We have made it through the summer, and it's officially fall, at least according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which says that fall began Sept. 22 at 9:54 p.m. 

The abundance of fishing and hunting opportunities sometimes makes the choices hard for sportsmen in the Carolinas, and it makes choosing a September recipe difficult. Any fish from mountain trout to bluewater brawlers would work, as would several gamebirds and venison. 

I decided this month’s recipe should include doves. Dove hunting is a southern tradition. Some opening day dove hunts are family reunions and many others seem like it, with a big meal — usually barbecue, fried or grilled chicken, Brunswick stew, all the fixin’s and gallons of sweet tea. After lunch, many of the older hunters enjoy a siesta before returning to the fields in hopes of filling their limits. 

This was, is and will continue to be the introduction many young hunters get to hunting. Unfortunately, the doves don’t always cooperate. They may not have found the field, may have moved on to another field or weather may interfere. When this happens the shooting may only be a few scattered singles instead of constant flocks expected. Or, a hunter may also have an off-day shooting and only bag a few doves. 

This recipe is for those occasions. It came from days of grudgingly leaving a field at twilight carrying only four to six doves. There just isn’t much meat for the table. Sometimes they get frozen, hoping to add more later, but that doesn’t always happen, and a small container with 4 to 6 dove breasts is found in the freezer months later.

With this in mind, here’s a way to stretch just a few doves into an interesting and tasty treat. You might even find yourself freezing dove breasts in small numbers just for this meal. 

Dove-stretching salad

Every dove hunter has had a hunt where he left the field with only a few doves and there wasn’t enough meat for a typical dinner or fried or grilled doves 

 I was challenged to create a way to stretch a few doves into dinner. My first thoughts were it would need to be a stew, soup, pasta or rice dish. I decided to go with something that could be served cold, and that’s where the idea for a salad came up. This is the basics of a salad my family has prepared for years. I always liked it, and regular readers know I don’t have any issues with mixing two things I like. 

The idea was two-fold. I thought adding some bacon would help stretch the doves, and cooking them and the onions in the bacon grease would add some flavor. That didn’t take a lot of thought and seemed like a winner from the beginning. After all, who doesn’t like bacon?

This might not exactly be dinner, but my friends decided they liked it, and having it for an appetizer or snack is good enough. So, here it is to usher in dove season. The main question is: Why the peas? That’s simple. They were in the original salad recipe, and I like them.

 This is a versatile recipe. While the primary ingredients remain the same, the flavor can be varied a bit cooking the doves with different seasoning. I use blackened seasoning for this version, but they can be cooked using Cajun seasoning, fajita seasoning, taco seasoning, steak seasonings and more. If you experiment with this — and I encourage it — I believe the seasoning should have some spice, so the pieces of dove stand out in the salad.

Be careful not to overcook the meat: the bacon and the doves. The bacon should be crisp but not to the point of cracking on its own. By boning the dove breasts and then cutting them into small pieces, they can be cooked quickly at a higher temperature, yet still be tasty. If the grease is hot, they only need a minute or so, and they’re done. If you wait until the outside begins to crisp, they’re probably overdone and will be chewy.

This recipe will also work with small amounts of other game. I’ve used it with marsh hens, quail, woodcock, a single small duck and more. I even made it once using chicken thighs when I was asked to bring some to a gathering and didn’t have any game in the freezer. Chicken thighs were the first readily available dark meat I could think of, and they worked. 

I believe if you try this, you’ll probably add it to your good recipes list. Enjoy!   

INGREDIENTS:

4-6 dove breasts,

4-6 slices of thick-cut bacon

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (mild or sharp, your choice)

8 ounces of frozen sweet peas

1/2 small, sweet onion 

1/3 cup mayonnaise. I prefer olive oil mayo

2 tbsp sour cream. I use light sour cream

1 splash apple cider vinegar , between 1/2 and 1 tsp.

Blackened seasoning. You may substitute taco seasoning, Cajun seasoning, fajita seasoning or anything similar

Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

Bone and chop the dove breasts into roughly 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces, then roll in blackened seasoning. Chop the onions into medium pieces. Cook the bacon in a cast-iron skillet or other heavy pan that distributes heat well. Remove the bacon, crumble and save.  

Pour off and save about 2/3 of the grease, then sauté the onion in the remaining grease. Remove the onion and set aside. Increase the heat to medium high, add the saved bacon grease and quickly sear the dove breast pieces.

Use a large bowl to mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar and onion. Stir in the cheese, peas, dove pieces and about 1/3 to 1/2 of the bacon, mixing well. I grew up eating this with the peas as the main ingredient, and I often use more of them.

Refrigerate the mix for at least an hour to chill. Refrigerate the remaining bacon separately. When ready to serve, sprinkle bacon crumbles on top.

This serves well in a variety of ways. The most popular is with crackers. I prefer Triscuit cracked pepper and olive oil flavor, but your favorite will work well also. 

I don’t know that this is really a meal, but I have made it one a couple of times. It stands out best as an appetizer or snack served on your deck or patio on a nice crisp fall evening.