Growing up in a Cree family, one of the first words you learn is “Michiso” which means eat! I spent most of my early childhood with mom’s side of the family, the Garson’s, in Split Lake Manitoba - or Tataskweyak Cree Nation. Split Lake is a small Indigenous community that sits between Thompson and Gillam, over 900km northeast of Winnipeg. As kids, we were always encouraged to go outside and play with our cousins and friends. From the time we woke up, until it got dark. We played in the bush, rode our bikes, made secret forts, picked berries, and sometimes we got to go fishing down by the lake. Whether this was to get us into nature, or maybe just to get us out of the house, It really made for some great childhood memories.
[This blog post is in partnership with Travel Manitoba]
My cho-chum (grandpa), Noah Garson, didn’t speak english. He would speak to us in cree, and somehow we always knew was he was trying to communicate despite us kids not knowing cree very well. I’ll never forget the kindness of his eyes, his contagious laugh, and his big friendly smile. My grandpa was an avid hunter and trapper. It’s how he earned a living, how he always took care of his family, and he was great at it. He would go there for months at a time, usually by himself, and come back with pelts to sell at auction, fresh fish, wild labrador tea, and moose meat to feed everyone. He loved nothing more than being in the bush, and called it “his heaven”. I had only been there once while supplies were being dropped off by plane, and understood why he loved it. It was untouched wild earth. Truly serene, peaceful and quiet.
His trapline was located 90km north of Split lake. The tiny cabin at Trapline 39, which was called Awakekamak, sat near the Churchill river. The incredibly remote location was only accessible by plane in the summer, and by snowmobile in the winter. He would attach his handcrafted (but very solid) sled to his 1984 Elan Skidoo, and set off on the 7 hour snowmobile ride in the -40 weather. His dog Sparky ran alongside him as he drove off towards the lake. He always took one of his dogs to have as a companion and helper. Of course, he had a warm spot for the dog to rest in the sled for the duration of the travels. We would be sad knowing we wouldn’t see him for a couple months, and looked forward to when he would communicate by radio every once in awhile.
When he came back from the trapline, there was almost always a small family gathering at my grandparents house, especially if there was moose meat cooking on the stove. My grandparents always cooked it the same way. It was sliced into thin pieces, added to a very large cast iron pan with yellow onions, and cooked over medium-low heat for 2-3 hours, or until the meat was super tender. Together the onion and moose meat created its own gravy. Towards the end, salt and pepper was added, and It was always served over mashed potatoes with a piece of fresh baked bannock. Very simple, but so comforting and consistently delicious every time.
We may live in Winnipeg now, but moose meat is still something my family and I are grateful to receive once in awhile from Split Lake. My uncle Mike took over for my grandpa well before he passed, and is now part of the healthy food program in Split Lake which works towards providing wild meat and fish for community members. I’m so proud that he is passionate about helping to keep Indigenous traditions and way of life alive along with several other men and women from Tataskweyak and surrounding areas.
What does Moose Meat Taste like?
The taste of moose meat varies. To some, it tastes more gamey, and to others, it is quite mild like grass-fed beef. The taste depends on the animal and its habitat. It is very very lean. Because of this, we like to braise most cuts (usually roasts) for a longer period of time until tender.
If I don’t have moose meat, what else can I use?
If you don’t have access to moose meat, grass-fed beef, bison, or venison(more gamey taste), work well too.
Over the years, I’ve experimented more with different cuts of moose meat in various recipes. Wild Mushroom Moose Burgers, Ginger & 5-Spice Moose Steak Stir Fry have been two of my favourites. What I seem to gravitate to most is a rich stew. This recipe for Hearty Moose Stew with Winter Root Vegetables has got to be one of the most comforting dishes, especially in the winter months. Simple whole ingredients, and so much flavour. Braised meat in a flavourful thick broth with earthy root vegetables. I don’t think there is anything better. Well, the only thing that can make it better is enjoying it with a piece of fresh baked bannock.
If you’re from Manitoba, you probably grew up eating bannock, or have at least tried it. Bannock is a quick flat bread that is very popular amongst indigenous cultures. It can be baked, fried, made into large rounds, or small individual size portions. Some add molasses and raisins to create a desert-like “brown bannock” which is incredibly delicious, others enjoy it more simply made. My favourite memory is watching my grandparents dip it into tea as their bedtime snack. The thing about bannock is that even though it’s so simple, everyone has their own recipe. For years, my dad has been the bannock maker in our house. He has a simple recipe that consists of flour, shortening, salt, baking powder, and water. It turned out soft and flakey on the inside with a nice golden crust on the outside every time.
The table turned this past year when my auntie Liz was over and she made her family's recipe. We were very intrigued when the recipe ingredients called for warm milk and egg, and the baking instructions were completely different as well. We watched and waited for the end result was kind of fascinating. Probably the best bannock I have ever tasted in my life. Extra fluffy, airy and light in texture with a crisp bottom and golden top. I’m fairly sure my dad hasn’t used another recipe since then and I’m very happy to be sharing it with you. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to create a gluten-friendly version of this recipe quite yet but hope to master it in the near future.
From the Buck & Garson family to yours, we hope you love these recipes as much as we do. Know that they truly come from a place of pride and close family ties. A place where tradition and culture are alive and well, and most importantly, a place of love. Enjoy these recipes together, or make them separately. Don’t forget to spread a generous amount of jam on any leftover bannock, it is quite heavenly.