By Tim H. Martin
The author celebrated taking the finest buck of his career over a meal he’d never heard of — stuffed pinwheel steaks & gravy.
Miserable day ends with muzzleloader GIANT and a classic Heartland meal.
Southern Ohio - 2:35 a.m.
With a gasp, I bolted straight up in bed, rubbed my eyes and fumbled for my digital camera sitting on the nightstand. Eventually, I mashed the right buttons and began searching the tiny screen for proof that the hunt I’d just dreamt had actually happened.
As I accidentally scrolled backward through six months worth of photos, I mumbled to the viewfinder, “There’s the Easter bunny ... the beach ... little league ... fireworks … There’s Tiffany Lakosky at the Buckmasters Expo … Try not to delete that one … Okay … where the heck is my buck?”
In the darkness, a smile erased the panic from my face as images of me sitting behind a heavy-antlered Ohio buck appeared. With a deep sigh of relief, I lay in bed and enjoyed looking at images of the previous day.
Eleven Hours Earlier
Normally, I love the sound of rain on a rooftop. But with only one day remaining in my muzzleloader hunt, the pitter-pattering against the popup blind was downright irritating.
Eric Stonecipher, my guide, sighed, looked at his watch and asked what I wanted to do. After a dismal morning of trying to keep my powder dry and seeing only a couple of deer, it was an easy call. I suggested we go back to the lodge, dry off and see what the cook was making for lunch and supper.
By noon, we were sipping homemade soup and hot coffee. I grimaced at the thought of going back out, but I knew a hurricane couldn’t keep me from missing an afternoon in Buckeye State deer paradise. But the rain wore on as Deb Boyer, Dakota Outfitters’ cook, prepared our supper — a delicious smelling Amish Country dish I’d never seen before: stuffed pinwheel steaks.
Deb said she’d learned the recipe from an old lady. But like most master country cooks, Deb had never committed it to paper. So I watched and recorded it, step by step, in hopes it might be something worthwhile for this column.
Back at the blind, a yearling 6-pointer snorted from downwind, blowing in an attempt to alert an empty alfalfa field of our presence. It peered curiously into the window and stomped like an Italian winemaker. Minutes later, several does emerged, cautiously stared at the silly youngster, and then dismissed its warnings.
After sitting a couple of dead hours, I decided to lift a side flap to see if anything was happening. My heart skipped a beat and my jaw dropped at the sight of a massive set of antlers clearly visible from 250 yards across the field. An old buck stood motionless in the downpour with drooping ears, looking cold and downhearted. Its posture suggested that it wasn’t any happier with the soppiness than I was. All I could do was pray it would come into muzzleloader range.
I tried not to let my voice crack when I alerted Eric about the buck. He raised his binoculars and didn’t help matters by whispering, “WOW … that’s a SWEET buck. He’ll go 180 easy!”
Adrenaline was now part of the equation, and I heard my heart beating in my ears. I reminded myself to take deep breaths as we watched what would be the best buck in my 32 years of hunting paw scrapes at the field’s edge.
Over the next 90 nerve-racking minutes, does began grazing directly in front of the blind as we waited for the buck to make a move. Twice it disappeared while chasing a smaller buck, but returned a bit closer to the patch of potential girlfriends each time.
Suddenly, hot rays of sun broke through the clouds and bits of blue shown through gray skies. That’s when I witnessed one of the most spectacular sights of my life: the gigantic buck shaking water from its coat like a wet dog.
The sequence began with a twisting of its head, almost as if in slow motion. Waves of fur spiraled across the animal’s body, traversing the mid-section, hindquarters and, eventually, the tail. Sunlight illuminated the spray like diamonds as it skyrocketed from whichever portion the deer was shaking. It was still raining, so water was flying up and pouring downward simultaneously.
The sequence repeated itself, growing in vigor until the entire display ended with a violent headshake. The memory of those flailing antlers still makes me shudder.
I turned to ask Eric if he’d seen it and found him grinning back at me like a possum. No words were necessary.
Memories like that are what “Deer Camp Dinner Diaries” has been all about: little things from the field and kitchen that I want to keep and share.
That evening’s meal was certainly unforgettable. Dakota Outfitters’ crew helped me celebrate tagging the finest trophy of my life over Deb Boyer’s meat-and-potatoes masterpiece. And as I easily sliced off a chunk of pinwheel steak using only a fork, I realized that this recipe was not only going to be featured in Buckmasters, it was going to forever become part of my family.
Author’s Note: I’d like to bring Linda O’Connor’s hard work to your attention. She painstakingly scrutinized each of this year’s recipes, and without her watchful eye, you’d probably be wondering why my chicken chili contains no chicken.
Pinwheel Steaks & Gravy Recipe
- This is one of those ancient country recipes that you’ll rarely find in writing. After researching dozens of old church cookbooks, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s so simple, our grandmothers didn’t feel the need to keep a recipe. But here it is, a true American treasure captured on paper for you to tinker with and make your own.
- 6-10 tenderized beef or venison steaks
- In some places, they’re called cube steaks, but this doesn't mean to cut into cubes! The pounded or tenderized meat should be roughly hand-sized, approximately 1/2 inch thick and large enough to roll with stuffing.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging, 8 oz. Stovetop Stuffing, 32 oz. beef broth, 1-2 Tbls. cornstarch, 1 1/2 -2 cups mushrooms (optional), 1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups), 2-3 cloves garlic, minced, 2-3 Tbls. Kitchen Bouquet Browning Sauce (or Worcestershire sauce), Kosher salt to taste, Black pepper to taste, Baker’s string or toothpicks, Parsley chopped for garnish (optional)
- In a large, covered roasting pan, add beef broth, salt, pepper, onions, garlic, mushrooms and Kitchen Bouquet Browning Sauce. Dissolve cornstarch in about 1/2 cup beef broth and stir into the pan. Next, prepare stuffing a little drier than the package suggests, so it will bind well in a spreadable consistency. Then, dredge steaks in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and spread a thin layer of stuffing on them. Starting from the largest end, roll steaks tightly and secure ends with string or toothpicks. Nestle the steaks in the roasting pan, cover and cook for about 2 hours at 350 degrees, or until you can omit a knife from the place setting. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with mashed potatoes, biscuits and vegetables. Deb says, don’t forget to remove toothpicks at serving time, and that a pack of onion soup mix works well in lieu of onions, garlic and seasonings.
--Based on recipe courtesy of Deb Boyer of Dakota Outfitters