Steve Loder has been hunting since he was 12 and cooking wild game since he was 15. At 59, he's still doing both, and he and his wife Gale are teaching others how to do the same.
The Loders, who live in Pennsylvania's Cranberry Township just north of Pittsburgh, are the authors of a series of books. The "Quality Venison Cookbooks" series is up to four.
The Loders self-published the first three books in the series. Those included venison recipes, Steve's hunting tales and the couple's "field to freezer" guide to help hunters process their own deer meat.
The Loders contracted with Stackpole Books on the fourth book in the series, which contains the best recipes from each of the first three books. It came out in July 2008.
The key to the books - and to preparing venison - is taking proper care of the meat during processing, Steve Loder said.
"That's what the first part of my book series talks about," he said. "If you don't have the right meat - if you have freezer burn or spoiled fat on it - that's when it's bad. It's not the venison, it's the spoiled fat or freezer burn."
THE?LODERS' TOP-10 VENISON?COOKING?TIPS
1. Cook ahead and freeze the meat, or prepare it ahead and refrigerate to finish it the next day.
2. Prepare venison marinades or meat-basting sauces ahead of time and store in covered containers for easy use any time.
3. We prefer to marinate at room temperature for at least 3 to 4 hours, or marinate in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours. Basting sauces for grilling venison can also be used as a marinade in a pinch.
4. When planning a wild-game meal, ask for help with dishes and with parts of recipes beforehand from children or a spouse.
5. After years of experience, it is clear cooking a large meal one time in order to have great-tasting leftovers beats taking the time to prepare several smaller meals.
6. We should never get so tired of eating our venison that it gets freezer burn or becomes too old to eat and must be thrown away. Venison should never be kept longer than season to season unless it is vacuum-sealed. Donate extra venison to family, friends or local food banks like the Salvation Army or Rescue Mission, or to church-affiliated food banks.
7. Vension is most tender and flavorful like the best beef, so it's best prepared medium rare to medium. Do not overcook.
8. We believe you will like our tasty recipes with your wild-game dishes so much that you will use our recipes when you're out of wild game and substitute domestic meats.
9. All wild game is more nutritious for us than farm-raised animals. Game is higher in protein, low in cholesterol and contains no artificial hormones or antibiotics. When is the last time you heard of anyone being hospitalized or dying from wild-game salmonella bacteria?
10. Don't hesitate to substitute similar amounts of vegetables you like in recipes or trade some tomatoes or beans for others. Be creative, like topping off venison soups, pasta sauces, meatloaf, etc., with shaker-style Parmesan or Romano cheese or Italian bread crumbs.
- STEVE AND GALE LODER
Prepared well, Loder maintains, venison is tender, tasty and better for you than beef or other farm-raised meat.
"We're having venison chili tonight, as a matter of fact," Loder said. "Beef is a joke. It just doesn't have the quality of high-nutrition, low-carbohydrate venison. Whenf people come to our book signings and samplings, they always say, 'I never knew venison tasted like this.' It's a rich, beefy flavor."
Loder knows about cooking. His father, Harry, was a butcher in upstate New York when Steve was growing up. When he was 14, his father bought a restaurant and began preparing all sorts of meals.
"At 15, I was working in the restaurant along with my dad," Loder said. "He was always cooking wild game and fish. If I wasn't hunting, I was cooking with my dad. That's where I got this passion."
Steve's father never got to read his son and daughter-in-law's books. He died in 1993, and the first book in the series came out in 1998.
"He'd have been proud, though," Loder said. "My dad was the one who told me about processing your own deer and doing it yourself, instead of leaving it to the butcher."
Loder still hunts and processes his own deer despite health problems in recent years.
"I'm limited in my ability to hunt, but I continue to have passion for hunting and preparing wild-game meals," he said.
Loder, in fact, took two deer last week during Pennsylvania's annual gun season.
"Just Thursday, we enjoyed a meal from the deer I took on Monday," Loder said.
He harvested another on Friday, just a few hours before being interviewed for this column.
Steve and Gale met when both were attending Auburn Community College - now Cayuga Community College - in Auburn, N.Y. Gale did not hunt and still doesn't, but she quickly grew to appreciate her boyfriend's wild-game dishes.
"She was always supportive and encouraging of my hunting," he said. "I'd make duck, rabbit, small game, upland birds, venison. I guess she trusted me. She knew whatever we were going to have, it was going to be tasty. Either at my place or my dad's restaurant, we were going to be eating wild game or fish."
In the mid-1990s, the husband-and-wife team decided to put their best recipes and Steve's hunting stories into print.
"Gale typed up the recipes and tales," Steve said. "She was a believer in the way we cooked. She did all the computer work. We literally started our publishing business at the end of our dining-room table."
Steve, who eventually finished college at Rochester Institute of Technology and earned a business administration degree, did the marketing legwork.
The first edition came out in 1998. Another followed in 2000, and the third hit bookshelves in 2003.
"They all sold very well for being a small, self-publishing venture," Loder said. "But we realized we had to find a national publisher so we could get our books all over the United States and into other countries, like Canada and Germany."
The "Quality Venison Cookbooks" series is available online from Barnes & Noble and Borders and at Cabela's outdoors store locations, Loder said.
Those interested in the couple's extensive collection of recipes and hunting tales can find examples of both on their own Web site, www.qualityvenisoncookbooks.com.