Hunter's Bean Soup

September means the crisp, cool fall days are here....and that Chef Ray hits the hunting trail, this time at goose camp. After frying up a hearty breakfast at 5:30am for the crew, we spent Labor Day flat on our backs--dressed in camo and painted faces--waiting for the birds to fly overhead. My ravenous companions demanded an equally filling meal after the hunt and fortunately, I had the foresight to throw on a rib-sticking pot of Hunter's Bean Soup.

If you're bringing some novice hunters along (like Vic who falls asleep or Kurt who forgets his bullets), goose camp is a perfect place to start. There are many camps in Michigan who specialize in water fowl. They lease property all over and point you in the right direction. You're almost guaranteed a successful strike....and properly cooked, a goose makes a fine meal. I'll give you directions for goose recipes in a future column. We've frozen some of ours for the holidays coming up.

Back to the soup, to fix a fine pot o' beans, you'll need:

1 lb.           pinto beans
2 ea.           onions, finely chopped
3 cloves        garlic, minced
3 TB            bacon grease
1 12 ounce      can beer
14 ounces       chicken stock or broth
1 lb.           smoked ham hocks
6 ea.           fresh tomatoes, chopped
3 TB            chili powder
1 TB            cumin
1 tsp           oregano
2 ea.           bay leaves
1 tsp           black pepper

If you remember to rinse and soak the beans overnight, the job of cooking them becomes much easier. The next morning, pour off the water and rinse them again. This procedure is a necessity to eliminate much of the gas problem associated with beans. My third goose camp companion, Monty--who was forever checking out the deer runs in the woods--claims to never rinse his beans and that "barking spiders" are a fact of life!

The next morning, all you do is fry up the onions and garlic in the bacon fat, add the beans and the rest of your ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the beans are soft. Remove the hocks and pull off the meat from the bones, returning it to the soup.

Lastly, grab a big bowl and a brew and dive in. Don't forget to serve this with some pickled eggs. That's a camp specialty, too. And as always, a good cook appreciates nature and what it has to offer.