Texas Parks and Wildlife

Culinary Weekend

Culinary Weekend

Season 1 Episode 10

jesse_holding_court1.jpg

Under the Texas Sky: S1:E10: Culinary Weekend at Llano Springs Ranch

Major support for this podcast comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife

Foundation: Conserving Our Wild Things and Wild Places for Over 25 Years.

[COOKING SOUNDS]

[Jesse Griffiths—09]

Still missed a few…So, I’m gonna start with the fish. I’m gonna do some

fileting;

I’m gonna filet all of them. I know they’re kind of small [begin fade]

but we can

still get some nice filets…

It’s been said, “we are what we eat.” Whether it’s a carrot that was in

the ground

yesterday, or a chicken from a farm yard last month, today those things

are now

cells in our bodies.

[COOKING SOUND W/ JESSE GRIFFITHS]

[Jesse] We could probably get these in lime juice and olive oil… [fade

and play

under narration]

Lots of us have long been concerned about nutrition, about how what we

eat

affects our health. But in recent years, there’s been a cultural wave of

folks who

want to know where their food comes from. And for more and more people,

that

means locally sourced edibles. We may shop at a farmer’s market, grow a

vegetable garden, or…perhaps the ultimate step on the locavore ladder…go

forage

in the wild.

[Tom Harvey & Jesse Griffiths NAT SOUND—10]

[TOM] What are we doing here?

[JESSE] Pickin’ agarita. We were lucky to beat the birds to this bush.

That’s

beautiful… [trails under narration]

What would it be like to go to an award-winning Texas ranch…and to forage

among the acres…and then to eat Michelin star meals using what you had

gathered… with dishes prepared by a renowned chef who specializes in wild

fish

and game…and then eating only what was harvested right there on the

ranch? If

that sounds as good to you as it does to me, then we invite you to the

table. In this

podcast we’re serving up a tasty new twist on some age-old traditions.

[MUS—HOWDY]

From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast

about

nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

[RANCH NAT SOUND, CRICKETS AND BIRDS] bring up under narration…

It’s hard to imagine a more picture-perfect setting for a weekend

outdoors than

Llano Springs Ranch, just south of Junction. And it’s no ordinary group

that’s

gathered here. On this weekend the ranch is hosting Chef Jesse Griffiths

and his

crew. He’s an Austin restaurateur, cooking instructor and author of

Afield: A Chef's

Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish. Jesse owns Dai Due

butcher shop and restaurant in East Austin, and the Dai Due taqueria in

downtown

Austin. He also operates the New School of Traditional Cookery. Jesse’s

made a

name for himself teaching people not only how to harvest wild food, but

also how

to cook what they collect.

[SEARING MEAT IN PAN W/JESSE GRIFFITHS]

[Jesse] It’s super important to get like a good sear on the meat, where

you’re

building up this crust on the bottom of the pan…

[fade searing under narration]

It was a wild food weekend...and Tom Harvey was there to sample and

share.

[SFX—WIND CHIMES BIRDS CHATTER]

[TOM HARVEY] At Llano Springs Ranch, the spring fed South Llano River

runs

chilly cool and crystal-clear right down in front the ranch house. For

decades the

Vandivier (VAN-duh-veer) family has poured their time, money and sweat

equity

into improving the property—removing invasive brush, helping springs

flow,

restoring native grasses and more. The result is an ecological showpiece

of wild

abundance, which earned them a Lone Star Land Steward Award in 2007.

Deer,

turkey, songbirds and all manner of creatures great and small roam here.

Native

bass swim in the ranch’s spring-fed “blue hole”—think Barton Springs Pool

in

Austin or Balmorhea in West Texas. All this abundant beauty draws folks

from all

over, who come here to hunt or fish, kayak or swim in the clear water, or

just hang

out and hear the breeze blow and the birds sing. This weekend, there’s a

bit of all

of that. About a dozen people have gathered to explore, to relax…and to

forage for

wild food, cook it and eat it.

