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How to enjoy wild game without wasting food
Frank Teixeira, owner of Fagundes Meats & Catering and one of the volunteers at last Fridays annual Costas Wild Game Feed, barbecues wild game steaks and salmon filets in the side parking lot of Manteca Trailers and Motorhome. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Many needy families and children did not get a visit from Santa last year because of wasted food. Apparently, a lot of the food served during the annual Costa’s Wild Game feed ended up in trash cans because some of people decided they did not like the “game-y” taste.

As a result, they ran out of food to serve the guests who were still waiting, and that affected the collection in the donation box.

Every year, proceeds from the annual Costa’s Wild-game Feed are used to help spread good cheer to families and children who are feeling the economic pinch. The organizers and their many supporters make every effort to help as many as they are able with the money raised from generous donors. After all, helping those in need – which is what really started the wild-game feed some three decades ago – is the driving force behind this unique social banquet.

Sure, the avid hunters – and some anglers as well – who donate the wide variety of wild game that is cooked and served at the event get involved because of its social aspect – sharing stories about the one that got away and other tall tales they can whip up – but this affords them an opportunity to exercise some heartfelt generosity as well especially during the Christmas season.

There are no tickets to purchase in advance or at the door to come and enjoy this exotic-food feast. Guests are simply asked to make a donation. In the past, that was not even required. But attendees were encouraged to donate any amount they could share, and more if they were fortunately able to do so. That is still the norm. However, last year and this year, a minimum donation was requested – $10 last year, and $15 at the latest one held on Friday – plus any extra they can share this Christmas with families in need. There were no complaints. In fact, there were even more people who showed up this year. And they did not mind at all waiting in line; and it was a long line that stretched from the entrance door at Manteca Trailer and Motorhome, through the parking lot and out the street along Vasconcellos Avenue. Many of them were early birds, staking their spot minutes before the doors opened at 11:30 a.m.

In the years I have been covering the feed, I have only taste-tested the bear casserole prepared by Janice, the sister of Jim and Jessie Costa whose late father, Joe, started it all with no foreknowledge of how far it would go. Janice is just as avid a hunter as her brothers. One year, she nabbed a bear during a hunting jaunt with her siblings. Her brothers had just one stipulation in allowing her to tag along. She had to do all the work, from cleaning the animal to cooking the meat. Janice was a co-worker at the Manteca Bulletin at the time.

The bear dish that Janice prepared was flavorful, but the meat did not make a lasting impression with my taste buds. It was not a sit-down meal experience for me – it was limited to a single small piece of bear – so my palate experiment did not extend to the other exotic dishes that included deer, pheasant, chukar (I did not see any chukar this time), and boar, among others. At one time, there was a dish marked (tongue in cheek) deer scat – meatball-like meat swimming in sauce. Another dish bore the name “porcupine meatball” – which, I learned at the last event, was not made out of the flesh of that exotic wild animal. Retired engineer and farmer Ken Hicken, who likes to play chef complete with a very utilitarian and well-worn apron, created the porcupine dish. He laughingly revealed that the meatballs that he cooks using muscle-busting cast iron pots, is made out of a variety of game meat – bear, deer, boar – whatever his fellow hunters can afford to contribute to his culinary cause, he said. His tasty concoction is enhanced by the wide variety of herbs and seasonings that he throws into the pots. Oh, and he adds a mixture of rice, too, which is what gives his dish creation the porcupine look, he said.

I found that the best way to taste-test all the dishes was to initially have a little bit of each dish on your plate. So, if you find you can’t stomach, say, the venison, the meat is not duly wasted. In like manner, if you like a particular dish, you can always go back and help yourself to more of the same.

Whatever your palate preferences are, Costa’s Wild-game Feed is one nourishing experience all around – for the body as well as for the soul. In addition to the wild game, there are other more traditional dishes to choose from – smoked salmon prepared by Jim Costa who took years to master his recipe, to fried calamari, potato and pasta salad, and a whole slew of cakes and pies and cookies for dessert, all donated just like all the entrees.

Everything, in fact, is donated – from the food, to the work put in by a cooking crew, the volunteers who get the dining place ready and includes the staff at Manteca Trailer and Motorhome, to the clean-up crew and food servers.

It’s truly an experience to savor in more ways than one during the Christmas season.