Venison Stew

The first time I ever had venison was when a German friend of my mom's made roast venison and gave a huge portion to my mom... who then lied to me and told me it was roast beef to convince me to eat it. I always thought it was hilarious that she felt the need to lie about it, because it didn't even faze me: that deer was delicious. But then I went another decade without having venison again until I moved to Scotland, where it's as ubiquitous on most restaurant menus as pork. Here in Scotland, venison is everywhere: in pies, soups, casseroles, and served by itself. But despite the fact that I have eaten it a few times a year ever since moving here, I had still never cooked it until I stumbled upon this recipe (which can easily be made with beef, if you're wondering). Although I can't imagine Eleanor making this recipe with venison (where would you get venison in Central Florida?), I could totally see her making it with beef. It's got a great old-fashioned sounding list of ingredients, with mostly traditional herbs and spices and a few odd ones thrown in (looking at you, paprika and cranberries), and it totally seems like the kind of thing you'd expect your grandparents to serve you when you come over for a visit.

You didn't believe me about the ron swanson thing, did you?

You didn't believe me about the ron swanson thing, did you?

I've been excited about making this recipe ever since I first spotted it in the box. It's a recipe from a 1977 issue of Better Homes & Gardens, and, as an avid soup lover, I was stoked. I saved it for the first day of fall, so I could post it in honour of the changing of the seasons and the fact that soup weather is finally on the way!

I mean, Better Homes & Gardens vets their recipes, right?

And this one is from a NASA chef who planned the meals that went into space, so you'd really think he knew what he was doing, right?*

And said chef looks just like Ron Swanson, which has to be a good thing when it comes to meat, right?

And the recipe is based on a 'colonial kitchen' classic in honour of the American Bicentennial, so... really, you'd think it would be good, right?


I had high hopes for this: I love the way soup makes the whole house smell great, I love having easily-frozen leftovers that can be re-heated on cold autumn nights. But here is the thing about writing a cooking blog: it throws a lot of curveballs your way, and this recipe was one of them.

First of all, the quantity of water listed in the recipe was drastically incorrect. The liquid, which you're supposed to be able to use to make a venison broth, boiled off completely in less than half of the time it was supposed to simmer, so the meat burned to a char and nearly caught our kitchen on fire. As it was, the kitchen reeked for a full three days after we made this.

But, having no choice but to continue, I removed the charred pieces from the meat and continued with the recipe.

Enter disaster number 2: the cranberries.** In the image that accompanied this recipe in BH&G, there are clearly cranberries floating in the bowl of soup. But as soon as my cranberries heated up, they burst and then completely dissolved. Which would have been fine, except have you ever tasted a cranberry? They're hella bitter, and the 2 tbsp of sugar that the recipe calls for was nowhere near enough to overcome this. I ended up doubling the sugar and easily could have doubled it again to try to cover up the bitterness that ran through every drop of the soup because of how the cranberries dissolved.

Oh yeah, the original also called for 'julienned matchstick celery.' So there's that.

Oh yeah, the original also called for 'julienned matchstick celery.' So there's that.

But hear me out: these two things are fixable. And in the recipe below, I've fixed them. So the soup, made according to the below, is delicious, and totally worth it. So the next time an autumn rainstorm blows into town and you just want to snuggle up with a blanket and a bowl of soup, consider this one. It's hearty and filling without leaving you feeling like a bag of wet cement (like potato soup always does), and, if you make it as per the below, your house will smell awesome. Plus, if you have a loved one who is anything like mine, this soup is a sure way to their heart.

*This recipe is also from a regular BH&G feature from the 1970s called 'He Cooks,' which featured only 'masculine' recipes that 'men like to cook.'

**The most heartbreaking part of the cranberries going awry is that I used cranberries from my stash to make this! Cranberries are pretty hard to find here in Scotland, so every winter I buy as many bags as I can convince Judson to allow me and freeze them for year-round baking. And I wasted a whole cup of my stash on what turned out to be a veritable disaster.

The verdict:

2 spoons as written in BH&G. But as noted below, 4 spoons. Make this soup and enjoy autumn!

The recipe:

Venison Stew

the directions:

Combine 4 ½ c water and venison, salt, and pepper in a large pot.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cover and cook for 30 minutes or slightly longer if venison is not yet cooked through.
Stir in wine, carrots, potato, cranberries (and sugar, if using fresh ones), onion, celery, garlic, worcestershire, paprika, juniper berries, cloves, and bay leaf.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, then check to see if vegetables are tender.
If not, continue to cook for another 15 minutes, checking frequently.
Once vegetables are done, stir remaining ½ c water into the flour briskly until no lumps remain.
Pour this mixture into the soup to help thicken it.
Place a heaping spoonful of rice in the bottom of each soup bowl and top with the soup.

Yields approximately 4 servings, best enjoyed with a very cold beer.

the ingredients:

1 lb boneless venison or beef, cut into bite-sized cubes
5 c water, divided
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper, ground coarsely
½ c red wine (a sweetish one, like Shiraz)
4 medium carrots, chunked
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
EITHER ½ c fresh cranberries and 4 tbsp brown sugar OR ½ c sweetened dried cranberries (like Craisins)
½ c onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 ½ tsp paprika
3 juniper berries
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
½ c rye flour (I couldn't find this so I used whole wheat and it was fine)
Cooked wild rice