Estelle likes bear heart. Considers it a treat, in fact. I guess that’s one of the few differences between her and myself. When we write fiction, our heroes and heroines tend to look remarkably like ourselves, a fact that I have had to try to correct by adding in clever little details, such as: “Look, Estelle is eating a bear heart! Ewww!”
But truthfully, despite being in the midst of my third overhaul of this novel, Estelle is pretty much the same person and the plot has recognizable threads from the first version. It still winds up being necessary for her to shoot a bear with her father’s Springfield 1855, the shortbarreled version of a single-shot rifled musket. Estelle lives alone, and this particular bear has begun to make a nuisance of himself, leaving her property to terrorize the penned hogs of a very unpleasant neighbor. Furthermore, the presence of a large predator on her property gives the impression that she is not able to manage the property that has been hers since the death of her parents, a fact that she finds humiliating.
Determined to solve the problem once and for all and prove her independence, she lays out a plan for ambushing the bear on one of his visits to a blackberry patch on the edge of her clearing in the forest. She succeeds in bringing the fellow down, but must then face the enormous task of processing a 600 pound beast. After getting help from a family of new Norwegian immigrants with the field dressing portion of the chore, we see her at the end of a very long day, washing away the soot and grease and blood of it all while slices of the bear’s heart fry in butter on the stove.
The next day (after finding that her love interest has taken umbrage at her solo feat and left town -- drama, tension and disappointment ensue!) we see her at work packing the larger cuts in salt, smoking strips of meat in a hollow log and grinding the rest to cook as sausage and store in crocks with an airtight covering of grease. The bear will help her through the winter, when she fries up the sausages with potatoes, cooks a roast for company or makes a cassoulet of smoked meat with white beans and onions from her garden.
I guess when it comes to an honest evaluation, I don’t actually have all that much in common with Estelle. Which is too bad, because she has the kind of skills and grit that we tend to admire in our forebears, the courage that made them immigrants and the fortitude that made them pioneers. I like to think that if I were faced with the necessity I would shoot that bear and go through all the labor involved in putting up the meat. I’d like to think I could make it if I were faced with all of Estelle’s challenges, but I have to say the jury’s out on that one.
But I think one of the points of agreement that Estelle and I would have is that there is a great pleasure in having a stewpot simmering away on the stove when the snow lies deep outside your door, be it log cabin or otherwise. Sure, she might have found fried bear heart tastier, but I think she would also appreciate the homely joys of tamer fare.
Beef Stew with Hominy and Beans
With a long cooking time and abundant spices, this stew recipe lends itself to either game or beef. It isn’t authentic to Estelle’s time and place in regards to the spices, but using hominy (prepared dried corn) and beans would have been.
Brown in a heavy stock pot in a few tablespoons of oil: 2 lbs. stew meat
Remove meat to a plate and saute:
1 large chopped onion 1 large chopped green pepper 4-5 cloves of minced or pressed garlic Add more oil to the pot if needed, stirring and scraping to get up any bits of browned meat. When the vegetables are soft, add: 1 tablespoon chili powder 2 teaspoons cumin 2 teaspoons coriander 1 tablespoon smoked paprika Stir everything about on low heat for a few minutes, until the spices start to become fragrant, then add the browned meat and: 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced Enough water to barely cover Simmer uncovered for two hours, adding liquid if needed to keep it from getting too thick, then add: 1 can hominy with liquid 1 can red beans with liquid Salt to taste
Sally Rasmussen lives in rural Taylor County with her husband, Tom.