This duck sauce is the boss

Wild plums paired with prairie fare
Over the years one begins to realize the little things can mean a lot, especially when it comes to hunting, fishing, dogs....women, weather and eating.  For example, using a white jig may fill the livewell with walleyes, but a yellow jig may go unmolested. Similarly, a north wind on the marsh can mean full game bags while a light southern breeze sends you back to camp with only a sunburn to show for the day.

As with any hunting camp, much of duck hunting camp at Prairie Smoke Ranch revolves around meals; when, what, and how much.  Who you dine with is also important.  And regardless of what ends up on the table, we have found that sauces often complete the dish.  Mustards are good with game, especially cold, sliced venison roast or smoked goose. Asian chili sauce is a favorite with duck kababs.  Steak sauce is also a fine pairing.

One North Dakota duck hunting buddy once spent the better part of the afternoon mixing up an intricate sauce, missing the afternoon shoot in the process, but his dedication to the complicated recipe was noted and appreciated. 

For me, the satisfaction of North Dakota duck hunting means pairing the results from the cleaning shed with an equally wild, complementary sauce or preparation.  It can be a challenge finding the right combination but trial and error inevitably leads to the right answer. Around us we have clumps, groves and hillsides offering a mix of wild fruit and berries. Our favorites among these are hawthorns, chokecherries, currants, crabapples and plums.  And we have made sauce of the currants, crabapples and plums to good effect.  Meanwhile the chokecherries and tiny hawthorn apples are favorites of our native sharptail grouse.

Plums from the duck hunting prairie
We have learned over the years that fruit and berry harvests vary widely from year to year -- some years the chokecherries are thick and other they are nonexistent. This year was a good year for hawthorne, currants and plums.  We have not had a good plum harvest in several years, so one afternoon we traveled over to the ranch's West Camp Pass area and filled a bucket with wild, prairie plums.  

These are not the type of plums you can purchase in a store, rather they are much smaller, like a large grape. Come August the green plums begin to turn rosy and then soften and take on a reddish hue. Don't believe they ever get "purple".  

Can't really call them sweet, as their wild nature overcomes any domestic tendencies and pedestrian sweetness, but they are no longer hard and bitter. Coyotes, coon and other critters love them; not sure about deer.

Sauce is easy, and as usual with Prairie Smoke Ranch recipes, involves minimal ingredients and simple preparation.

Two choices really --  you can cut off the skins and pulp around and off the pit with a paring knife, a technique which also works well with crabapples, and then cook these down with sugar into a beautiful cranberry-colored sauce. I like this method as you retain the delicious skins in the sauce. Alternatively, you can dump the works into a large kettle and cook them down under medium heat with sugar until the skins and pits and pulp all separate into a fruit stew of sorts, then press and drain this in a colander or food press over a bowl to capture the sweetened pulpy juice. I expect you could use a juicer and get a similar, but thinner result.

Ingredients: plums, sugar, water, a shot of lemon juice.  Use equal amounts of sugar and water -- I used one cup of each for a gallon of plums, and the lemon juice to taste.  This helps preserve the color and give it a bit of kick.  Cook it down to your preferred consistency before pouring into containers and refrigerating.  Remember the sauce will thicken slightly as it cools.

The rewarding part is spooning this concoction -- equal parts warm days and cool nights, clay soil and rosy sunrises -- over your roast duck, goose, crane or sharptail, or duck kabobs or thinly sliced smoked goose breast.  Venison or elk would also pair well.  While this goes great with diving ducks, if forced to eat a mallard it may make even this inferior fowl edible.  

Quite the sauce.  

The author is a former US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Department of Agriculture manager. In retirement he owns and operates Prairie Smoke Ranch, located in central North Dakota, the duck hunting hub of the northern plains. All rights reserved. 

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