A FREE Publication Serving Conecuh County Since 2003
Area Students Interview for Southern Pine Electric Co-op’s Youth Tour Program
On Friday, January 12, twenty-four local students were chosen to compete for the honor of being a 2018 Southern Pine Youth Tour representative. Students were chosen by faculty members of their respective schools, based on academic achievements and extracurricular achievements.
Sporting Chef Shares Tips for Tasty Venison
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
With Alabama in the peak of deer season, freezers are getting full, which means it’s time to prepare some tasty venison.
As a buddy and I were discussing on a trip home from a hunting excursion, venison got a bad rap back in the day because of several reasons. Most deer hunting in the mid-20th century was done in front of a pack of hounds on a hot deer trail. Plus, it was verboten to shoot a doe back then. Hence, bucks replete with rutting hormones or lactic acid from being chased by the hounds, or both, made some of the meat less than palatable.
There was also the practice of hauling a nice deer around in the back of the truck to show all your buddies that contributed to the venison stigma.
That last practice is what really irks Scott Leysath, aka The Sporting Chef, when he hears people complain about the taste of venison. Leysath, who has roots in Grand Bay, Ala., and once produced the “Hunt, Fish and Cook” show out of Huntsville, said the care of the deer carcass right after it is harvested is a crucial step to tasty venison.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Alabama,” Leysath said. “Despite this recent cold spell, it can be a little warm during deer season. When I see people driving around with deer in the back of their trucks before it has been field-dressed, it makes me cringe. As with any animal, you need to get deer cleaned and cooled as fast as possible. If you ride around with the deer in the back of the truck, it’s not going to encourage it to taste good when it’s cooked.”
The best-case scenario, according to Leysath, is to have access to a walk-in cooler where the skinned deer carcasses can be hung for at least a week. He hangs larger animals for up to two weeks. The failure to properly age the venison can lead to a chewy meal.
“I actually had a buddy of mine from Centre, Ala., call me and say he had done everything I told him to do to prepare the venison,” Leysath said. “He said, ‘I did not overcook the backstrap. It was 130 degrees in the center. I made that balsamic dressing to go with it. But it was really, really, really tough.’
“I asked him when he shot the deer. ‘Yesterday.’ He hadn’t given that meat a chance. It has to go through rigor for 24 hours, and then you have to let it hang or age. If that backstrap had been aged for a week, it would have been a whole different animal.”
Leysath said that venison that is frozen soon after harvest can still benefit from the aging process. If you don’t have access to a walk-in cooler but have room in a refrigerator, you can put the meat on a rack above a pan and let it age. Another option is to use a large ice chest, but don’t put the venison in the ice. Arrange some method to keep the venison elevated above the ice and ensure the temperature inside the ice chest doesn’t get above 40 degrees.
“You’re going to lose some crusty bits that aren’t going to look all that pleasant after a week or two, but the rest of it is going to be a lot more tender,” he said. “After a couple of weeks, the meat will lose about 20 to 25 percent of its weight, but what is left is good stuff. The dry-aging and hanging makes all the difference in the world.”
Leysath also has a pet peeve about trying to mask the flavor of wild game. He has a friend in Alabama who claims snow goose is by far the best-eating goose. His friend cuts the goose breasts into little strips and marinates them in teriyaki for 48 hours. Then cream cheese and jalapeno are added before being wrapped in bacon.
“That’s the universal recipe with wild game,” he said. “You marinate in who knows what, add jalapeno, some kind of cheese and bacon. Then it doesn’t taste like deer, duck or snow goose. What’s the point of that?”
Leysath said during his travels he has noticed that cooks in some parts of the country are predisposed to overcooking and are convinced wild game must be done all the way through.
“The biggest challenge I have with a lot of folks is to get them to quit cooking their deer quite so long,” he said.
Leysath gave a venison cooking demonstration at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association conference last fall, and the venison didn’t stay long in the frying pan before he was slicing it into bite-size pieces.
“I just sort of looked at it, didn’t I,” he said with a laugh. “Had I kept cooking it, it would have been less tender. And that was a muscle from the hind quarter. That wasn’t a backstrap. The key is, before serving, cut it across the grain. If you see long lines running through it, you’re cutting it the wrong way.
