Last month, I received a review copy of Georgia Pellegrini’s new book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time. Georgia is a former stockbroker, turned gourmet chef, and then food blogger and author. It’s a circuitous route that becomes an integral part of the book.
Girl Hunter tells the story of her journey to becoming a hunter, and what it’s meant to her life and to her relationship with food. This is a pretty hot and happening theme these days, and Pellegrini is an excellent example of what some people would call, “the new face of hunting.” One thing she is not, as you’ll learn in the book, is your typical “redneck girl”.
The writing is, at its best, well-crafted and evocative. But… there’s a mighty fine line between evocative and sticky-sweet, verging on purple. Georgia dances dangerously back and forth across this line. I defintely get the sense of nostalgia and of place, but then I start to feel like it’s beating me senseless instead of treating my senses.
Or maybe it’s just my tastes. I spent a lot of time and thought trying to figure out what it was, exactly, that defines Georgia’s writing. It finally hit me. This book is feminine. The voice, the stories, everything about it says, “I was written by a girl.”
Of course this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, having spent a good bit of time reading Georgia’s blog before the book came out. This is how she writes, and it definitely creates a “personality”. So as far as that goes, she’s quite consistent. The “girl hunter” writes with a girly voice. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, especially because it comes across as fairly genuine. I appreciate a writer who puts that much of their personality into her work. This is no indefinite or generic narrator… there’s a very real person behind these words. Even some of the technical errors struck me as particularly feminine (Note that these may have been corrected in the final release… I received a press copy).
And pardon me here, because I’m going to stereotype. Flog me later.
Some of the things that were a bit discordant in a hunting book struck me as the sort of mistakes that I’ve heard most commonly from women. For example, in her opening story of the turkey hunt in Arkansas she’s looking through the scope at one point and then, a paragraph of so later, she’s looking down the rib at the bead. Generally speaking, you’re doing one or the other with a turkey gun… but not both. It’s a critical detail to me, as an experienced hunter because it undermines her credibility.
But is attention to these little details really more of a “guy thing” anyway? I know that as much as Kat enjoyed some of the hunting we did, she never really paid close attention to the more technical aspects of the guns and optics we used. Of course she tries in conversation to get the terminology right, but it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t what’s important to her about the hunt. My mom often makes similar errors, despite a lifetime of exposure to hunting and shooting conversations from her dad and brother, my dad, me, and my little brother. I know she knows better, but it doesn’t seem to matter all that much. The gun goes “bang” and we bring home the meat. Shotgun or rifle, centerfire or rimfire, scope or iron sights… none of that seems particularly important.
So I don’t know if it’s a Venus vs. Mars thing, or just simple mistakes that an editor should have caught, but in the bigger picture I allowed it to become part of the girlish atmosphere of the book. It’s not completely off-putting, but I’ll admit that it butted up against my own testosterone-shaded sensibilities from time to time. Then again, I got the feeling that this book wasn’t really written for me in the first place, and I’m probably right.
Nevertheless, once I started reading I had to finish. The entire book (I admit, I didn’t read all of the recipes that accompany each chapter) was actually a reasonably short read. And despite some of what I just said, I really enjoyed most of it. Each chapter is built around the story of a hunt in various parts of the country (and in Britain). It’s sort of a handy structure for this kind of book, and because Pellegrini is far from the conventional hunter, it offers a very non-conventional perspective on the experiences she had along the way.
Ostensibly, there’s a subtext throughout that asks about the sustainability of each hunting tradition or practice. I don’t feel like she really challenged the question, but I didn’t feel like it was all that critical to the movement of the book either. The important thing to me was that the writing didn’t become dogmatic or focused on whether one kind of hunter is better than the other. What it did (and I liked this) was show that there are many kinds of hunters, and that the methods, means, and motivations of each vary as much by individual as by geographic location.
Oh, and the recipes… I’m not real big on following recipes myself, but Pellegrini’s book is full of them. Each chapter is focused on a regional game specialty (e.g. turkeys in CA and elk in WY), and at the end of the chapter are some recipes for cooking the various game mentioned in the chapter. The structure works and the recipes that I did read actually sound pretty tasty. For example, the Moroccan elk stew recipe below actually makes me want to try it. Check it out:
Moroccan Elk Stew
Also try: beef, lamb, bison, venison and other antlered game
4 pounds elk shoulder or haunch, cut into cubes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons grape seed oil or butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 medium-size onions, roughly chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium-size turnips, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2/3 cup dried apricots
2/3 cup prunes, pitted
3 to 4 cups beef or antlered game stock
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot with oil. In a bowl, toss the elk cubes in the flour. Shake the cubes well and place them in the pot in batches, being sure not to crowd them. Brown them on all sides and transfer to a plate or rack.
- Put all of the browned meat back in the pan and sprinkle it with the salt, cinnamon, ginger and pepper. Then add the vegetables, garlic, and dried fruit. Pour in enough stock for the meat to be three-quarters covered, and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat so the bubbles percolate. Cover and simmer gently for 2 hours, until tender.
From the book Girl Hunter by Georgia Pellegrini. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.
Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time is available on Amazon, and at several other locations. Santa Hog approves.