Wild Food: Hunters Eat Salad, Too.

There hasn’t been a lot of action around the house of late. Matt’s pushing really hard to get things done on the Ditch Boat (to the exclusion of every other task but work), and en route to Milwaukee a week ago Sunday, my kayak rack blew off my car on I94. Excellent. No outdoorsing for us, really.

This past weekend, we were invited to a 4th of July party thrown by the family of one of Matt’s college buddies. It was down in Wilmette, Illinois on Lake Michigan. I contemplated bringing a fishing pole, but opted not to. We ate and socialized, and camped on the beach. It was a pretty decent time.

Lake Michigan under steely gray skies.

Lake Michigan under steely gray skies.

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Sunset on the beach, facing north-ish

Sunset on the beach, facing north-ish

 

Waves by firelight. The lake water is definitely still cold.

Waves by firelight. The lake water is definitely still cold. Sources say about 45-50F, with some areas in the 30s.

So, when we got back, Matt dove right back into doing his work on the boat (of course). I did a bunch of yardwork, and decided a nice, light dinner was in order, after Maxwell Street Polish, hotdogs, and french fries all the night before. So after looking around at a few recipe ideas, I set out the last duck we had from last year, and picked up salad materials.

 

Arugula, watercress, duck breast, green pepper, zucchini, artichoke hearts, pickled beets.

Arugula, watercress, duck breast, green pepper, zucchini, artichoke hearts, pickled beets.

I started with watercress to go along with the idea of “if it grows together, it goes together”. I added the arugula because I like it. I also threw in some baby red leaf romaine from the garden. So I had to sear the duck, the zucchini, and the peppers.

The skin turned nice and crisp.

The skin turned nice and crisp.

Fried zucchini

Fried zucchini

Rare duck breast

Rare duck breast

After that, it was time to assembled the whole lot. I went with a nice, simple olive oil vinaigrette for dressing.

I like my salads to be loaded down with other veggies.

I like my salads to be loaded down with other veggies.

It was good. I had seconds. I’ll probably have more for lunch today, too.

We’re really hoping to make it down to Illinois again next weekend, only this time to my home town. We’re planning to go back after asian carp in the Illinois River.

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Wild Food: Miso-Rubbed, Roast Wood Duck

Tuesday was an eventful day around these parts. One of my goals from last year was to be in Spring classes for 2014.  It almost didn’t (hasn’t? tenses are weird) happened. But, at the last minute, I paid off the last of what I owed UW-Madison from two years ago. And super-extra last minute filled out an re-entry application. Even laster-minute I contacted my advisor, via cell phone, to ask what class he would recommend. That was last week Thursday. Classes started Monday on this week.

Well, the class he rec’d is full. But I attended today anyway, in hopes that some poor sap will drop it before the deadline & I can snap up that spot. I’m checking the course guide every 30 minutes or so. I was speaking full German sentences for the first time in a little over two years. My vocabulary is rusty. The class is named similarly to, and uses the exact same book as, a class I took during my last full time semester (in, ahem mumble2007mumble). Being a transfer student, unfortunately, means repeating some work, in gen-eds as well as my major. But I do need the language practice, so hopefully I can get in. This is all on top of shuffling a ton of paperwork to change my state residency status with the University, as well as applying for some scholarships which apply to my poor, education-interrupted ass.

Anyhow, given my combo fear/determination regarding college courses anymore, I felt a little bit like celebrating today. So when I got back from class and my first homework assignment in two years, I set a duck out to thaw, one of the last two we have.

Looking a tad mushed from being jammed into the freezer.

Looking a tad mushed from being jammed into the freezer.

This was Matt’s little wood duck from up north. At first, I had no idea what to do with it. And nothing in my Duck, Duck, Goose cookbook was speaking to me. I browsed the fridge and my spice cabinet. Still nothing. Until I spied the Ziploc bag holding my leftover shiro miso paste. I’d seen recipes for chicken seasoned with the stuff. Adding even more savory, umami flavoring to duck could only turn out well, I thought. So I rubbed the cavity with miso paste, stuffed some green onions in, and rubbed the outside. Then I brushed it with a smidgen of sesame oil and olive oil, and roasted it in my cast iron pan.

