Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wolf Miscellany

I think there is an unstated human obsession with wolves, perhaps because they contain in essence both the genes of our species' best animal friend, and the age -old simultaneous rep as humankind's most visible enemy. Here are a few recent instances.

I have always heard the some of the big Central Asian flock protection dogs are interbred with wolves. As wolves are among their chief adversaries, and the phenotype is so different, I never took the myth too seriously. I was wrong-- apparently there is a surprising amount of fraternizing. One of the scientists involved puts it just that way: ""The shepherd dogs are free-ranging, largely outside the tight control of their human masters. They guard the herds from wolves, which are common in the areas where they are used, but it appears that they are also consorting with the enemy."

The implications of this, in such areas as nature vs nurture, are enormous. Obviously genes aren't all, or the offspring would not be useful. Training and loyalty must come in somewhere.

John Wilson participated in a "round- up" of some of the breeding Mexican wolves held at the Sevilleta, where they needed to capture a pair to send to Mexico. I was happy to see they are really being kept in isolation these days, having seen evidence of the contrary a few years back-- letting in television news helicopter crews for a shoot is not isolation! Also interesting was how passive and shy the wolves are, offering no resistance. The workers formed a line and swept down the hill to where the den boxes are; the wolves retreated to the boxes; the volunteers then opened the den, pinned the wolves, trussed them, drugged them and carried them out. No one, human or wolf, was injured.

Some notes from John (odd format is from his notes):
Far up a canyon, many pens are separated by many gates and fences. This is where the captive Mexican Gray Wolves live and breed.  It is not an area that visitors get to see.  Only staff and volunteers who are working on specific projects enter this area.  The large deep canyon in which the facility rests is filled with large pens enclosed with high chain link fences.  There are half a dozen of these pens, each about a couple of acres.  The pens are reached by passing through anterooms and doors are closed to ensure no escapes...

--> We all created a line with various tools to make us appear larger. Then we slowly walked toward the wolves wooden box den.  The wolves are immediately panicked by human presence.  They are very afraid of us because their contacts with humans have been kept to an absolute minimum. ...  We caught glimpse of the wolves as they ran back and forth and away from us.  
--> The wolves fear humans and try to get away as they would in the wild. Their only option is to get in their den. With serious coaching from the staff the line advanced toward the plywood box den and very quickly the wolves went inside.  A staff member ran to the den and closed the only door.  In both enclosures the wolf pair quickly took shelter in the den.

--> From the first moment access is possible the wolves (a mated pair) are monitored to ensure their safety.   The dens have hinged roofs and side panels.  The staff check on the wolves constantly through the exercise and are alert to signs of stress and overheating.  Long forked control sticks keep the wolves immobile until they are ready to be moved onto the ground cloths where the work will be done

--> With surprising speed, blood sampling, stool sampling, palpation to determine pregnancy, inoculation, and other procedures take place. A radio tracking collar is put on. Cooling ice packs and alcohol for the feet keep the animal from overheating.   

--> In a few minutes the wolf is lifted gently into the travel kennel.  When lifted from the work area to be placed in the kennel the wolf’s tail was curled under its body and no struggle was made.  Hind end first, the wolf was placed in the kennel.  When the animal was safely inside, the muzzle was removed by pulling on a rope and the door was closed.

--> This pair of wolves with the female pregnant will be driven to Laredo and transferred to the Mexican staff who will release the animal in to reserves on that side of the border.  The other pair will cross the border at El Paso and be a part of the endangered species work there.
And then there is what we might call the decadent-- an L.A.  chef's new avant- garde signature dish, "Wolves in the Snow": venison in the image of a wolf kill .

"To pull of the dish, Thornton uses venison to replicate the sort of meat a wolf might eat; the blood is a beet and blackberry gastrique; and the snow is a creamy cauliflower purée. Something, perhaps, to be made for your next date night?"