[Margaret Martin NAT SOUND - 06] I like the smaller paddles, because

they’re

more tender, they have a lot more flavor… [fade ambience under script]

[TOM HARVEY] Ranch visitor Margaret Martin is picking prickly pear cactus

pads. You know, the round green pads with all the thorns sticking out.

Yeah, the

team is gonna roast ‘em to burn off the thorns and cook ‘em. In Mexico,

they call

this Nopal.

[Jesse Griffiths & Tom Harvey – 1:02]

[Jesse] Nopal has a…has a really strong role in Mexican cooking. It’s a

very

prominent wild vegetable. It’s easily identifiable...

[TOM] That sizzling is the nopal…

[Jesse] Yeah. That’s the moisture in them bubbling up from the fire. It

is a cactus

and it’s got some spines that can be anywhere from painful to annoying.

But I love

prickly pear and I think many people might recognize it from a menu but

might not

make the connection between what it is. Or, just the rampant availability

of it. The

fact that it’s literally everywhere. And I think that’s one thing that we

really want

to convey is that there is food everywhere around us. There are edible

plants and

things that you can eat everywhere. From prickly pear to agarita to

blackberries to

snails to fish to axis [deer] to hogs. Name it, there’s food out there

everywhere and

it’s yours for the taking.

[Andy and Erin Buckingham - 20]

[Andy] I think the foraging thing sounds kind of cool. And. I‘d love to

see the work

they’ve done on the ranch.

[Erin] Yeah, that’s what I want to see. She was telling me this morning

that they’ve

done a lot of restoration on the land, naturally. And cleared a lot of

cedar. And

that they’ve kept up with it. So, I want to see what they’re doing. [fade

ambience

under narration]

[TOM HARVEY] Erin and Andy Buckingham are paying customers this

weekend, lured out to Llano Springs Ranch from Austin.

[Andy Buckingham - 29] We jumped at the opportunity when we saw it. It

came

up on an email invite through the Dai Due email chain. And we saw this

opportunity to come out to a new ranch, had heard about the blue hole.

So, the fact

that we could be on that ranch was pretty exciting, the fact that Jesse

was gonna be

bringing out the Dai Due crew to cook for us all weekend, and bring the

wines,

and the good times—that was all we needed, so we signed up right away.

[TOM HARVEY] This didn’t happen by accident. The culinary ranch

experience

is the brain child of Jay Kleberg and his partners, who have started a

business

called Explore Ranches. This enterprise opens the gates of some primo

properties

to anybody who’s willing to pay to help support a ranch’s conservation

enterprise,

places with big mountain views, beautiful rivers and springs, and more.

For a price,

you can head out there and it’s your ranch for the weekend. Like many

such

concerns connected with wildlife and the landscape in Texas, it’s a

profit project

with a heart, aiming to do good things for wild things and wild places.

And, to help

city folks get back to the country…

[Jay Kleberg INTERVIEW - 29] Unless you’re a landowner, or you know a

landowner [in Texas], having access to private land with accommodations

in

Texas specifically is a challenge. And what we’re offering is the ability

to choose

an eco-system and a landscape that you’d like to visit on any weekend

throughout

the year and be able to go visit that place, and in most cases, have

interaction with

a multi-generational family who know the history of the land. They can

bring the

landscape to life in many ways, and I think that’s a pretty special thing

that not

many people have access to, and we want to provide that.

[KITCHEN/COOKING]

[TOM HARVEY] Meanwhile, back in the ranch kitchen, Jesse is holding

court,

cooking and talking, explaining what he’s doing, with a dozen or so folks

gathered

round, watching and learning. Right now, he’s fixing to prepare some of

the fish

that Erin caught down at the blue hole earlier. They’re bluegill and long

ear

sunfish, not the biggest swimmers out there, but Jesse explains why

bigger isn’t

always better.

[NAT SOUND – MAKING SUNFISH SOUP]

[Jesse Griffiths—59] I’m a big fan of sunfish... I think they’re

underrated

fish…They’re aggressive, and hard fighters, they’re delicious, beautiful,

they’re

prolific. I just think they’re underrated. Light tackle. They’re super

fun to catch….

