minutes when deer aren't moving.
Having become more health conscious, we've drifted away from honeybuns, candy and sweet trail mix in favor of fresh fruit, especially apples and oranges. We love Cutie and Halo, which are hybrid mandarin/sweet oranges. They are very small, so they pack well. They peel easily, and they are delicious. As soon as the skin comes off, they emit a cloud of citrus aroma that I am utterly convinced attracts deer.
As far as I'm concerned, there are only two apples, Fuji and Honeycrisp. I've had some mighty fine Galas and Pink Lady, but only Fuji and Honeycrisp are so consistently firm, crisp and sweet. Few things are as irksome as a mealy apple, which is why we refuse to even consider Red Delicious. A good Red Delicious is sublime, but a good one is rare.
I love to sink my teeth into a firm Fuji and pause as if injecting it with venom. I love how the astringent juice numbs my jaws, almost like biting into a green persimmon. Then, I rotate the apple away and delight in the sound of the chunk ripping away from the core. The aroma is intoxicating, and the coarse, abrasive flesh cleans your teeth. Don't believe that? Ask your dentist.
You can't eat a good apple quickly. You must consume each bite in stages, and when I reach the core, I am satisfied for quite a long time. If there's a better snack for canoeing, I haven't found it, but Raisinettes chilled on ice in a cooler are awfully nice on a hot summer day.