Here is the recipe:
Wolves in the Snow
From: Craig Thornton of Wolvesden
Serves: 4-6
2 lbs. venison tenderloin, trimmed of silver skin and brought to room temperature
salt to taste
pepper (crack a good amount of pepper onto the venison after cooking)
grape seed or canola oil
basting kit: 2 tablespoons butter; thyme; and 2 garlic cloves crushed with the skin left on
1. Heat oven to 300°F
2. Add a decent amount of oil to a large, hot pan.
3. Season venison with salt and a small amount of black pepper. Add venison to the pan and brown on all sides. Then place the pan in the oven for 7-9 minutes, until rare to medium rare (any more and the meat will taste overly gamey and iron-y).
4. Remove pan from oven, and add basting kit into the pan. Once the butter is melted, spoon it over the meat. Baste for about two minutes.
5. Take venison out of the pan and let rest for 8-10 minutes. Season with black pepper.
Cauliflower purée
1 head cauliflower (with a few pieces reserved and left raw)
salt to taste
milk (to cover)
1 tablespoons lemon juice
small pinch of sugar
1. Cut the head into florets, about 2-inch pieces.
2. Place in a pan, cover with milk, and season with salt and sugar. Cook until soft enough to blend.
3. Remove cauliflower from pan, add to blender, and blend. Add cooking liquid as needed, until you have a slightly thick purée. Adjust seasoning to taste, then set aside along with lemon juice (which will be used for final plating).
Raw cauliflower
reserved raw cauliflower
salt to taste
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs lemon juice
small pinch of sugar
1. Chop the cauliflower roughly.
2. Combine remaining ingredients, then use them to dress the raw cauliflower. Set aside.
Blackberry beet "gastrique"
1 cup beet juice (preferably from freshly juiced beets)
1 pint blackberries
Banyuls vinegar to taste
salt to taste
sugar to taste
1 sheet gelatin, or ¼ packet powdered gelatin
1. Place beet juice in small pan and reduce over low heat (a higher heat will give you a bitter flavor).
2. Take your blackberries and put them through a food mill, or crush them and force them through a fine strainer. Do not blend the blackberries, as you do not want the flavor of crushed blackberry seeds.
3. Once the beet juice is reduced by half, add the blackberry purée. Season to taste, adjusting the vinegar and sugar for a sweet-and-sour flavor, adding a little salt to sharpen the flavors.
4. Once seasoned, bloom your gelatin sheet, or powdered gelatin, in water.
5. Lightly heat your sauce, keeping below 120°F (you want it just barely heated enough for the gelatin to dissolve, but also to not kill the raw blackberry flavor).
6. Mix in your gelatin. Once dispersed, adjust seasoning again, then store and set aside.
Douglas fir
2 packets of Douglas fir pine needle tea
1 cup water
sugar to taste
1 sheet gelatin or ¼ pkt powdered gelatin
1. Make Douglas fir tea.
2. Strain, then season with sugar.
3. Bloom your gelatin.
4. Mix in gelatin, let cool, then set mixture aside.
Hen of the woods mushroom
2 package hen of the woods mushroom
grape seed or canola oil
salt to taste
butter to taste
1 tablespoons chopped shallot
1. Heat large sauté pan with oil.
2. Add mushrooms, but do not move the pan or touch the mushrooms. Let them sit, and gain color on one side (by seasoning later, the mushrooms will retain more liquid).
3. Add a spoonful of butter and the shallots, then let cook for a few minutes. Season, and set aside until plating.
Final plating
1. Warm the cauliflower purée, add lemon juice, then adjust seasoning.
2. Take Douglas fir sauce, and put about ½ tbs on the plate.
3. Rip venison apart with two forks, which will act as sharp teeth.
4. Place cauliflower purée on the plate.
5. Lay mushrooms, scattered, on the plate.
6. Lay down the venison, then sprinkle the raw cauliflower, letting it fall wherever.
7. Attack the plate with your blackberry beet "blood." If you don't get "agro," then your plate will reflect that, and who will believe that you, or a wolf, killed this thing?

 Actually it sounds pretty good, but it looks more than a little grim. Cat suggests: "... it would be more authentic if the chef would have slid a rumen sac replica onto the plate." Chas adds "No marzipan intestines?" But Jack, who found and sent it, has the final snark: "Of course, if he weren't a complete pussy he'd be opening joints in Pinedale, Salmon and Reserve instead of L.A., where the local critics could offer meaningful feedback on wolf attack verisimilitude." Ouch!


Moro Rogers said...

There could be a whole series of dishes like this- Shark Frenzy, raggedly-cut tuna sashimi on a bed of mixed blue raspberry and red cherry jello...Camel Spider, a fried softshell crab with two legs cut off (cause it's supposed to be an arachnid) on top of some couscous representing sand, garnished with dog tags...

Steve Bodio said...

Moro, that is nothing less than brilliant!

Dave said...

A lot of the dominant dog phenotypes can hide the wolf-ancestry. One which come immediately to mind is drop-ear.

There's no shortages of F1 crosses which look nothing like their wolf-parents.

Actually, most of the dog phenotypes are selected against by natural selection or through assortive breeding.

Retrieverman said...

There are a lot of weird dogs with wolf in them. I was reading a history of the Plott hound a few months ago, and I was shocked at how often the Plott family bred wolves to their hounds.

There was also a pack of Griffon Nivernais in Brittany whose houndsman was a wolf hunter, but who always crossed in a bit of wolf into his hounds to make them harder on the wolves.

