Wild Turkey and Dumplings
It’s still relatively early in the Florida spring turkey season in the north zone. Leading up to the season, I made several scouting trips up to the area I hunt in Lake City and had a decent idea of where the birds were. I took my son, Levi, up for the youth weekend and we left empty handed. The woods were quiet as could be and it seemed as though the gobblers simply hadn’t started doing their thing yet. I drove up alone last weekend for the opener and was met on opening morning with the same frustrating silence. I saw some hens and managed to call in a curious black bear to about five feet from me but the gobblers were safe.
Sunday morning I headed to Gainesville for church but not before a last minute hunt with my buddy Levi(not son Levi) at his lease. Gainesville isn’t far from Lake City but you’d have thought it was another state by how the birds were talking. We had gobblers firing off and hens arguing all around us for a solid hour before they decided to pitch down far beyond our decoys and out of sight. We were running short on time so we decided to call it a day. As we were walking out of the woods we decided to check the clearing in the direction that the birds flew. As we rounded to corner on the dirt road we were met by 25 turkeys who were feeding just out into the private land on the other side of the fence. Levi got in the bushes and I dropped right in the road. He called to them as I crawled 25 yards or so down the road to get in range of a good shot. Everything was working in our favor as it started to lightly rain. The rain forced the birds to the fence line and under some tree cover on our side allowing for a shot. I picked out the first bearded bird and shot a decent jake. Not a big bird but I was on the board and it ate as good, actually better, as any mature Tom.
March 17, 2019
The following morning Levi and I decided to try again. This time we hunted the same wood line but further down the way. We had hens calling from across the field so I answered them. As I responded they would respond more aggressive and loud which allowed me to get aggressive as well. All the back and forth must have worked because after a few minutes we saw two red heads pop up over the field on a sprint to find the hens. I was able to call them all the way to the wood line in front of me making for an easy close shot. Just like that I’m tagged out for the season. I’m headed to South Carolina this week with three more tags in my pocket so here’s to hoping for three more stories.
March 18, 2019
I spend a lot of time in the woods and in the water but there is really nothing like turkey hunting. It’s as interactive as it gets and there’s not much else as rewarding as convincing a wild animal to come within yards of where you’re sitting. Except for maybe eating that animal. And that brings me to the real purpose of this story, smoked turkey and from scratch buttermilk dumplings.
As soon as I see an animal I’m about to kill, usually before I even pull the trigger, I’m already thinking of how I’m going to eat it. The turkey is no exception. Of course I used some of the turkey breast, pounded it out, and fried it in wild hog lard that I rendered at home, but that’s another recipe for another day. I want to talk about the turkey and dumplings.
As I write this I can smell the cornbread that just came out of the oven to go along with dinner. Dinner is turkey and dumplings. I started this whole process three days ago by making a brine(see below) and brining the turkey for 24 hours. Yesterday I smoked the turkey over hickory and allowed it to sit in the fridge overnight. Today I made smoked turkey and dumplings. Here’s how it went down.
- soy sauce
- brown sugar
- minced garlic
Mix three parts water to one part soy sauce. You want to make enough to cover whatever it is you’re brining. Salt, garlic, and brown sugar can all be stirred in to taste. I personally like to go heavy on the brown sugar. When you’re done with the brine time, usually 18-24 hours, you’ll want to remove the meat and pat dry. This allows the smoke to stick better. I like to then let it sit out and come up to room temperature before smoking.
I’ll smoke the turkey for two hours at 225 degrees. Pull it out and let it cool a little and then pull the meat.
Pulled Smoked Turkey
- sweet onions
- wild turkey stock, chicken and beef stock works as well
- smoked and pulled turkey
- half and half
I don’t measure anything. I know that can be frustrating and not seem like much help but once you get a feel for it you realize that you can make recipes far more personal with the freedom to add or not add however much or little of any ingredient you want. That said, drop a half stick of butter in the pot and melt it down. After it’s melted add the cut up veggies, stir, and let cook for 15 minutes or so on medium, stirring often. After the onions start to become translucent add some flour and stir until everything is coated. After that you’ll add and stir in your stock and the smoked turkey. Let it come to a simmer and let simmer for a bit while you make the dumplings.
- cornbread mix
- 4Rivers coffee rub
- cracked black pepper
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl and then slowly mix in buttermilk until there are no more dry ingredients. Once you are finished mixing you can begin to spoon in the dumplings using one spoon to scoop and another to push the dumpling off the first spoon. Once the dumplings are in the soup you’ll want to cover and allow to cook at a light simmer for 15-20 minutes. After that you’re done.
Spoon-in Buttermilk Dumplings
While the dumplings are cooking you can prepare your cornbread. I just used the jiffy cornbread mix and follow the directions except I use sour cream in place of milk. I’ll grease the skillet beforehand with the aforementioned wild hog lard and heat the pan. Then I’ll add a thin layer of dry cornbread mix before adding the batter. I realize that not everyone has home rendered wild hog fat in their house. If that’s the case, you need to go get you some… but until then some peanut or vegetable oil will work.
Use a ladle to fill your bowl with soup, grab a piece of cornbread, a glass of sweet tea, eat, and take a nap. Follow this recipe and you’ll experience some of the most traditional, old school, delicious comfort food that wild Florida has to offer.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well. That’s a truth that especially applies to food. Don’t cut corners, do it right. You, your family, and your guests will be all the better for it and eat all the better for it.
Kill and eat,