Christmas is still over six months from now, but I thought I'd talk about reindeer anyway. This one came about when I finally did something obvious--I put "exotic meats" in the search bar at Amazon. (I know, I know, why it took me so long I'll never know.) Reindeer was one of the canned/precooked types which appeared that I hadn't had before. (And as a tease, I purchased one other, very exciting one--you'll read about this one in a week or three.) The source was Indian Valley Meats, Inc., out of Alaska. A seven ounce can set me back about $8, plus shipping and handling.
First off, I was surprised to learn that reindeer and caribou are the same--they're just different names for the same animal. They and their various subspecies live in the very cold, often Arctic areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. Reindeer have a few unique characteristics. For one, they're the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light. Which is quite helpful when you're trundling over mostly featureless tundra and snow fields. Additionally, they're the only cervid (deer, moose, etc.) species in which females grow antlers as well as males. The females' antlers are usually smaller than the males', but still, at certain times of the year it can be quite tricky to tell a large female apart from a younger male at a glance. Also, to recap, "horns" are growths which are permanent, while "antlers" are grown, and then shed, every year. Caribou hoofs are well adapted to their home. When the ground is wet and muddy in the warmer months their hoof pads are soft, which get better traction. Then, as it gets colder and there's snow and ice, the hoofs tighten and harden, revealing the hoof rims, which then helps prevent them from slipping. Even their knees do something weird. They give off a clicking sound as the animal walks, which in turn reveals that individual's weight and size, and thus their relative rank in the herd's dominance hierarchy. The herds themselves can get ridiculously huge. The subspecies that migrate usually join many smaller groups together Which in extreme cases has resulted in throngs of 500,000 to 1,000,000 reindeer! One final odd thing about caribou is that while they're normally typical herbivore (vegetarian) ruminants, in a pinch they'll branch out. They sometimes eat bird's eggs, lemmings, and even fish if they're sufficiently hungry.
Getting back to the animal as food, my can was simply reindeer, water, wheat flour, tomato powder, spice, caramel color, and flavoring. It consisted of small, shredded chunks of reddish-brown meat in a sort of gravy. Given their family, I fully expected reindeer to taste similar to elk (see October 16, 2012 post) or venison (see July 16, 2012 post), or perhaps a combination of the two. But no, it reminded me most of beef. It was decent, no more and no less. To be fair, it was canned--perhaps a fresh reindeer steak would taste as great as venison and elk. When I checked into it, I discovered that reindeer is a common food in Scandinavian countries. And it's very healthy--it's very lean, and contains significant amounts of Vitamins B-12, essential fatty acids, and Omega 3's. Although caribou liver should probably be avoided, as it has high levels of cadmium.
So, to sum up, I ate one of Rudolph's kin folk, and rather enjoyed it. On that note, I wasn't aware that there is evidently a disagreement over who first wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas,"(later called "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and others). This was the story which introduced the eight famous reindeer which pulled Santa's sleigh, namely, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner (nee "Dunder"), and Blitzen (nee "Blixen"). Clement Clarke Moore is the leading candidate, but some think that Henry Livingston, Jr. really wrote it (both back in the 1820's). Rudolph himself dates back to a 1939 book by Robert L. May. He wrote it for the Montgomery Ward department store, since they were in the habit of providing children's books around Christmas. (As a final thought, I always disliked the message in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The other reindeer hate and ostracize Rudolph simply because he's a little bit different, and Santa doesn't really step in and put a stop to this. They only grudgingly tolerate Rudolph when they find out his mutation can be exploited for their benefit. If I'd been Rudolph, I would have told them to jump up their own asses. But I guess this wouldn't have worked well for a store's children's book, or in a children's cartoon, etc.)