I still have tons left. More miso soup is in my future.

I still have tons left. More miso soup is in my future.

Fresh from the oven at 350F . No idea how long I had it in there- I always forget to check the clock.

Fresh from the oven at 350F . No idea how long I had it in there- I always forget to check the clock.

Glossy, browned skin

Glossy, browned skin

About med-rare

About med-rare

You want to eat that skin. Believe me.

You want to eat that skin. Believe me.

I served it (to myself, Matt’s chronically working late these days) with seared artichoke hearts and a baked sweet potato. The flavor was incredibly rich. This duck had probably been gorging on wild rice all summer. His skin is that lovely white color indicating neutral-tasting fat. And there was quite a bit of it- my cast iron is duck-fat seasoned now.  The miso added an excellent depth of flavor to the skin and meat. I would definitely roast another duck this way.

Daily Prompt: Golden Hour

6AM. I was up at 6 this morning. In fact, many week end mornings, I’m up at 5.  Unfortunately, I was not up early to hunt today. I had to be at work a little before 8, and we were wearing Halloween costumes in today, so I had to put on my makeup for that. Today was our last public golf scramble, and the course was full for the day with 150 people. I made 50+ bloody maries this morning. And I make a mean Bloody Mary.

First light.

First light.

But I like 0600. Granted, it’s far easier to go out and hunt in the evening. You’re already awake, you don’t have to leave a warm bed. It’s light out already. But when I do manage to drag my ass out from under the covers, stuff my feet into boots, and pull on my camouflage? I go out, I usually spend a couple hours chilly, and then I come back and have the rest of the day. There’s something about being able to get up, go hunt for 3 or 4 hours, and then come back before it’s even lunch time. Most early morning hunts, I even beat my caffeine headache home.

Probably taken around 6.

Probably taken around 6.

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Salmon fishing Sunrise. In August, this was probably a bit closer to 5am.

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If I’m up that early, we’re typically after some waterfowl. We’ll hunt deer that early if we’re already up north, and it’s rifle season. Then it’s a short jaunt to the stand, no big deal. But down in Madison, it’s a 30-35 minute ride to the public land we hunt. So a person would need to be up around 4AM to be dressed and out the door by 4:30, to make it over there a little after 5, so that you’re there an hour before dawn at this time of year. It’d be pointless to go to that trouble only to be late and scare out deer. Hence, the quick drive down to duck hunt. Most bird movement happens for us within 45 minutes of first light. Sometimes there’s a bump in activity around 9, but it’s hit or miss.

SAMSUNGSo, on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I’m usually already bundled up, sitting outside, gun (or bow) in hand by 6AM. Sometimes, early in the season, I’ve already taken a couple shots by then. I like 6AM. I like 6AM especially if I made it to bed around 9 the night before.

 

Another Hunting Season Weekend in the Bag

It’s Sunday night, and I’m in the midst of washing all of the hunting clothing we use the most. We got out as much as possible this weekend in spite of the weather. It’s been chilly and rainy since last Sunday, pretty much.

We got out Saturday morning for duck, after Matt went out Friday night with his buddy. They’d seen quite a few birds (compared to so far this season), and shot a mallard pair- big ones. It  was a chill morning- my Weatherbug was telling me 36 at about 7AM, it would have been colder when we first got out around 5:45 or 6.  We didn’t see too many ducks all morning- most were small groups or pairs, out of range.

First light.

First light.

Dragging the decoy bag

Dragging the decoy bag

The big, fat, mallard drake.

The big, fat, mallard drake.

I'm on plucking duty.

I’m on plucking duty.

Late in the morning, however, there were finally geese. One single, probably young, goose came in low over the trees to our right, and landed in the spread in front of me. Forgetting momentarily that I had a 20 gauge, with only 4 shot, I tried to plug it. I hit him, but he barely even flinched before taking off.  Maybe 30 minutes later, Matt called a foursome of geese in. Two would land near our spread, but were extremely suspicious of our still decoys on the calm water- they didn’t wing in close enough to take a shot. The other two, unbeknownst to us, landed right behind us. They were scared out by a boater, taking the two in the spread with them. As we packed up, another group came over, and Matt managed to confuse the hell out of them by calling after our decoys were packed in. They couldn’t find the geese calling to them. We went home empty handed. At least his calling is getting better.

