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Whitetail/Venison A Delicacy with Medieval Beginnings


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Whitetail/Venison A Delicacy with Medieval Beginnings
« on: August 13, 2018, 07:36:14 AM »
I thought this was an interesting bit of history for deer hunters. We know some of this, and the read is a bit long, but interesting.(I printed this part because the link was longer)

Medieval Meat
During the Medieval Period in western Europe, venison took on a very special importance in society. Under the rule of the Norman Kings, a Forest Law was established allowing the King to designate any area as Royal Forest with strict laws against the killing or collection of deer or vegetation. Laws also prohibited venison from being sold. Venison represented a special commodity that only the rich and influential had access to. Because of this, venison was much more than protein, it was an obvious symbol of the ruling elite. It became a way for those important enough to have venison to show others they respected them enough to present such a special gift.
The gift of venison might come in the form of an invite to hunt, or several quarters delivered to an estate, an invitation to a celebratory feast, or even live captured deer in wooden crates to be released elsewhere. As a good illustration of the value and prestige of venison, there are written records of guests complaining that other meat (pork and beef) were being passed off as venison to the guests (who knew the difference and were not imressed). Beef and pork could be purchased anywhere, but venison was special. Although today we celebrate the leanness of venison and lack of fatty marbling, in Medieval times fat was desired and relished. Deer were hunted specifically during times of peak fat which they referred to as being “in grease.” Males were hunted in the month prior to rut before they “ran off ” their fat reserves, and females were mostly hunted in late fall after having a chance to be fatted up.
Because of the high value of venison, it became a way to show social leadership and to strengthen social connections in the community. If you were important enough to be given venison then you were known and respected by someone important. As politics became a more important part of Medieval society, the records show that gifts of venison became more common around political election time! According to John Fletcher, in his book “Gardens of Earthly Delight,” the Duke of Norfolk gave away 75 deer in the year 1515; with most going to 16 knights, 5 priors, 5 lords, and other local dignitary.
Although people of that era were commercializing everything, they did not dare extend that to deer meat. Having venison available to all in the open market would have devalued this important social symbol of wealth and power among the elite. Another reason for not allowing the sale of venison is that making it profitable would certainly encourage poaching. Poaching was already well documented in more than just the familiar tale of “Robin Hood.” He was taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but he wasn’t shooting bags of coins with that bow.
Ample court records show that the peasants did not have the same aversion to selling venison; they were always scraping to get by and additional venison in the stew pot or money from poached deer was a welcomed addition. If caught by the forest officer, poachers sometimes were successful in bribery by simply splitting the deer with him. Because venison was such a special treat there was reportedly an increase in poaching immediately before major feasts or holidays like Christmas.
To the modern taste buds, deer fat is not desirable because it has a higher melting point and can feel “pasty” in the mouth when it reaches room temperature. If washed down with a cold drink, it might feel decidedly waxy. There were no freezers or meat lockers in those days and so venison was usually salted and sometimes smoked
before being packed in barrels for storage or transportation. The natural leanness of venison helped keep the meat from becoming rancid. recipes of the day frequently called for a vinegar marinade, which may have been more for disinfecting the meat under Medieval conditions than it was to flavor or tenderize it. Interestingly, many of the present-day sour meat dishes in European cooking (like sauerbraten) may originate from the fact that Medieval kitchens used a lot of vinegar.
Throughout later British and European history, venison continued to be an important commodity to gift to others or flaunt apparent wealth. The upper class who had access to deer continued to invite friends of favor to come hunt or partake in a feast that included venison as its centerpiece. Meanwhile, in North America, Native American tribes revered venison in much the same way by sharing and gifting this valuable commodity among their community. Those with venison were skilled enough to obtain it and those on the receiving end of a gift were honored. To this day, many tribes favor venison over beef because they know it is healthier, harder to obtain, and holds special cultural meanings. A friend who is Navajo sometimes donates venison to members of certain Pueblo Tribes. His gifts are immediately met with insistent return gifts of Pueblo bread, tamales, burritos or fresh corn. The value of venison and the practice of bartering has deep cultural roots going back father than we can document.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2018, 07:39:44 AM by danno50 »


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Re: Whitetail/Venison A Delicacy with Medieval Beginnings
« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2018, 10:38:08 AM »
Neat read Danno, thanks for posting. I’ve always been fascinated with the historical Royal Forest laws in England as I’ve been taught they had a decided impact (going the other way) in shaping our game laws in America. There’s a court case I remember having read about this but I can’t find it for the life of me.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2018, 11:55:31 AM by DW5 »
You cant catch a fish without a hook in the water....

Re: Whitetail/Venison A Delicacy with Medieval Beginnings
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2018, 09:25:00 PM »
Very interesting read. Thanks. Now I want to make some sauerbraten!