Four Farmers Project: Lois Hargens on Cooking Pheasant

cooking pheasant

Lois Hargens is a farm cook and proud of it. “I cook by guess and gosh,” she says with a big laugh.

She’s been cooking pheasant for over 50 years, and like her mother before her, she has been guided by one unspoken but overwhelming challenge. Wild pheasant is dry and tough. After a day in the field, hunters are loath to offer such a dire critique of their day’s endeavor, but it eventually bubbles out at the dinner table. Dale’s wife, Susan, finally admits, “I don’t like it cooked any other way than Lois cooks it. It’s just too tough.”

Lois cooks pheasant breasts for five minutes in a hot skillet with salt and pepper, just until they are brown. She then layers the pheasant in a thick mixture of cream and mushroom soup. “When my mom started cooking pheasant this way,” Lois says, “she used cream because they had cows on the farm, and you used what you had.” Lois braises the dish at a low temperature, 250 degrees, for four hours, checking every hour, and turning the casserole until all the layers have been mixed and churned to the top.

After a day in the kitchen, Lois greets the hunters as they arrive from the field with muddy feet and stories of the hunt. They eat like there is no tomorrow, or at least like tomorrow will not come for another year.

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