Saturday and Sunday night, we got out for deer. I was 100% totally skunked- my streak of not seeing deer continues, unabated. Matt, however. That lucky bastard had a shot on an 8 pointer Saturday night, but was busted drawing his bow- the deer was within 10 yards. He was pretty upset, but on the ground, I’m not too sure who wouldn’t get busted that close. Sunday, he packed in the ladder stand. And put it on a very small birch sapling.

His middle name may as well be danger.

His middle name may as well be Danger.

His view of the field.

His view of the field.

That left me with his pop up ground blind. Lucky for me, since it rained for the first two hours we were out. I was relatively dry, Matt was not. He thinks he saw the same 8 pointer come out of a different spot on the field- the deer here seem to not really have much of a pattern. We’re plotting to see when they hit up the nearby creek for water, and see if it’s far enough from the road to try to hunt.

So aside from everything being muddy and soaked, Matt is going on his annual big Deer Camp trip up in Buffalo County, on the Mississippi, an area known for large deer and good hunting. This camp happens on a college buddy’s private, managed land. He has yet to bring a deer home from it, but we’re crossing our fingers. He’s pulling out all the stops, and I’ll be helping him prepare for the trip during the week. It’s supposed to be gray and in the low 40s all week. I’m kicking around another hunt down in Illinois myself, but I have to work Sunday morning and Friday night, and there’s probably no way I’m getting out of either. So, I may just hunt by myself up here Saturday evening. I’ll be restricted to deer- I can’t duck hunt on my own.

Two Birds With One Stone (If only it were so easy!)

So, I got called off work on Tuesday evening. This meant basically a day of errand running- I made it for a real grocery trip for the first time in weeks, I got cat food and shampoo, a new garbage disposal at Menard’s to replace the one that jammed, oh, a year and a half ago or so, and I made a special trip to pick up apples (for both fresh eating and pie making) and unpasteurized cider from an amazing local orchard- so many varieties of apples. They also raise sheep- black Welsh mountain sheep, and they sell both their wool and meat. I nearly bought a rack of mutton, but it was a bit more than I wanted to spend just then. I did drive to the upper orchard and sheep pasture to pet them.  It made my day.

Getting the night off also meant being able to cook dinner. It was a rainy, misty day. Until late afternoon, it was a bit on the cool side, too. So, I decided dinner would be soup. Duck soup. I was going to make a Wild Food post about it, but soup is a pretty simple deal. Particularly broth soup. I even started it before seeing if my new cookbook had any insights for me. It did, but I’d already started the soup, it was too late.

I chuck everything in the pot at once. The book recommends doing the bones first, and then adding things in order of cook time, longest to shortest. Whoops.

I chuck everything in the pot at once. The book recommends doing the bones first, and then adding things in order of cook time, longest to shortest. Whoops.

It also says not to allow the stock to actually boil, so it's clear. Whoops.

It also says not to allow the stock to actually boil, so it’s clear. Whoops again.

I added the wild rice last, and added a slice of fried polenta for more heartiness.

I added the wild rice last, and added a slice of fried polenta for more heartiness.

I’ve made this soup two or three times before- it’s literally no different than, say, chicken noodle or chicken and rice. The broth just comes out darker, and I put a healthy dose of white wine in mine. I also have dessert- butternut squash pie.

So, on to that second bird- our plans re: this terrible, awful, no good very bad luck we’re having hunting. Basically, neither Matt nor I has had any kind of luck since the day we both missed. I’ve read here and there about some October lull in deer hunting, and I’d be willing to believe it. If it were not for the sheer amount of foot traffic this land gets. The deer more than likely get pushed up and back- up the hill and off the back and sides of the property. So. It’s a bit late to be scouting new hunting ground, as much as I might want to. We’re deciding to switch things up a bit, and begin hunting the wooded sections of the land. I’m pushing for hunting the oaks- they’re finally dropping their acorns, and the farmers have to be cutting their crops any day now. I’ll need to get a climbing stand.

