My Dad was wild about hunting game birds – pheasant, quail and partridge. He was an excellent shot, and I never remember him returning home empty handed. He gave all the credit to his German Shorthaired Pointers, Bridle & Sam, who could find anything in the field. I remember him training them, using a fishing rod to cast a hooked game bird wing out into the yard, then giving a command for them to find and point the wing.
I should mention that Mom had a firm “You clean them, I’ll cook them” agreement with Dad. We all loved to see the ring-necked pheasant‘s beautiful feathers when he’d empty his bag after hunting. But no one – especially Mom – wanted anything to do with removing those feathers (or anything else) from the birds. After Dad field dressed them in the wood shed, he’d look the birds over in the kitchen, searching their little bodies for buckshot. (Most of the time he found it all…)
Mom froze birds after each early November hunt, and when Thanksgiving arrived, we enjoyed her “Smothered Pheasant Wildwood” as a companion to our traditional turkey. For my own field to feast Thanksgiving this year, I’ve sourced pheasant through Whole Foods’ Holiday Table. You won’t find game birds listed in the online store, but you can call and place an order at your local store. I’ve also found semi-boneless European style quail at Neal’s Chop Shop in Greensburg, Indiana.
If you find yourself in possession of fresh game from a generous hunter, I hope he also follows Mom’s “You clean them, I’ll cook them” rule and gives you field dressed birds. If not, and you’re a pluckier soul than I (pun intended), there are good instructions and videos online such as Field Dressing Waterfowl and Game Birds found in Indiana Hunter Education. But let’s assume we’re all working with clean, fresh birds! On to Mom’s “Smothered Pheasant Wildwood” recipe of the 1960s.
This is a very simple recipe with a short list of ingredients and steps. There was no mention among her recipes as to where Mom found this one, but it was her go-to for game birds. Many recipes of the time featured the addition of a can of soup, as this one does. Aside from the rarity of game birds for some, it was even more rare for my Mom to cook with wine!
Mom's Smothered Pheasant Wildwood
- 1 pheasant
- flour for dredging
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 c vegetable oil
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup
- 1 soup can of water (or vegetable stock)
- 1/8 c Madeira wine
- Combine soup, water (or stock) and wine is a small bowl.
- Cut pheasant into pieces - breast halves (cut again in half to make 4 pieces) thighs, & legs. (Save the wings & back for stock.)
- Dredge the pieces in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown meat on both sides, then reducing heat to simmer, top soup mixture.
- Cover tightly and cook over low heat (or bake at 325 F) until tender, about 1 hour.
- Serve with rice or potatoes.
My Mom was a good cook – not fancy or adventurous – but good. I know we’re talking “exotic bird” pheasant here, but she prepared it was because there were bags and bags of them in the freezer. Like most suburban housewives of the time, she definitely preferred getting her protein from the nearby supermarket rather than a canvas bag in Dad’s trunk. What can I say? She loved him, and we dined on pheasant.