“And if the internal temperature is beyond 140 degrees, it starts to get tougher. Some folks can’t get past eating medium-rare venison. If I’m doing a seminar, I’ll cover it up with a dark sauce, and they talk about how tender it is.”
Obviously, Leysath does not apply the medium-rare rule to all venison.
“Sometimes, you want to go low and slow,” he said. “If you’ve got a venison shoulder, leave the bone in. Give it a good rub with olive oil and whatever seasoning you prefer. I’m going to brown it and then braise it in a roasting pan with a can of beer, celery, onion and carrots at a low temp. I’m going to let that moist heat do the work for me. After a few hours, the meat is falling off the bone. I wish deer had more than four legs, because those shanks are some of the best eating when you cook them low and slow.”
When Leysath wants to change skeptics’ minds about the taste of venison, he uses this trusty recipe.
Backstrap and Berries
½ venison backstrap
3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
¼ cup red wine
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp berry preserves
3 tbsp chilled butter
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup whole berries
Trim all silverskin off the backstrap and either cut into thick medallions or in chunks that will fit in the frying pan. Sear all sides of the venison in the hot oil and set aside. Add red wine, balsamic vinegar, garlic and berry preserves to pan and reduce by one-third. Add chilled butter. Slice venison across the grain. Pour balsamic-berry sauce over venison and top with your choice of whole berries.
Leysath also suggested a very simple dish of four to five ingredients with an Asian flare.
½ venison backstrap
¼ cup yellow mustard
½ cup sesame seeds
3 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup chopped green onions
Optional: couple of shots of sriracha hot sauce
Take backstrap and cut into thick medallions or manageable chunks. Coat in mustard and then roll in sesame seeds (look in Asian section of the grocery store instead of spice aisle). Sear all sides of the venison in hot oil and set aside. Add soy sauce, vinegar and chopped green onions to pan. Reduce by one-third and then pour over sliced venison.
“The key is to not overcook it,” Leysath said. “If all of your venison goes into a slow cooker with a can of cream of mushroom soup, you’re really missing out on a whole lot of venison flavor.”
Of course, many hunters will grind most of their deer, save the backstraps and tenderloins. Leysath has a proven shepherd’s pie recipe that gives cooks an option other than burgers or venison chili.
Venison Shepherd’s Pie
2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups ground venison
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp kosher or other coarse salt (or 2/3 tsp table salt)
Pinch or two black pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chicken, beef or game broth
Dash Worcestershire sauce
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup half and half
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To prepare filling, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add celery, onion, carrot and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add ground venison and cook, stirring often, until evenly browned. Sprinkle flour over and stir to mix evenly. Cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining filling ingredients, stirring to blend and cook for 2 minutes more.
Prepare topping. Place peeled and quartered potatoes in a pot. Cover with at least one inch of water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well, return to pot and whisk in butter and half and half until smooth.
Transfer filling to a lightly greased baking dish. Spread potatoes over the top and place in preheated oven until lightly browned on top and the filling is bubbly hot.
ALABAMA SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE RECRUITING ACADEMICALLY TALENTED STUDENTS
MOBILE, ALABAMA – The Alabama School of Mathematics and Science is currently seeking applications for the 2018-19 school year.
ASMS is our state’s only fully public and residential high school for sophomores, juniors, and seniors seeking advanced studies in math, science, and the humanities.Newsweek, The Daily Beast, and The Washington Post have named ASMS among the nation’s most competitive schools. Tuition, room, and board are free.
Currently, 262 students from 48 Alabama counties study at ASMS.
“Every Alabama resident should be exceedingly proud of these young people,” said Dr. Monica Motley, ASMS president. “They’re joining a growing movement of ASMS leaders who are making an impact on our state and world—creating opportunities where others see obstacles.”
Since the school’s founding in 1989, more than 2,100 young people have graduated from the school, representing all 67 counties. Each graduate has been accepted to college.
In the last 17 years, ASMS graduates have earned $190 million in merit-based scholarships. Two out of three graduates are leading in STEM careers, and two in three have pursued graduate degrees.
“We’re looking forward to more young leaders from other counties to join our community,” said Motley. “I am continually impressed by the state's young people and their innate leadership abilities we hone at ASMS.”
