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A Conversation with Shirly Hook

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Earlier this month, Shirly and her partner, Doug Bent, did a cooking demo at the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum in Burlington, Vermont. A few days later, I called her to see how it went. This excerpt of our online chat includes her recipe for elk stew. Shirly says it also works with venison.

Me: Hey, Shirly, what have you been up to lately? Let me guess: Putting up produce for the winter? I must be psychic.

Shirly: Sure enough. I’ve been canning tomatoes, shell beans, string beans, applesauce, peaches, and pears. The corn is all done and put in the freezer. I’ve got sauerkraut in the crock to do its thing, and we’ll can that on Friday. We’ve dug the potatoes—350 pounds. The onions are drying; we'll braid them and hang 'em from the rafters. Later we’ll pull the beets and carrots. The Brussels sprouts and the winter squash will be the last to be harvested. We also dried some fruits and vegetables, such as peaches and pears.

When it’s starting to have a nip in the air, we start up the wood stove and the cooking begins. We raise most of the vegetables we use during the winter. Also, most of the meat that’s eaten is wild game, such as venison, elk, and fish.

I heard you and Doug made a wicked elk stew last weekend. Tell me about it.

We attended the Green Corn Ceremony at the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center in Burlington. We do pit cooking and on-the-campfire cooking. We placed turkey in the pit and cooked it for about six hours. A fire was built on top of the pit, where a cast-iron kettle filled with elk stew simmered. It was perfect, due to the coolness of the day; it warmed your heart and soul.

You're always working on cool stuff. What's on your to-do list for today?

Today, working on a cookbook. Canning the rest of the shell beans and cleaning up the garden for its needed rest. Odds and ends today.

Shirly’s Recipe for Elk Stew

(or you can use venison)

2–2 1/2 lbs. of elk or venison

3 quarts water, adding if needed during the simmer

2 medium onions

6 carrots

1 bag of frozen corn (about 4–5 ears of fresh)

1 jar canned kidney beans or canned shell beans

3 large potatoes

Brown the meat in a hot spider (cast-iron fry pan). Add a bit of salt, pepper, whatever you prefer. When browned, add to the kettle.

Cut the onions, carrots, and potatoes and add to kettle.

Bring to boil, and then simmer until done.

You can add squash and other vegetables as well. I put in whatever is available and add a loaf of Poor Man’s Bread, and you have a meal.

* * *

Shirly and I will be at Chandler Arts Center in Randolph on October 20 (2 p.m.) for an author talk co-sponsored by Chandler, Kimball Public Library, and Korongo Books. Her book is available in a pocket-size paperback edition, in a large-print edition, and as a Kindle ebook.


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