L.L. Bean has been a revered name in outdoor clothing and gear for about as long as I can remember. Like most of you, I have several items in my wardrobe that bear that label. Few of us, however, knew L.L. Bean, the man.
During the Christmas season, I received an unexpected gift that brought L.L. Bean and quite a few other pioneers of outdoor lore and gear to my forefront. The lady from whom I rent my bookstore, who is in her mid-80's, approached me to ask if I wanted to take the two bags of books she was holding off her hands. She was cleaning up, she said, and had no more need for these. They were her late husband's books, anyway, she said.
Delving into those bags was like finding a treasure trove. These were not novels but wonderful, old, outdoor books written by early writers of outdoor lore. Among them were two books especially that intrigued me: "Hunting, Fishing and Camping" by L.L. Bean, published in 1944 and "Outdoor Life's Anthology Of Hunting Adventures" published in 1946. Wow! There were many others but those two books were a wealth of wonderful lore.
L.L. Bean, lived, hunted and opened his first store in Freeport, Maine. The first photo in the book shows him with a moose he bagged in 1935. This slim volume contains 24 short, terse chapters on how to hunt everything from grouse to deer, how to choose a tent and other camping gear etc. To compare what the latest in gear was then with what we have now is priceless. Let me quote an example.
"It is important that you have a system of signals that every member of your party will recognize," Bean said. "When you want to get in touch with another member fire two shots about five seconds apart. Anyone hearing it will reply with two shots. You answer with one shot. He immediately starts looking for you. After traveling ten minutes he will fire one shot and you will answer with one. When he believes he is near you he will say 'Hello.'
Not receiving an answer, he will fire one more shot which you will answer with one. Continue this one-shot conversation until you are within hailing distance. After calling for help and receiving a reply do not leave your position."
Can you imagine his reaction if he could see today's hunters equipped with two-way radios, GPS systems and automatic distress signals? Saves on ammunition if nothing else.
Bean included some recipes in the book, too. They fascinated me greatly and I was astonished to see that I follow his directions for cooking wild game almost exactly and before last week, never read anything he had written.
Directly from his book, here is L.L. Bean's suggestion for cooking venison steak. "Cut steak about 1 inches thick. [Take note of this thickness, most of us today do not slice our steaks that thick so you may have to adjust the recipe.] Remove excess fat and wipe clean and dry. Have a very hot fire and when frying pan is smoking hot drop steak into the pan and allow to sear quickly on one side. Then turn.
"If you like steak medium or well done, reduce the heat of the fire and turn occasionally until at desired stage. If you prefer rare steak, it will require 10 to 12 minutes; if medium, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve on a hot platter. Spread steak with butter and salt and pepper to taste. "
Now, how simple is that?
The Outdoor anthology is a gold mine of stories written by the best writers of that day. As you might expect, I read first the two stories about hunting the wild turkey. Remember these stories were written over 50 years ago, when there were few turkeys to be found and few who hunted them. But guess what, the writers were complaining about the same very things today's turkey hunters moan about.
Turkeys never approach you straight on, they always circle and come in from your blind side; too much calling spooks them, they are tough to fool and even tougher to kill. It really was like reading a modern turkey hunting story. I laugh to myself as I try to imagine these writers accompanying the modern turkey hunter. With our camouflaged shotguns with extra-full chokes, our vest stuffed with 15 variations of calling instruments, decoys, blinds,owl hooters and crow calls how could we possibly have a hard time bagging a turkey?
The one story I had little sympathy for was the one about how the men tried to sneak away from their wives who wanted to hunt deer with them. I mean, who would want a woman at deer camp? Of course, the women managed to fool the men and showed up at deer camp anyway and bagged nice bucks.
These writers would really have hated me wouldn't they? Of course, back in those days, I would never have been considered to write an outdoor column.
Times really have changed. I wonder what people will laugh about in 50 years when they dig up some item I wrote about?