I recently got a nice call from a reader, Vernon “Butch” VanAlstine, who mentioned that he thought my articles on the outdoors were somewhat tolerable, but “why can’t I talk about the women of North Central PA who enjoy the outdoors?” fishing, hunting, and outdoor activities? I politely suggested that my rolodex be light and asked if she had any recommendations. She hadn’t even finished her sentence when she excitedly said “my granddaughter, Brooke VanAlstine!” Butch assured me that Brooke is a top fisherman, hunter, and the fact that she keeps and prepares exquisite meals from her prey.” As our conversation was winding down, she gave me her phone number, and the next day I called her.
Brooke and I share some common interests around the outdoors: she likes to hunt and fish, but she also has a passion for preparing the fish and game she catches, which is definitely rare. The day after our initial conversation, she posts a photo on Facebook of a steaming pot of rich, hearty squirrel stew with meatballs, and now I have a good story idea, and Brooke is totally into it: a summer dinner at Parker. dame!
By day, Brooke is a 26-year-old office manager for the Buerk Septic Service in St. Marys. She likes to cook any dish that contains game meat, preferably small game, and fish that she has caught herself, so she has the satisfaction and knowledge that she has processed and prepared herself from the forest and streams to the table. . And if that’s not enough, she is an avid hunter of timber rattlesnakes during the summer months.
I call her a few days later to discuss the logistics: a menu, date and time to meet, who’s bringing what, and the game begins. So a week later we meet on a rainy Sunday afternoon in one of the sheltered lakeside pavilions at Parker Dam. And the park is incredibly quiet. We put out a tablecloth for the cheeses, bread, and crackers, and Brooke lays out the game items for the day. It’s going to be a celebratory dinner of freshly caught trout prepared by Brooke, from the streams of Elk County. And it looks and smells amazing. The menu for each savory dish is as follows:
- Thinly Sliced French Baguette Bread and Pepper Crackers
- Sliced Jarlsberg cheese
- Cambozola (Gorgonzola with blue cheese)
Smoked trout with peach brandy
- 2 pounds skin-on boneless trout fillets
- (Brine) water, kosher, slat, brown sugar, peach brandy
- (Ingredients for drizzling) maple syrup, cracked black pepper, Mr. Yoshida’s Gourmet Sweet and Salty Marinade
- Mix the brine ingredients in a bowl, making sure they are all dissolved.
- Place fillets meat side down in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 10 to 12 hours.
- Afterward, rinse the fillets under cold water and place them on a rack and pat dry. Leave for 2-3 hours for a “sticky layer” to form (the layer retains flavor and moisture)
- Set smoker to 150 degrees and smoke for 1 hour. Then set the smoker to 160 degrees and smoke for another hour. Then set the smoker at 170 degrees for another hour. Drizzling during smoking is recommended with Mr. Yoshida’s Marinade
Smoked trout sauce:
- Pieces of smoked trout in scales
- Sour cream
- minced shallot
- chopped chives
- lemon zest
- Lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Mix pieces of trout, sour cream, shallot, chives. Add the lemon zest, juice, salt and pepper. Mix and enjoy with crackers or bread.
Trout, corn and bacon soup:
- 2 pounds trout, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2% milk
- Thick cream
- Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
- arrowroot powder
- diced bacon
- chopped yellow onion
- diced celery
- frozen corn
- Chicken soup
- English sauce
- Liquid smoke
- Salt to taste
- smoked paprika
- Black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Chopped parsley
- fresh or dried dill
- In a medium bowl, combine the heavy cream, milk, and arrowroot powder and mix well. Set aside
- Heat a large 7-quart stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the diced bacon and cook until the fat falls apart. Add the chopped onion and celery and sauté.
- Add the diced potatoes and corn and stir. Add chicken broth
- Add Worcestershire, liquid smoke, salt, paprika, pepper, and cayenne, and reduce heat to medium-low.
- When the potatoes are tender, add the milk and heavy cream. Bring back to a simmer and stir as it thickens.
- Add and stir the fish pieces gently to cook slowly.
- Finally, gently add the parsley and dill.
So summer dining at Parker Dam is very nice. Each dish was unique and excellent, and I was able to take home some leftovers. The soup was rich, buttery and full of trout and vegetables. The smoked trout was memorable and was enjoyed for the next two days with eggs and toast for breakfast. And the Smoked Trout Dip was amazing spread on French bread with the nice crunch of celery and chives.
My conversation with this bright and adventurous spirit is a rare pleasure in itself, but the magnificent picnic we share is delicious and a wholly local wonder. Before we leave, we both agree that every few months we will meet for meals that go well with the seasons. I’m thinking venison stew, or maybe squirrel with meatballs next. What do you say, Brooke?