Steve Bodio said...

More please!

Anonymous said...

I just don't get the FAKE wolf kill inspired dish--but then I HAVE been known to serve guests things like ACTUAL "woodchuck mcnuggets", the meat from which was actually killed and fetched to me by one of my wolf hybrids! The Mexican Wolf capture/checkup is also par-for-the-course with our "Red Wolves" here at the zoo I work at--despite the FACT that under certain specific circumstances, desperate and/or human habituated wolves CAN be dangerous, mostly they ARE shy and naturally tend to be extremely wary of people. One is really wasting a lot of adrenaline and emotion being afraid of typical wolves in wolf territory. Usually.....And the whole wolf--dog crossing bit--it is a SHAME the whole stupid pet wolf-hybrid fad got started and tainted most peoples' views on these animals(even though it is what allowed me to acquire the 5 that I've kept in my lifetime)--SO MUCH can be learned about dogs, wolves, and LIKELY theories of dog domestication(NOT Coppinger's ramblings!)--I certainly got a superb education on the subjects from mine! Although it certainly IS true that most modern civilized, urban-oriented people are poor homes/environments for any canine with some recent wolf genetics(usually)--but then this type of human is a poor home for LOTS of critters, including many of the more demanding "purebred" dogs! Any in-depth study of dog breeding throughout the centuries will reveal quite a bit of wolf crossing back-and-forth--this is NOT news to me!(But very interesting always!)--but modern "purebred" dog breeders will VEHEMENTLY deny it, of course, because for some reason(inaccurate wolf-hybrid propaganda?), they just don't WANT to believe it! And of COURSE it makes perfect sense, for REAL CANINE FUNCTION and genetic health, but too much human emotion and prejudice is attached, alas, to the whole "wolf" image! The same people that rail against wolf-dog crosses as being "genetic frankensteins" don't bat an eye at crossing almost any other domestic animal to it's wild or feral ancestors for improved health and ability. Go figure......L.B.

Anonymous said...

...and Steve, I've also read(in books I have) those same comments Retrieverman brought up. The one about hunters in the southern Appalachians occasionally breeding their Plott hounds to a captive wolf was in the great hound book, "Strike And Stay; The Story Of The Plott Hound" by one of the Plott family descendants, Bob Plott. A lot of people might not realize that GRAY wolves(not REDS in the Appalachians, despite modern propaganda to the contrary, as often seen on inaccurate range maps of original Red Wolf and Gray Wolf ranges) were still present(if rare) in the southern Appalachians up until the very early 1900s. And hunters occasionally raided dens and kept and raised pups as captives(usually on a chain), and indeed bred them with their hunting hounds--"fer GRIT"! I also read about the hounds in France being crossbred with wolves back in the days when they were still hunting wolves, in a book I'm sure YOU HAVE in your library, Steve--Daniel Mannix's "A Sporting Chance", in the chapter on Formal Hunting With Hounds, page 194. Of course there is also GOBS of accounts of wolves and dogs crossbreeding naturally and human-encouraged in early explorer/Indian accounts, and plenty in sled dog lore as well(of which I could look up specifics if you're ever interested....)....L.B.

Roshan said...

Dear Mr Bodio.

I have been reading your books as and when they get published, over the years. I am an armature falconry enthusiast. I was posted to Afghanistan in January and head the mission for Doctors without borders here.
I did some research before I came and all indicators pointed in the direction of the art (falconry) being lost here. This is true for the most part, at least in the big cities. However people here seem to like to have hawks and falcons as pets and there are literally hundreds of birds of pray sold on the streets of Kabul alone. I cannot tell you how many I have bought and freed as they are relatively cheap, especially if you haggle for 5-6 birds(Around 5-7USD each then).
Apparently they snare the birds using fine fishing nets around the nest and collect only the adult birds. The young are left to die.

After learning this bit of information about the young I finally succumbed to the urge and got myself a fledgeling that is quite fit and healthy now (8 weeks with me). I plan to train her/him(?)to hunt very soon, only using a manual and the many books I brought. I hope it won't be ruined beyond repair. My only consolation (rationalization??) is that the chick was doomed anyway as the parents were taken.

I have no idea what type of hawk this is. Is there anyway I can send you a couple of photos of it so that maybe you can identify and give me some pointers? To thread a pun into the weave, I am totally alone on this one and flying blind.

let me take this opportunity to tell you that I have thoroughly enjoyed your books and learn t quite a bit about not just raptures but about life too, through them.

Steve Bodio said...


Please email me at "ebodio at gilanet dot com" (I have to write it this way in the box or it will not show) Send photos and any questions you may have. And thank you for the comment.