Pega Kennedy’s Tastes of the Season

Published in 2014 by The St. Ignace News

Download PDF

Pega Kennedy of Brevort is sending her husband off to his Cheboygan deer camp with 75 dozen cookies.

“Everyone knows it as the cookie camp,” she said.

As the six men who hunt there arrive, they each grab a beer on the porch and head for the cookies. Her 75 dozen cookies averages out to about nine per man, per day, although the younger men, who are in the woods from sunup to sundown, might tuck a baker’s dozen in their pockets before they head out in the morning, said her husband, John.

The mass production of cookies began about six years ago. Mrs. Kennedy bakes about 10 dozen every day before hunting season begins, making the dough each evening. Refrigerating the dough makes it easier to handle, she said. After the cookies cool, she packs them away in the freezer.

Three years ago, she only made 40 dozen and John returned with the empty containers at Thanksgiving, asking for a refill.

“With 70 dozen, 75 dozen,” she said, “they should be able to get through the whole season.”

She claims there is no great secret to her cookies. For the chocolate chips, she just uses the recipe on the back of the Nestle-Tollhouse chocolate-chip package. But she is a stickler for pure ingredients, especially when it comes to butter and vanilla.

Butter out of a tub never works as well as sticks.

“There’s too much air whipped into it,” she said. “The consistency won’t be right.”

Pure vanilla, not imitation, is the only way to go. Mrs. Kennedy uses nearly a liter for the hunting camp baking. Pure Mexican vanilla has a stronger, more concentrated flavor than supermarket varieties, and she gets it from her daughter, who visits Mexico frequently.

It is so good that when airport security confiscated a four-ounce bottle in Mr. Kennedy’s carry-on, she made the TSA agent promise her he’d take it home and use it.

“It was too good to just go to waste!” she said.

She also gets a special clear vanilla, which she uses in iced sugar cookies to keep the dough’s color light.

The iced sugar cookies never make it to the hunting camp, however, she said. “They just want the basics.”

So the hunters get 900 chocolate chip, no bake, oatmeal raisin, oatmeal chocolate-chip, and (new this year) chocolate chocolate chip cookies.

The no-bakes are the first ones to go, a favorite of Mr. Kennedy and his brothers.

In addition to the cookies, she’ll send her husband off with two French Canadian meat pies and about 40 pounds of cooked potatoes to slice and fry for breakfast, along with eggs and sausages.

They also cook a large batch of chili. As soon as John arrives at the camp, he starts a pot, “to sit on the stove and make the place smell good.”

Mrs. Kennedy doesn’t eat her own confections, having given up sugar four years ago.

“I was made to feed people,” she said. “That’s what I always wanted to do.”

And she does feed people, constantly. In one day, she made a pot of minestrone soup for the election board, a quiche for an ill friend, a batch of cookies for her sewing group, and two or three more batches for the hunting camp. In addition, she cooks at Wildwood Pasties, off US-2. She and her husband bought the restaurant 23 years ago and ran it until 2008, when they sold it to long-time employee Brenda Spencer.

“Now I work for her!” Mrs. Kennedy said. “I get to do all the baking, then go home. It’s perfect. All I ever wanted to do is cook.”

Wildwood serves pasties (filled with ground meat, carrots, onion, potato, and rutabaga, “which makes it a pasty”), and pies, including the signature “Mile-High Apple Pie,” which started as a joke, the couple confided. Each pie has eight pounds of apples in it.

In the autumn, Mrs. Spencer and Mrs. Kennedy add venison pasties to the menu. They buy the venison commercially and the pasties that result are popular with hunters.

Mr. Kennedy brought home a four-point buck last year that lasted the couple a full year without having to buy any other red meat. Mrs. Kennedy is still saving the final package.

With the venison, she makes Swiss steak, roasts, stews, stroganoff, and burgers.

“You can use venison anywhere you would use beef,” Mrs. Kennedy said, “and it’s so much better.”

Mrs. And Mr. Kennedy avoid over-seasoning the venison, wanting to preserve its flavor.

Mrs. Kennedy’s favorite cut of venison is the tenderloin, which she slices and fries in butter.

“It’s too good to put anything else on,” she said. That’s for lesser cuts.”

As soon as Mrs. Kennedy finishes baking for the deer camp, she begins her Christmas baking, which she sees as an opportunity to flex her culinary muscles with frosted sugar cookies, sweet bars, breads, and mountains of pumpkin rolls.

This year, she’s taking a quilting retreat in Mackinaw City first, as a reward for provisioning the hunting camp.

“I never thought I could sit and sew for 12 hours, but I can,” she said. “It’s going to be wonderful. If I’m not baking, I’m sewing. Those are my two passions.”