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Voyageur's Best Generally Speaking Columns of 2002

Men barbequeing

The wildest of the wild in Tamarack
Tamarck Sportman's Club Annual Wild Game Feed
by Lynne Gilfus  | October 15, 2002

The riddle: it's the first Sat. in Oct. and the menu includes duck gumbo, yak meatballs, bear meatloaf, teriyaki venison, Evelyn Swedberg's bread, and caribou steak. Where am I?

The answer: at the Tamarack Sportsman's Club Annual Wild Game Feed.

This was my third wild game feed, and it seems to get better every year. This year's menu was expanded again, and the dishes are getting more and more adventurous. People are also coming from farther and farther away to enjoy the delicacies.

I arrived early so I could be nosey and poke into the cooking and preparations. I found Tamarack Mayor, Bobby Johnson, basting a bear meatloaf in the kitchen, while Lynn and Joni Brekke looked on. Out on the back deck, Scott Besser was grilling venison teriyaki, which he was kind enough to share with me. Scott's great-uncle, Herman Ekelund, the "bullhead champ of Shamrock Township", was filleting bullheads for frying. Bret Ukura was elbow-deep in a bucket of ground bear meat mixing up burgers for the grill. Tim Smith was on a grill, flipping more teriyaki treats. Two turkeys were almost ready in the deep fryers, and we were all getting hungry.

While we were out on the deck, munching on treats, we talked about the Sportsman's Club and the projects for this year. Russ Thompson is President of the club, and new members are very welcome. The club is involved in building duck houses, maintaining a deer feeding program, and assisting the DNR in creating wildlife habitats in the area. Their meetings are held monthly, every second Tues., at the new meeting hall in Tamarack, two blocks north of the schoolhouse.

Now, to the food. As I said, this dinner gets better every year, and this one was no exception. The duck gumbo (Tim Smith) started the meal for me. Much to my delight, it even had okra in it! The flavor was mildly spicy, and was chock-full of duck meat and great veggies. The goose pate (Tim Smith) was savory, decadent and stood up well to the rest of the dishes around it. The duck with wild rice was creamy and savory. The yak (Bill and Marlys Nelson) was a new taste treat for me, and I will go back for seconds next year. I tried a small portion of everything I could fit on one plate, and wasn't disappointed with anything!

As usual with all buffets, there was one item that stuck out in my mind, like nothing else. In years past, back to my childhood, I have never been a bear fan. I've had it fixed probably dozens of different ways, and one bite is all I can handle. I'm glad I hung in there for one more try this year. There was a pot of bear meatballs (Cyndy and Laura Brekke) on the buffet with a creamy sauce that I thought I'd try. Okay - I took a bite before I got to the table because it smelled so wonderful. That was a turning point in my taste-testing career. I went on to take a slice of Bobby Johnson's meatloaf, and a piece of Bob Laucamp's bear roast. I admit it - I'm hooked. We may just have to get out next year and do some bear hunting of our own!

Then, just when I thought I couldn't try anything else, the bullheads were ready for tasting. They were done exactly the way they should be - crispy outside, moist and tender inside. The batter used for dipping was a "sneaky" Cajun - one of those flavors where you notice the spice a moment after you've swallowed. It was a perfect compliment to the fish.

Mel Hazelwood and his son, Mike, joined our table with their plates laden from the buffet. I asked Mel what he thought.

"WOW!" he said between bites.

Mike was tasting Jeff Hawkinson's venison stir-fry and he added, "VERY good."

Mel and his wife, Sharon, own a cabin on Round Lake, but live in The Cities, visiting here on weekends. When they read about the game feed in the Voyageur Press, they decided to make the trip up for the weekend. Sad to say, though, Sharon missed the game feed.

"She took the grandkids to DQ," said Mel. Maybe next year, Sharon.

Dinner was settling nicely when I was reminded that there was a dessert table waiting to be sampled. Fortunately, I had two little helpers, nieces Ari and Jennica, who ate what I couldn't. They plowed through chocolate-covered rice krispie bars, granola muffins, and brownies, pronouncing each one "Yummy". My favorite, without a doubt, was the pumpkin bar (Joni Brekke), which, if Cyndy will give up the recipe, could replace pumpkin pie at my house this year.

While the last of the door prizes was being given out, Bobby Johnson came by the a platter of teriyaki caribou steak, and that was my final taste of the evening - tender, juicy and flavored just right.

With a feast this grand, it's hard to imagine anything better, but I'm betting that next year will include something that tickles the taste buds even more than this year. I'm thinking about getting there an hour early and lending a hand at the grills and in the kitchen. Looks like that will be the best way to get the first taste of everything, eh?

Buen provecho!

This article first appeared in the October 15, 2002 issue of the Voyageur Press.