Applications for the upcoming cohort are available online at www.asms.net. Students are evaluated based on academic success, ACT scores, maturity, essays, and recommendations teachers. The application deadline is February 14, 2018. Applying to ASMS is free.
For more information, please contact ASMS Admissions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, potential applicants and their families may attend ASMS Day.
ASMS Day is an event designed to showcase ASMS to prospective students and parents. The event will take place on Saturday, November 11 and Saturday, December 2. Parents and potential students are welcome to tour the campus and take part in classroom demonstrations.
ASMS student Ambassadors will lead your group to these various demonstrations and answer any questions you have.
To register for ASMS Day, visit www.asms.net.
License Purchase Method Modified for Some Military Personnel and Those with AL Non-Driver ID Cards
Non-resident military personnel stationed in Alabama and those with Alabama non-driver identification cards will see changes this year in the process of purchasing Alabama recreational hunting and fishing licenses. The changes became effective August 21, 2017.
Non-resident military personnel stationed in Alabama must apply for a hunting and/or fishing license at their local probate office, license commissioner, Marine Resources Division office, or Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. A valid U.S. driver’s license, military ID card, and a copy of military orders assigning them to Alabama for 30 or more days will be required when applying. This also applies to spouses and dependents.
Those with Alabama non-driver identification cards must also apply for a hunting and/or fishing license at their local probate office, Marine Resources Division office, or Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. Two additional proofs of residency are required when applying.
These changes were made to ensure the correct license types are being sold to applicants. It is a violation of Alabama law to willfully or knowingly make a false statement when purchasing an Alabama resident hunting or fishing license.
Hunters and anglers make conservation efforts in Alabama possible through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses. Fish stocking, wildlife management, public hunting land, and marine fisheries management are just a few of the programs funded in part though license sales.
More information about the types of licenses available, hunting rules and regulations, and how to purchase a license can be found at www.outdooralabama.com/alabama-license-information.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.
Eastern Indigo Release Adds 26 to Conecuh Forest
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Jim Godwin crouched next to a patch of white sand in the Conecuh National Forest last week and gently released a dark, 6-foot-long serpent. The threatened eastern indigo snake didn’t hesitate to slither quickly into the intended target, a gopher tortoise burrow.
The head of the eastern indigo snake, with its tongue testing the muggy July air, made a brief appearance at the burrow’s entrance, but there was too much hubbub going on in the longleaf pine forest for it to pose for photos. No encore. Elvis has left the building.
The hubbub was created by efforts to reestablish a viable population of the snakes that once were abundant before the longleaf pines became a prime species for lumber production. More than two dozen people, including wildlife and forestry professionals as well as interested citizens and their children, joined the project leaders to release the snakes.
Godwin, of Auburn University’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program, has spearheaded the project for the past 11 years, and last week’s release of 26 eastern indigo snakes increased the number of released snakes significantly.
Through a grant from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, the program had previously released 107 eastern indigos into the wild, according to WFF Grant Coordinator Traci Wood.
“This project is an example of great accomplishments for the eastern indigo snakes and all the partners involved,” Wood said. “It’s a great effort toward the recovery plan to enhance and maintain a population in the historical range of the eastern indigo. This species was extirpated from the state and hadn’t been seen since the 1950s. It is considered an apex predator. It plays an important role in the ecosystem, specifically the longleaf pine ecosystem. I think this is an exceptional example of the reintroduction of an imperiled species.
“This project is not only about the propagation and release of these snakes in the forest; we are also monitoring these snakes. PIT (passive integrated transponder) tags were inserted into the snakes. We will have technicians walking areas where snakes were released to look at survival, abundance and demographics.”
Eastern indigo snakes are the longest reptiles native to the U.S. at more than 8 feet long. They prey on a variety of small mammals, amphibians, lizards and numerous species of venomous snakes. The venomous copperhead snake is a common meal for the indigo. Godwin said indigos will range far and wide during the warmer months and then seek refuge in the gopher tortoise burrows during the winter.
Wood said the WFF’s State Wildlife Action Plan identifies 366 species that are in the category of greatest conservation need.
“Alabama is one of the most diverse states in the nation, specifically Conecuh National Forest, in terms of amphibians and reptiles,” she said. “This area is the most biologically rich public land in the country.”
