(I started this post on a Thursday but kind of never got around to finishing it so I guess it’s now technically #FBF? Flashback Friday? I’m okay with it if you’re okay with it)
Whenever I tell someone I have my master’s in sustainable food studies, it always elicits the same reaction: “Oh, so are you like, a farmer? Like, organic?” I’m always a little flattered because I assume it means I look strong and tan and like I’d look smoking hot in a pair of overalls (I’ve never had a problem with taking a compliment, clearly), but the reality is that I spent the large majority of my two years at Montana State University holed up in my gremlin attic of a grad office, Wilson-ing my tea mug and making best friends with the night shift custodian who seemed to be kind to me out of pity and confusion. Why does this girl have so many posters of MyPlate and cats?
I did, however, have the chance (and by “chance” I mean “required course”) to work at Towne’s Harvest Garden last summer. Towne’s Harvest is MSU’s “experimental farm,” which sounds much more diabolical and dubious and like the setting for the next Human Centipede installment than it actually is. It’s essentially a carte blanche for the crunchier, not-owned-by-Monsanto half of the College of Agriculture to play around with their sustainable and organic farming methods. As one of the designated desk dwellers of the program, I was relegated to pulling weeds for three hours a day (“Heyyyy, soooo, which ones are the weeds again?”), but hey, no complaints about spending the summer basking in the Montana sunshine.
As part of this class, we learned techniques for transforming local produce into dishes and goods as a way to strengthen local food markets etc etc nerd alert. I can now Bubba Gump the living bejeezus out of kohlrabi, as well as can venison. Yes, that’s right, I have successfully canned venison.
The Germans probably have a word for it, but there is a very distinct, gut-wrenching feeling when you think you’re going to be making blueberry jam and pickles during your canning class (sometimes I hear myself say things like this and kind of wonder if I dreamt the past two years), and you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with fresh scraps of deer meat. Not trying to be that vegetarian, I was determined to handle the task with aplomb, bravely concealing a grimace as I poked the muscle chunks in front of me. Most everyone else in the class was born and raised in Montana, and this was clearly not their first canned meat rodeo. “This reminds me of being at Meemaw’s and making dinner before the county fair!” This exercise reminded me of nothing except for nausea. Did no one just make oatmeal cookies with their grandparents? After 30 minutes of trying to remove the silver skin with a dull knife while desperately trying not to vomit and/or faint, I finally had a mason jar full of butchered deer. Hooray? Hooray!
While I quickly polished off the pickled garlic, apple pie filling, and summer squash, the canned venison taunted me for months, so I did what any reasonable person would do and pawned it off on my little brother. Honestly, what would we do without younger siblings? There was a very real fear of him opening up the package to find a busted open can of venison, rancid from the Alabama sun, but that I was a risk I was willing to let him take. I forgot to take into account, however, that my brother lives in a frat house, where sometimes they “cook” by eating cereal out of frying pans, or whatever. So, 10 months later when I found myself back in Richmond, I also found the can of deer in our pantry at home, staring back at me. It’s like it was best friends with the bison I had eaten a month earlier, and it was haunting me from beyond the grave. I couldn’t let it die in vain and risk spending the rest of my life waking up in a cold sweat from deer-related night terrors. Thus, the Bozeman cheesesteak was born.
The Bozeman cheesesteak is like a Philly cheesesteak but for rednecks and sustainable food studies grad students. My mom, having been born and raised in Philadelphia, refused to partake in this meal because it “wasn’t authentic” and “real cheesesteaks don’t have peppers or provolone or venison.” Clearly. Having never eaten a Philly cheesesteak, I didn’t have any expectations besides having a delicious sandwich, which I think I accomplished. With the gamy texture of venison, the meat wasn’t exactly melt-in-your-mouth, but I definitely preferred it to the previously mentioned bison patty melt, mostly because I felt like I could sit upright after this meal. Even my dad approved. I think. I’m pretty sure this is his approval face but honestly who can even be sure with that weirdo.
1 yellow onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
In medium pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and peppers, stirring frequently until translucent. Add canned venison and juices, cooking until heated through (canned venison is already cooked via the canning process). Spoon meat onto hoagie rolls, and top with provolone cheese. Broil until rolls are crispy and cheese is bubbling. Serve immediately, being sure to thank the Ghost of Deer Past for the meal you are about to enjoy. Enjoy the inevitable cheesesteak nap knowing that your dreams will be free of vengeful deer.
*Canning meat is a very technical process, and if you mess it up, you run a high risk of botulism (THE BOTCH, as we so lovingly referred to it). I’m not familiar enough with the canning techniques to properly advise you, as I was blacked out from meat fear for most of the canning lesson, but the USDA has official, highly scientific canning guide if you’re feeling adventurous/your immune system is feeling strong.