So this is a longear. Yeah, this is a longear. This is that big one that

you caught.

Yeah, so this is a total Hill Country native right here. Yeah, I swear

it’s one of the

biggest longear…. I mean, they usually don’t get over four, five inches.

This is a

trophy. Trophy longear right here.

[Guest] You got a picture, right?

[Jesse] Yeah, I got a really good picture of it… We’ll actually come up

with

enough meat on there for a soup. I like to make soup out of fish . If we

don’t have a

lot of big fish, a really good thing to do is just make soup because it

goes pretty

far. All you need is bones and a little bit of meat and you kind of make

up for it

with potatoes, and if corn’s in season, stuff like that.

[MUS—FULL BLOOM]

[TOM HARVEY] Later, Jesse made time to talk about this ranch weekend,

what’s

cool about it, and why he thinks it’s important.

[Jesse Griffiths INTERVIEW – 3:36] - I think food is a great way to get

people

to connect with the natural world because everybody has to eat, generally

multiple

times a day. That gives us a lot of time for conversation in there. And

I’m not

saying that every meal has to have a lot of intention behind it or be

sourced

completely from the wild, but I really enjoy talking with people and

teaching

people about foods that are available to them from where they live and I

think it’s

really important to use your own resources and also to steward those

resources. In

the best way you possibly can.

I live in the city and I understand how hard it is to connect to the

natural world a

lot. But, you know, even in the city, it’s all around you. I mean, we

have loquat

trees and blackberries and plums and pecans and all kinds of things that

are all

around us.

We have one of the best fisheries probably in the country, a few minutes

from East

Austin, that being the Lower Colorado River. Basically, untouched

resource down

there. And it is available to people in cities. And, I think that if you

choose to see it,

then you’ll be able to experience more of it and utilize that resource.

I think hunting and fishing and food are, can be a little misunderstood.

Fishing is

easier for a lot of people to connect with, I think, because of its

perceived lower-

impact or, you know, not as hard, with guns involved, things like that,

but fishing

for food has been around for quite a while.

We are definitely starting to see a shift in younger urban people

becoming more

interested in fishing and hunting. I think it’s a pretty natural

extrapolation from

your farmer’s market, your local food conscientiousness. Maybe they’ve

got a few

chickens in their backyard and maybe they’ve planted a small garden plot

and that

maybe planted a seed that, “Oh, I could, I could continue along this same

trajectory and get more food for myself.” Or have the knowledge of where

that

food came from, which, once they’ve grown their own tomato, they, it’s a

pretty

easy mental leap to, “Oh, this tomato is pretty amazing. I bet a redfish

or a catfish

or a feral hog or a dove that I went out and got myself would be this

good.”

Because there’s an intangible quality to something you’ve foraged or

hunted or

caught yourself.

Maybe it’s knowing the whole story of how it came to hand, but I think

that with

the level of education that people have now and how we’re just kind of

evolving,

that people are making that connection and they’re not putting the former

prejudices they might have had against hunting and fishing… and they’re

willing

to be more openminded.

And so, we’re seeing kind of a, a bit of a push for people in cities to

at least

experience it. Maybe not do it constantly and maybe not be completely

self-reliant

and only eat foraged, hunted, and fished items in their homes, but at

least to go out

and give it a try once… or try to make some sort of practice of it.

From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast

about

nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

[MUS—COAL COUNTRY]

Support from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation allows us to bring

you

stories from Under the Texas Sky. In fact, since 1991, the Foundation has

raised

more than $190 million to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife of our

state.

You can help by becoming a member. Find out how at WeWillNotBeTamed.org

We’re enjoying a culinary weekend at Llano Spring Ranch. It’s a beautiful

place

that the Vandivier family has turned into an oasis of wild abundance. Tom

Harvey’s been our guide.

[TUNING GUITAR – 04]

16a [TOM HARVEY] It might seem like there’s an awful lot of lovely

already

here this weekend…but wait, there’s more! How ‘bout some live music from

a

great songwriter?