Wood said the long-term goal for the eastern indigo project is to release 300 snakes into the wild.
“It’s a long-term effort our agency is committed to with all our partners,” she said. “I want to thank Jim Godwin with Auburn University, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Zoo Atlanta and OCIC (Central Florida Zoo’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation) for all their work and dedication. And I want to thank the U.S. Forest Service for their exceptional management to give us this opportunity to release these snakes in quality habitat.”
Tim Mersmann, Conecuh District Ranger, said he hopes the release of eastern indigo snakes becomes an annual event.
“We are all about restoring longleaf pine forest ecosystems on the Conecuh,” Mersmann said. “It’s really what drives us. This open, fire-maintained forest is what we’re about. This type of forest ecosystem used to be the most common condition along the coastal plain and the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast. Now it’s fairly rare. Many of the species associated with it are rare as well.
“We’re about restoring this condition as part of our natural heritage. And restoring the ecosystem means restoring the parts and pieces. One of the most exciting and striking pieces, no pun intended, is the eastern indigo. These snakes are very docile, but they are really a top predator in this type of ecosystem. So, to get them back after decades of being missing from this ecosystem is really exciting.”
Mersmann said that herpetologists have studied the 84,000-acre Conecuh National Forest and determined it has more species of amphibians and reptiles than any public land unit in the country.
“We’re really proud of that,” he said. “It’s a great haven for reptiles and amphibians, a great home for a snake-eating snake like the indigo. They’ve got a real smorgasbord to choose from. And it’s heaven for herpetologists as well.
“Beyond the herpetologists, this is part of our natural heritage. It’s part of the legacy we want to leave for the future. That is why we really enjoy having kids out here for the indigo snake release. That’s been part of the tradition.”
Godwin said last week’s release was the fifth major release in the project’s 11-year history.
“When we set out looking for a place to begin this project, Conecuh stood out as the only place in Alabama where we could successfully accomplish this task of reintroducing a population of indigo snakes back into Alabama,” Godwin said. “It had to do with this relatively intact landscape and good ecosystem management, and, as best as we know, the perpetuity of that management.
“This area is incredible for reptile and amphibian diversity. Another species in Conecuh that is rare is the gopher frog. One of the top breeding sites for gopher frogs is right here in Conecuh.”
Godwin said during the early days of the indigo project the snakes to be released were propagated from indigos that had been captured in the wild in Georgia. The indigos in last week’s release were bred in captivity at the Orianne Center at the Central Florida Zoo. Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army’s Fort Stewart also provided indigos in the past.
“Rearing an indigo in captivity costs a lot,” Godwin said. “When you multiply that by 50 or 60, it’s a huge task. We’re very grateful the zoos have been able to step up. The Birmingham Zoo now also has an interest. As this project has moved along, it has continued to expand. We also welcome new partners to help support this.”
Godwin said monitoring the success of the reintroduction of the indigo population is a difficult proposition, but new technology promises to make it easier. During last week’s release, the youngsters in the group were given priority to release the snakes, hopefully fostering their interest in the species.
Goodwin said eastern indigos are next to impossible to find in the wild.
“If you don’t have a radio transmitter in an indigo snake, you don’t know where it’s going or what it’s doing,” he said.
Godwin did say one eastern indigo snake was spotted in Conecuh National Forest this year.
“This is a federally threatened species, and the person who saw it knew it was protected,” he said. “I wish we could have collected some information, but he did the right thing by leaving the snake alone. We know indigo snakes are surviving out here. We hope in the future, the children will grow up with an appreciation and a real care and concern for these snakes.”
Rather than writing this article myself and bringing up the details of this murder through a rehash of court documents, I have chosen instead to link to this article from The Montgomery Advertiser.
I will not be including an article concerning this case in our July print edition in order to spare the family of Ms. Clarene Haskew more local public disclosure, however the people of Conecuh County have a right to know the latest information concerning this case.
Evergreen Wood Products And BIOTAP Update
May 7, 2015
Owassa Man Wounded By Law Enforcement Following Domestic Dispute
Saturday, March 7th
By: Jim Allen
Special thanks to WSFA Channel 12 in Montgomery for picking up our article on the officer involved shooting in Owassa.