In addition to trying to formulate a new plan, we’re trying to see when, if at all, deer are coming to the fields we currently hunt the edges of.  We’re up to five trail cams now, and we put some up over the weekend/Monday evening when I went out with Matt. Maybe we’ll get images, maybe we won’t. Matt plans to pick them up today. Then we’ll try to figure out what to do next.

On top of all that, we finally got our first frost last Sunday night. Most of the nights this week and weekend are forecast to be cool- probable patchy frost for most of them. The days are going to be in the low 50s. Up north will be colder. We’re hoping that this gets the ducks and geese moving- we aren’t even seeing Canada geese flying yet. We’re also hoping it gets the deer on their feet a bit more. But at least we’re within reasonable distance of the rut now.

Awesome Dinner, Great Book, Friendly Author.

I picked up the cookbook at the restaurant.

I picked up the cookbook at the restaurant.

I mentioned about a month ago that I had made reservations for the Duck, Duck, Goose book tour. That was this past Sunday night.  I got back from Illinois early enough in the afternoon to get cleaned up and ready. The last time we’d been out anywhere fancy for dinner had been in June to the local Brazilian steakhouse with a bunch of Marines from Matt’s first deployment in Iraq.

Anyhow. Our reservations were for 6:30, at the bar at Forequarter, 708 East Johnson Street in Madison. Matt grumbled that the dinner was making him miss deer hunting, and it had better be good. The place didn’t have much of a sign, but I’d found it on Google Street View. We parked about a block away, and walked on over. It was already pretty busy, and the relatively small space was pretty full. We sat at the bar, and ordered drinks.

dranks

Matt got a brandy old fashioned, sweet, and I got an apple-pear cider. Matt didn’t care for his old fashioned- he makes his without any pulp, and this place is uber-crafty- it had a leaf in it that I couldn’t identify, in addition to what looked like preserved black cherries (instead of maraschino) and the standard orange. Mint maybe? My cider was tart-sweet, and fizzy. I liked it.  Then we got down to the ordering. Everything was a la carte.

I got three items- the pear and frisee salad with smoked duck liver vinaigrette, a watercress and shaved carrot salad with jalapeno salt and duck jerky, and then the duck steak- done rare on a bed of broccoli rabe, garnished with a deep fried chicken foot. Matt had the fermented duck sausage served with radishes and green onion. He even ate the vegetables (he’s a corn-and-potatoes-only sort of person). It was excellent. The duck liver vinaigrette was probably the best salad dressing I’ve ever tried, hands down. The duck jerky was good- I would like to try and make duck or goose jerky at home. The duck steak was best part though. Good, meaty flavor, with the cap of skin and fat on it to add richness. It was an awesome meal, no question.

Mr. Shaw was also making the rounds that night- he wanted a chance to talk to everybody, and he made his was around the bar to us. He grabbed me a copy of the book, and talked to us about the menu a little bit. Then we got to brass tacks- we were of the handful of hunters-and-eaters in the establishment. We talked for a bit about duck hunting and the varieties found here in the Midwest, and on the California coast. We even talked about burgoo stew and squirrel hunting for a little while. He let us work on the duck steak when it arrived. After we finished up, I decided to get the book right then, and asked him to sign it for me as I told him that his video on dry plucking waterfowl was how I learned to do it myself. He obliged.

To Amber- A fellow duck chaser and lover of burgoo and other awesome, if mysterious, foods. Hope you get years of fun cooking from these pages. Enjoy!- Hank Shaw

To Amber- A fellow duck chaser and lover of burgoo and other awesome, if mysterious, foods. Hope you get years of fun cooking from these pages. Enjoy!- Hank Shaw

As to the book itself- I’ve read through the first 25 pages or so- the Basics section on handling your birds in the field, domestic breeds, wine and beer pairings, plucking, gutting, the whole nine yards. I haven’t quite gotten to the recipes section yet, though. But I plan to make a few of the recipes with the ducks we currently have. We had our first frost Sunday evening- maybe the more seasonable cool weather will get the birds up and moving, and we can shoot some more. Or I can check Madison’s Farmer’s Market for ducks.