[STRUMMING AND HUMMING – 06]

[TOM HARVEY] Owen Temple is a folk and country music songwriter and

musician based in Austin. He's been a finalist or winner of multiple

songwriting

competitions, a professional musician for 20 years, partly as a member of

the

Austin rock group Band of Heathens. He landed a golden ticket to be here

this

weekend…

[Owen Temple - 36] - The way I ended up here is by, I think around New

Year’s I

was renewing my memberships and giving to a few of the causes that I care

about.

I was grateful for some really nice experiences outdoors around the

beginning of

the year, and I was thinking about organizations that help enable me on

those

great state parks trips. And so I gave to the Texas Parks and Wildlife

Foundation.

Saw there was a raffle, and I was like, oh, there’s one more reason to

make a

contribution today, and happily a few weeks after that, I found out that

I won to be

able to come on this culinary experience here at Llano Springs Ranch.

[TOM HARVEY] Owen has lived much of his life in the big city, and he’s

seen

his share of loud music and crowds. But like many people, he values time

in

nature…

[Owen Temple - 46] - The rhythm of flashing screens and inboxes and

notifications and traffic and, I think we weren’t built for that. We

didn’t evolve in

that type environment. We need bird sounds. We need breezes. We need

less

motion. We need to be still in order to really…the word recreation means

to re-

create, you know, and I think that one thing we need to do, the outdoors

to do, is to

re-create ourselves. After coming out here, you know, you all should be

ready to

tackle some complex problems that we all got to do in our job. We gotta

figure,

think hard and…I think after being outdoors, you’re ready for that type

of work

again.

[TOM HARVEY] All of us can see how things have changed, with more houses

and buildings and roads covering the landscape all the time. We remember

what

used to be a vacant lot, or an open field, or a stand of big trees. Maybe

it’s a place

we used to drive by and see all the time, or maybe it’s someplace we

played as a

kid. And now it’s gone. Of course, there’s still a lot of good left

that’s worth

saving. There are still wide-open spaces and places like Llano Springs

Ranch. But

like us, Owen Temple has noticed the changes, especially the exploding

growth of

his hometown, Austin. And what’re you gonna do about that, if you’re a

musician?

Well, one thing you do is write songs.

[Owen Temple DRY CREEK SONG - 109] - Yeah, speaking of being inspired by

outdoor places and people, this was kind of inspired by a place that’s on

the

Balcones fault line, not far from Central Austin, the edge of the Hill

Country where

there’s a great old bar and a lady that ran it for a long time. It’s

called Dry Creek.

[PLAYS SONG]

[TOM HARVEY] We’ve put Owen’s entire song on our Podcast page as a

separate bonus for you. So, go listen to the whole thing there if you

wish. It’s a

hopeful song, about somebody standing up for something worth saving. And

that

strikes a chord with pretty much everyone at the Llano Springs Ranch

culinary

weekend. They see work to do to take care of our natural world, plenty of

it, yet,

both Jay Kleberg and Jesse Griffiths see good reason to hope.

[MUS—DEEP THINKING]

[Jay Kleberg – 1:38] - What I’ve learned, in my childhood, and my work

through

Parks and Wildlife Foundation, is that it takes a team. From the private

landowner—especially in Texas, it’s 95% privately owned—to the

conservation

organizations, and then people that ultimately support those efforts,

whether that’s

through their own contributions, or hunting or fishing or just being

outdoors. And,

so, my hope is that when people actually get out onto these landscapes

and learn a

little bit from the landowner about what it takes to steward that

wildlife and

wildlife habitat, that hopefully they go home and realize that it’s a

team effort, and

that in order for Texas and really other places, not just in the United

States, but

elsewhere, to stay somewhat wild, that they need to get engaged somehow,

whether

that’s with their time or with their money.

[Jesse Griffiths – 1:13] - I am very optimistic about it, because I think

that,

sometimes, you know, we might push things to the brink—we tend to do that

a lot,

as a human race, we kind of like to come in for that last minute save a

lot of times.

