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Country Gentleman: Welcoming winter's meat delicacies

A frozen pond is seen in the forest in Shinano, Nagano Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of the C. W. Nicol Afan Woodland Trust)

I am in my study, which is on the third floor of a building built about 100 meters from our house. On the second floor is my gym, and the third floor is now used to store stuff. It used to be the woodland trust office. It was snowing all day yesterday but now we have sun, and as the window right in front of me faces south, I have to pull down the slatted Venetian blinds because the sun shining through the bare trees is so bright in my eyes. In the summer it is cool and green. To my right is another window through which I can see and hear the Torii River rushing by, and beyond that Mount Kurohime looms, all white and silver.

Our house is small, built of wood in 1983, with the original building cost being 10 million yen. The concrete basement is 2.5 meters above ground, built that way because of the snow that slides off the roof. Now in my late 70s I confess that I don't enjoy winter as much as I did when I was young. It's cold, the fuel bills are high, and we have to keep shoveling snow from the steps. However, winter in snow country is a time for guests, and it is my pleasure to have plenty of warmth, food and welcome.

When I first came to live here (in a small northern Nagano town made up of scattered villages called Shinanomachi, with our station called Kurohime) I got a Japanese gun license and joined the local hunting association where I was fortunate enough to make friends. One of them lives close by.

Vegetables tend to be expensive in winter, but because of that friendship I never go short of wonderful, delicious meat. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s we shot hares, pheasants and ducks. Some of the hunters went after bear, but I am far too fond of bears to want to shoot them. Now however, both wild boar and deer have come in and are increasing, causing a lot of damage. They absolutely must be culled.

One morning I woke up to find a whole front leg and half of a front of ribs of a wild boar in the glass enclosed porch of our house. There were plenty of acorns and chestnuts this last autumn, and that is mostly what the wild boar have been eating, so their meat is "umai" and they have plenty of delicious, snowy white fat. I have a big cutting board in my kitchen, upon which I laid out the leg and carefully cut off the meat and fat. Together with the ribs it gives me enough to make 40 generous meals. The next time my hunting neighbor swung by I gave him a bottle of my own single malt whisky. He must have been pleased because the day before yesterday I found in my chilly front porch the whole hind leg and the haunch of a deer, which gives me enough meat to make at least 50 meals, plus two whole venison livers and hearts, a very special treat. I know a lot of people don't like liver, but if you do enjoy it, venison liver is the best, so sweet and tasty, and simply cooked with onions and thin slices of the more chewy heart it is a real treat.

Winter is chilly and snowy, but one good thing is that I can leave meat, fish or other foods in my back kitchen for days, just cold enough but not freezing, so I can quickly cook up a meal or share with other friends and staff before putting the rest in the big chest freezers I have in the basement.

Living in snow country during winter enables me to be welcoming. I can share. My Welsh grandfather would have been impressed. ("Country Gentleman" is a regular column by author and conservationist C.W. Nicol.)

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