There’s beauty in simplicity. For Timo Rova, simplicity comes in the form of canning venison with nothing more than a teaspoon of kosher salt and a crushed garlic clove. It also comes in the form of sharing his harvest with family and friends.
The first time he canned meat, 25 years ago, it happened out of necessity. He’d shot a big deer, and then he filled a moose tag. Another freezer wasn’t in the budget, so he turned to his grandmother’s tried and true canning recipe.
Now, a quarter century later, Timo finds joy in the process every year, canning between 30 and 60 jars annually. “It comes with work, but I do think it tastes better,” he says. “It’s a lot cleaner. It’s a lot better for us. It turns out beautiful. My kids love it. Other people do too. It’s really kind of pure.”
For Timo, the canned venison comes from the same place as the wild rice, mushrooms and berries he forages and preserves. All of these items sustain him through the year. He eats his share and gives or trades away the rest to family, friends and neighbors. This far north, gardening is difficult, so Timo gladly trades canned venison for canned tomatoes from the gardens of friends a couple of hundred miles south.
“If someone had a really good year of netting whitefish, they might trade us smoked whitefish that we’ll make into chowder,” he says. “We’ll give them maple syrup, canned venison and wild rice. It’s hard to hit every season, especially when you work seasonally in wildfire or guiding. When you have bounty, you don’t keep it for yourself.”
In canning meat, Timo uses a combination of quart and pint jars. He finds pint jars to be the ideal size for giving away, especially to people who haven’t tried it before and may be intimidated by a large quantity. This versatility is what he likes so much about canned meat—he can give it away or travel with it without having to worry about ice or coolers, or if the electricity goes out there’s no worry like there would be with a freezer.
To him, this lifestyle of hunting, foraging and sharing is about far more than the procurement of food. It’s about the experience of being actively involved and connected with nature. Following a deer trail is no different than going off-trail in search of morels, or of pursuing a grouse as it flushes. And it’s about being part of a community—food may be harvested alone, but it’s most enjoyed when it’s shared.
Timo’s simple step-by-step canning recipe:
1. Canned venison need not be the choicest cuts of meat. Cut as much silver skin and fat as possible off the meat to be canned.
2. Into either pint or quart jars (Timo uses a mixture of both), stuff as much meat as will fit. To each jar add between one teaspoon and one tablespoon kosher salt and one smashed garlic clove. Do not add water.
3. Can for 90 minutes at 15 pounds of pressure.
4. Store at room temperature and eat within two years.
How to eat canned venison:
Timo both snacks on the canned meat and includes it in recipes. He says he’ll use canned venison in any recipe in need of meat, like chili. The pint jars are great for camping, heated over a small stove. The two following preparations, though, are Timo’s favorites.
Dump a can of meat into a pan and simmer with gravy mix and some water. Pour this meaty gravy over boiled new potatoes, carrots and green beans.
Top rye crisps with pieces of meat. Add mustard, raw onion slice and some cheese.