A plan to cull the East End’s deer population has brought praise from farmers, conservationists and Lyme sufferers (not to mention a bit of protest). But the fact remains that now is prime deer eating season. Each year we look forward to the annual venison dinner at Elks Lodge #1574 in Southampton this weekend, complete with deer meat wontons, shishkebab and quesadillas.
Venison has been a staple in these parts for millennia. Deer figure prominently in the diet of the Shinnecock Indians portrayed in the Shinnecock Cultural Center murals and recipes. Venison stew showed up on the same Bonacker stoves that turned out clam pie, roast duck and homemade (local caught) tuna fish. With farms encased in snow — and still not enough greenhouse production in these parts to satisfy our winter salad fix — venison is a welcome and pragmatic staple.
Not just that. Hunters on the East End, and throughout the region, share the meat with their family and friends, as well as with the public. Several East End towns, including Southold, provide refrigerators for hunters to drop meat, which is butchered and donated to food pantries. Al Jazeera America recently published a beautiful, media-rich portrayal of a deer hunting family in Pennsylvania, penned by Edible Manhattan contributor Regina Schrambling.
Among the local celebrations of this winter ingredient is the annual venison dinner at the Elks Lodge #1574 in Southampton at 605 County Road 39. Started nearly two decades ago, the mid-winter celebration is typically the weekend before the Super Bowl, and will run Jan. 24 and 25 from 4 to 7 p.m., and Jan. 26 from 2 to 6 p.m. “It started fairly small, and then it just grew,” says Elks leader Artie Orlowski, who has helped with the butchering, meat grinding and pot stirring in past years. The venison is supplied by members who hunt. “We got a lot of deer this year. Seventeen deer total. We’ve got plenty for everyone.”
The Elks lodge feast is also proof positive of the flexibility of this and other game. The meal will feature venison at least six ways, including chili, roasts, osso buco, stew and the occasional wild card recipe. Kevin Fallo, the chef at Fellingham’s in Southampton and also the lodge’s in-house chef, has been butchering and preparing the meat over the last few days in anticipation of the crowds that turn out. Edible East End will be there and hope to snag a recipe or two to share with readers.