At Least the Scenery Was Nice.

Oy. Where to start with this weekend? This post is going up late for a couple reasons. One, we got back in to town a little after midnight last night- no time to write everything in the past tense Sunday night and queue it up for Monday morning. Two, I could not delay my shower this morning.  Three, I decided to get all of the dirty hunting clothes and under layers in the wash before work, so I can focus on unpacking and cleaning the truck this afternoon.

Ducks

Anyways. We drove up north late Friday night, again. Arrived around two, pretty much the same as two weeks ago. Only, there were storms moving through. It was foggy, rainy, chilly, and windy. Our canoe lost two of the foam blocks we stick on it while driving somewhere along the almost 200 miles of highway between here and the cabin. We got to bed, only wake up to a torrential downpour at 5 in the morning. And thick, thick fog. We waited out the worst of the rain under the cabin’s tin roof. Sitting in the blind though, we saw maybe two ducks within range- nothing was flying in that fog. We’d get back at ducks Sunday morning as well- not as much bird movement without a couple hunters upstream kicking them around. Matt’s gun misfired twice- for it being a Benelli, it is awfully finicky. If there’s even a hint a moisture, the firing pin won’t go. Not a good quality in a duck hunting gun. I suspect he’ll upgrade to a Super Vinchy next season. We saw probably two ducks in range Sunday morning as well, and next to no movement. That is, until we started trying to paddle back. Then there were nothing but birds in the sky. We stopped and hid in the rice to see if they’d land, but no such luck.

Grouse

In between duck hunting in the morning, and deer in the afternoon and evening, we got out both days to try and shoot some grouse. Matt admitted this is a much easier task late in October and into November when both the trees and underbrush have lost all their leaves. I can wholly see the appeal of doing this type of hunting over dogs- the first grouse we flushed nearly gave me a heart attack. I forgot how loud the things are. We saw probably two on Saturday, and then 3 or 4 on Sunday. But with all the foliage, it’s hard to see to shoot them before they get out of range. A pointer or setter would really make this easier. I did get video of Matt trying to get one. That will go up sometime this afternoon.

Deer

There really isn’t anything to write about deer- neither of us saw hide nor hair of them while actually in our stands. I didn’t hear or see any myself. Matt saw some run into the woods when he was driving back from his stand on the back 40. We put out apples and everything. Matt’s were mostly intact Sunday morning, but mine had disappeared, to be replaced with fresh new piles of bear crap. That means the bear was near the cabin even with us there. It’s a bit of a shame that there’s such a long wait for bear tags up there- having a bear on the property would be incredibly convenient were Matt to draw a tag for up there. But with only 4 preference points, he has another 6 years of waiting to get one up there.

So, it rained all the first day. The second day cleared up around noon, allowing for much better pictures of the fall colors. I’m choosing to think that at least I got a nice first run with my new camera. Enjoy some pictures of the beautiful Northwoods. I’m driving down to Illinois next weekend to see my mom, sister, and nephew. I’m heading back Sunday morning to go to the duck dinner event at Forequarter, put on by Hank Shaw. Matt may hunt while I’m gone, but we’re both pretty frazzled from the string of bad luck lately. A break might do us good, especially if the weather stays as weirdly warm as it has been.

 

 

 

 

Wild Food: Seared Duck Breast.

I was unexpectedly called off work yesterday (thank heavens, golf season is beginning to wind down). So, I set out the duck breasts from the ducks Matt got on Saturday, intending to sear them. I’d read the post at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook a couple days before on how to pan-sear them.

Duck breasts, thawing.

Duck breasts, thawing.

I have three breasts here, because as I was butchering out the breasts, one of them just smelled… off. I did not feel good about eating that one at all, so I tossed it. These three would work just fine, since it’s only me and Matt.

Duck breasts, liberally salted.

Duck breasts, liberally salted.

I followed the steps to the letter. I used last weekend’s duck, because of the ones from up north, I only left the skins on two breasts. They were that badly damaged from shot.

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The bits of skin on either end really do shrink right up immediately.

The bits of skin on either end really do shrink right up immediately.

