Nature’s bounty: Moose meatballs, bear golumpkis and squirrel stew

Recorder Staff
Published: 3/18/2016 6:02:50 PM

Moose meat makes for surprisingly good tacos. Squirrels go well in stew. Wild turkey meat has no better home than inside a dumpling.

Add a scoop of bear chilli and you have a complete dinner plate served up by a band of cooking and hunting aficionados from Franklin County Technical School.

“It’s like fried chicken, except it’s moose,” said tenth grader Aengus Maloney, dunking strips of raw moose meat into sizzling oil in a frialator. He dunks a second batch in the oil and waits for the country fried moose steaks to get crispy. “The frialator does most of the work, I just throw it in there.”

Earlier that day, Aengus cut up about five squirrels for a stew. He was in the center of the heat and pressure of the Franklin County Technical School’s kitchen one recent Friday night.

The kitchen supplies food to the school's restaurant, The Apprentice, a student- and faculty-run establishment that teaches kids in the culinary arts program the ins and outs of working in the restaurant business.

Like many of his classmates, Aengus spent most of the day preparing game meat for a dinner that fed nearly 300 people in the cafeteria during the school’s 15th annual Wild Harvest Dinner.

By his estimate, Aengus fried about 20 to 30 pounds of moose meat. Some 100 pounds more of moose meat went into other dishes prepared by the students, including moose stew and moose meatballs. Bear golumpkis and pulled pork enchiladas also appeared on the menu, which was hosted by members of the school’s Fins Feathers and Fur club, a hunting and fishing group.

The night brought out those looking for an interesting culinary experience, as well as game hunters looking for their next delicious slab of venison after the peak of hunting season. The sold-out event packed the school cafeteria.

The Massachusetts Environmental Police, also known as the game wardens, donated some of the meat.

The bear could have been illegally hunted and confiscated. The moose could have been hit by a car. Many of the squirrels were hunted by the high school students. Private meat donations from area businesses were also accepted.

There was so much meat coming into the kitchen, it was difficult to keep track of it all. The culinary faculty budgeted one to two pounds of meat per person for the game night dinner.

High school students spent the day of the event in grease stained aprons, draped over camouflage t-shirts, rushing around the kitchen with vats of steaming stews and trays of appetizers. They sliced meats into appropriate cuts, stirred brown sauces for the salisbury steaks and frosted a cake with a bullseye design for dessert.

At the tech school, the classroom and kitchen merge. Students learn to clean, cut and preserve meat. They learn safe food handling skills, as well as the skills to function out in the culinary work force.

“It’s so hot in here,” said Shayla Demers, a student from Millers Falls. Her face is red after a day spent in the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. She prepared crab spring rolls for the game dinner, but her dreams for the future involve baking cakes.

She hopes to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York City one day and open her own bakery. Until then, she will continue to cook in the high school kitchen, where memories are made and friendships forged.

Even alumni come back to the school to work during the annual game dinner. Many of those who aren't still working in the culinary industry miss it, said Chef Benjamin Pike, the culinary arts instructor at the high school. Pike, who is from Greenfield, said he doesn't have any kids of his own, but considers his students his children.

“I can’t say enough about the kids. This is their home. They have a lot of great memories and I’m glad to be a part of those memories,” said Pike, explaining that he is training the sportsmen and women of the next generation. 

When the nearly 40 members of the Fins Feathers and Fur club aren't scurrying around cooking for the game night, they learn how to clean and care for their game and their guns. They fish in the ocean and on ice. “If you teach a kid to fish, they will eat for life,” said Pike.

The school’s Fins Feathers and Fur club puts on the game dinner every year. This year, the event was under the leadership of the club President Gabriel Vorce from Orange. He says his favorite part of the cooking process is cutting the meat. “You get to just focus on it. The world goes away,” Vorce said.

Preparation for the game dinner is a yearlong process. Vorce visited local businesses looking for donations for the event. When the meat first comes in, the students typically gut it, cut it, and freeze it in the school restaurant's walk-in freezer.  

“I think the kids did a great job,” said Shannon Guin. She came to the game dinner from Westfield. The venison salisbury steak was her favorite dish.

As the cleanup process began, students and faculty began thinking about and planning for next year’s game dinner.

You can reach Lisa Spear at:
lspear@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.


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