And I think that we are on the right path right now. I feel really good

about the

consciousness behind food; the conversations that we’re having. We’re

more of a

microcosm of the state of Texas, I feel very good about it. We have our

own issues

here between public and private lands that are nuanced and complex. But

at the

same time, I think that we can take that culture of mostly private land

and really

make it work from a stewardship aspect, along with the incredible

resources that

we have from public lands and our Parks and Wildlife Department, which I

have a

lot of respect for. And how they get out there and educate and try to

involve people

in the outdoors very aggressively. So, I’m very optimistic about it. And

I think that

there’s a lot of signs out there that could cause one to be pessimistic,

but I think

that we can—I think we’re on the right path.

[KITCHEN TALK, BIRDSONG]

[Guest] That was really yummy.

[Jesse] Yeah…so good. [continue under narration]

24 [TOM HARVEY] From Llano Spring Ranch…this is Tom Harvey.

Before we go, we want to share a Shout Out to the Wild. It’s where you

get a

chance to share a memory or experience about the Texas outdoors with us.

Steve

Morse a retired biologist from Littleton, Colorado reached out with a

forty-year-

old memory of the time he was a student in Texas. He felt uncomfortable

recording

his recollection for us but gave us permission to share it with you… our

colleague,

Roger Kunshick kindly read Steve’s Shout Out for us.

[MUS—STERN DECISIONS]

[Roger Kunshick for Steve Morse—1:55]

My name is Steve Morse, and I live in Littleton, Colorado.

I went to Grad school at Angelo State University in the 1975-77 range. I

am a

biologist, and while working for the now deceased Botanist Chester Rowell

from

the University we spent a week over New Year’s in 1976 at the Black Gap

Wildlife

Management headquarters which borders the Big Bend on the East.

I remember on New Year’s Day 1976 finding 108 flowering species in the

Black

Gap. As we were primarily Botanists, this was the purpose of our trip.

We had

sampling permits and were allowed to collect and press specimens of the

flowers

we found along the way. Since that is a quiet endeavor, we were

surrounded by

the wildlife in the area. Abundant Scaled Quail, and a couple flocks of

turkeys

seemed to be always around. I loved the bobbing lizards and even the

bugs.

The night sky and morning sunrises against that giant skyline were always

amazing in the clear air. Frosty mornings and shirt sleeve afternoons

just made

for the perfect time to visit. I could have stayed a month, but work

called us home.

I swore to go back. To get to the places I missed. I wanted to explore

the canyons

of the Rio Grande but did not. I graduated, moved on with life, and

never went

back. Not even close.

One of my few regrets as at my age and health, it’s probably

a bit rugged for me to get to and really see these days. But in my mind,

I see every

spikey hand to hand combat with the Lechuguilla and wish I could see

another

clear morning there. I hope that the time and treatment of visitors has

been kind to

the place.

Don’t put off spending time in the natural world. And don’t put off

sharing your

favorite memory of the Texas outdoors with us in your own Shout Out to

the

Wild…like Steve Morse of Littleton, Colorado did. Just go to

underthetexassky.org

and click on the Get Involved link. And we’ll be in touch.

[MUS—TO ORBIT YOUR SOUL]

And so, we come to the end of another podcast. Under the Texas Sky is a

production of Texas Parks and Wildlife and is available at

UndertheTexasSky.org

or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks to Tom Harvey for taking us on a culinary trip to Llano Springs

Ranch, to

the Vandivier family for hosting us, to Jesse Griffiths and the Explore

Ranches

crew and all those who made it a great weekend.

We record the podcast at The Block House in Austin, Texas. Joel Block

does our

sound design.

I’m your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti, reminding you that life’s

better outside

when you’re Under the Texas Sky.

Major support for this podcast comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife

Foundation: Conserving Our Wild Things and Wild Places for Over 25 Years.

Join us again next time for Under the Texas Sky.

[Jesse] We are definitely starting to see a shift in younger urban people

becoming

more interested in fishing and hunting.