How to Cure Those Island Winter Blues

Striped bass have left Island waters, save for a few holdovers trapped in Edgartown or Tisbury Great Pond. The ten-week deer hunting season comes to a halt on December 30. These are trying months for those who suffer from fishing-hunting seasonal affective disorder, a malady that affects Vineyard sportsmen once the fish disappear and the shooting stops.

Its symptoms include the inability to rise from the couch, fruitless and irritating pressing of the TV remote, weight gain attributable to consuming bags of chips, and an unreasonable amount of time spent watching cable fishing and hunting shows (my wife, Norma, insists that if you have seen one deer shot you have seen them all, and I may in fact be watching the same deer get shot over and over again).

According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons and begins and ends at about the same times every year. Symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, “sapping your energy and making you feel moody.”

The Mayo Clinic said treatment may include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy, and medications. My preferred therapy is to make venison sausage. There is no deductible and the end result is a lot more palatable than a medical bill (disclaimer: that is not intended as medical advice).

Sausage making is a fun and creative activity that is perfect for a winter day. The sausage can be enjoyed right away or frozen for later enjoyment.

The average deer shot on Martha’s Vineyard yields approximately thirty pounds of meat. The backstraps, the equivalent of fillet mignon, comprise the tenderest, most prized portion of the deer. The tougher cuts, when not cut into chunks for stew or mixed with fat and ground into burger, are prime material for sausage.

Because venison is very lean, the process begins with adding pork fat. I prefer a mix of two-thirds venison to one-third pork belly fat, which I purchase from the great folks at Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs. I err on the side of fat so the sausage will not be dry. Depending on my mood, I also sauté onion and garlic to add to my mix. I may also throw in some parsley and Parmesan cheese. The options are many.

I am not a sausage purist. I do not assemble all of the spices from scratch. I let others do it for me. My mainstays are LEM’s Backwoods sweet Italian fresh sausage seasonings and Hi Mountain home summer sausage making kit.

The first time I made sausage I enlisted Norma to feed the hopper of our Kitchen-
Aid sausage-stuffer attachment. When the process did not go smoothly and my sausages began to develop hernias, I became a reality TV show chef yelling instructions – “Stuff faster! No, slow down! Add more!”

Norma told me where to stuff it.

The problem was our equipment. The KitchenAid stuffer was not up to the job. Based on considerable research and in the interests of domestic harmony, I purchased a stainless steel five-pound-capacity vertical sausage stuffer from LEM products of West Chester, Ohio. It made the job of cranking out sausages a breeze.

LEM specializes in all sorts of processing products, including casings, seasonings, and meat grinders. But I would not have connected LEM and sausage stuffing to South Water Street, Edgartown, unless it was men in red pants with whale logos stuffing sausages into their mouths at a summer cocktail party. After I sent a complimentary email to the company I heard from Hill Kohnen, owner of LEM products, who told me he had spent summers in Edgartown all his life. His great-aunt was longtime summer resident and philanthropist Katharine Brady Sutphin, who died in January 2007. An avid fisherman, Kay, as she was known, owned the powerboat Governor, captained by Nelson C. Smith, an Edgartown fisherman who died in April.

Sausage making is a process, so I like to make as large a quantity as possible at one time. In anticipation of grinding a quantity of meat, one January day last winter I borrowed a meat grinder from Cooper Gilkes of Edgartown. Coop had cautioned me that he owned the largest meat grinder sold by Cabela’s, the purveyor of everything any fisherman or hunter could ever want to own, but I was not ready for a machine capable of turning a moose into mousse. The grinder made short work of the tubs of venison and pork spread across every surface in our kitchen. That day I made fifteen pounds of smoked summer sausage and five pounds of links, most of which I vacuum sealed for later use.

Fishermen and non-hunters ought not despair. Many hunters are more than willing to share their lesser cuts of venison in return for a share of sausage.

I know some day this winter Norma will look at me, whom she describes as “a lump on the couch,” and ask the perennial question: when can you go fishing again?

That will be my cue to get busy making sausage and chase away the winter blues until the fish return.