When organizers of the Tidnish Crossroads & Area Community Association came together on Saturday, Feb. 4, to celebrate the return of the popular wild game supper Ali Holthoff wasn’t far from their thoughts.
Her photo sat in the window of the kitchen watching over the volunteers working in the kitchen – just like she did when she was a member of the community association and the area’s volunteer fire department.
“Ali wasn’t only my good friend, she was also my co-chair and so big in everything we did in that kitchen,” Rod Gilroy, the Municipality of Cumberland councillor for District 2. “There wasn’t anything that went on in that kitchen that Ali wasn’t in the middle of. She was always so much fun to work with. She was always calm, cool and collected. It didn’t matter what chaos was going on, you could look over and she was always smiling and had things under control.”
Holthoff passed away on Dec. 31 after waiting for hours for care at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre.
Gilroy said her memory will never be forgotten in the Tidnish area.
“Her name was mentioned a lot the last few days,” Gilroy said. “We had a picture of her on the windowsill in the kitchen with a single red rose to remind us of how valuable she was to us.”
This year’s event was the first in-person wild game dinner since 2020 because of the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, the association was able to host a takeout dinner and while plans were in place to bring the dinner back last winter a return to tight gathering restrictions amid the Omicron variant outbreak forced the association to cancel it.
With entrees including Sweet & Sour Duck, Pulled Goose Burgers, Deer Stroganoff, Moose Meatballs and Honey Garlic Deer Ribs and appetizers such as deer sausages, the event was another big hit for the association.
Gilroy admitted there were a few concerns with how the dinner would do this year, but those fears were quickly dashed.“Sold out in 30 minutes,” Gilroy said. “We sold 175 tickets in what must’ve been record time for us. It went off without a hitch and we saw all kinds of favourable reviews on Facebook and heard a lot of positive things.
“It was a bit like a family reunion. We have 125 to 130 people who’ve never missed a year since 2016.”
The dinner is one of two major fundraisers for the community association with August’s Tidnish Festival being the other. Proceeds go to support several community endeavours including the operation of the community hall on Highway 366 as well as the Rodney Estabrooks Memorial Sports Complex, which the community association recently took ownership of, as well as numerous community programs like fitness and darts at the hall.
Gilroy said he isn’t surprised the dinner did so well because of its popularity before. He said organizers have always scheduled the dinner the weekend before the Super Bowl saying it’s the “quietest weekend of the year.”
The idea for the dinner came from George Maston and Harry Walker, who used to hold a wild game dinner at George’s camp on the Tidnish River. After they were no longer able to do it, Gilroy wondered if it was something the community association could continue as a fundraiser.
“We talked about it at length…trying some of these recipes and adding some of our own wild game recipes,” Gilroy said. “We had a bunch of people over to the house and they all said this would be a great fundraiser.”
While a tough sell at first, board members were quick to come on board when Holthoff took the initiative and said let’s do it.
“She was the queen of the kitchen,” Gilroy said. “She said let’s try it and see what happens. It went very well and has been a hit since then.”
The food comes from a number of hunters that support the organization with wild game donations every year – from deer to moose, to partridge, duck and more. Gilroy said he starts reaching out to hunters in the fall saying if everyone contributes a little bit no one has to give a lot.
The recipes, he said, have been trial and error and those picked up from other hunters.
"We look at a recipe and ask ‘can we substitute deer meet or moose meat?’ We talk to ourselves and try it out. Some of it turns out very good and some not good,” he said. “There are a few who come to the dinner and say they’d never tried wild game before but are astounded after with the quality and taste.”