My ducks were in the mid range, shading towards fairly fat. These were most likely resident ducks to the Madison area. They’d probably been eating a lot all summer and not moving all that much, never mind migrating several hundred miles on the first leg of their trip south.

The skin browned beautifully.

The skin browned beautifully.

I especially wanted to try this method because even on the grill or roasting in the oven, I hadn’t achieved that crispy skin yet. On a duck or a goose. I thought I’d been salting my birds well enough. Maybe I had, but I’d neglected to pat them dry, since up until now, they’d all had a brine or a flavoring rub on them. I won’t make that mistake again. The skin? I would make the leap to say it’s right up there with bacon. Maybe even better than bacon.

Medium rare duck, with a salty, crispy, savory skin.

Medium rare duck, with a salty, crispy, savory skin.

 

 

 

 

Home made wine and duck decoys.

I have off Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Given how much I’ve been working this summer, I planned to get a ton of things done during this downtime. Duck season starts Saturday, and deer is ongoing. If I don’t do it now, it will never get done.

So. I spent my Wednesday chipping away at my (still growing) to-do list. I picked up around the back yard- dog poo, lawn furniture, sticks, dog toys, dying flowers, the works. I mowed, front and back. I treated the lawn for bugs and fleas, bathed the dogs, scrubbed the bath tub and bathroom. Plus, doing laundry, washing dishes, and making a short run to the grocery store. I have more to get done Thursday (organizing the hunting room, cleaning under the bed, going through my closet/dresser, running to Goodwill, cleaning Matt’s truck). By the time I was hungry, it was about 6pm. I was going to make myself a nice dinner, and enjoy a glass of wine.

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Yeah, that’s my homebrew. It’s good. This particular bottle didn’t really carbonate. There’s the tiniest suggestion of fizz to it, which isn’t all that bad, really. It reminds me of a nice pinot noir. I’m no sommelier, though, to be going on about tannins and floral notes, though. So, I made a pretty tame dinner of acorn squash and chicken, and had a very healthily poured glass of wine.

Matt came home in the middle of it, and decided to start getting his decoys set up for the duck opener. So, my livingroom, my nice clean livingroom (albeit in need of a few passes of the vacuum), is populated with a flock of artificial waterfowl.

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At least they’re all nicely rigged now, and won’t tangle horribly like last year. I have to work Saturday and Sunday morning, but Matt’s plan is to take a couple of the other recruiters with him, to get out in the field for a day, shooting. They do spend entirely too much time cooped up in the office.

Everything But The Quack. Or as close as we can.

Once we got back into town from our trip up north, Matt only took about 15 minutes to brief the kids before they left to have the worst three months of their lives. We ended up heading out to the public land to hunt. After we returned from that, we cleaned our birds- Matt skinned my mallard, and I plucked and gutted the rest of them. I save the fine feathers and down- I plan to sew a down comforter once I get enough. I have one garbage bag full already.

One bag full of duck and goose feathers

One bag full of duck and goose feathers from the 2012 season

The start of the next. I wash them in hot water with Dawn to kill critters and get the oil off, which might smell

The start of the next. I wash them in hot water with Dawn to kill critters and get the oil off, which might smell. I’m contemplating adding an essential oil to smell nice. Lavender maybe?

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Four ducks

As you can see, they’re pretty shot up. Only the wood duck drake was nice-looking enough for me to want to leave whole, and he’s the one all the way to the left. Second from the right is my hen, skinned. So, I breasted out all but the woodie. However, I still skinned the carcasses after taking the breasts- I’ll make soup and stock out of them and the necks. They aren’t pictured because it’s a bit gross, but we save the livers, hearts, and gizzards too- catfish bait.  They’re labelled in the freezer now.

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From left to right- duck breasts in a quart bag, wood duck in a quart bag, carcasses and necks in a gallon bag.

Even still, I could use more. I’ve read about using the feet to thicken soups, with their high collagen content. Folks a couple generations back in my family used to eat fried chicken feet plain. The only bits I ended up tossing were the heads, the feet, the wing tips (very difficult to pluck the pin feathers from migratory birds), and the intestines. When we get more birds that are less shot up, I may render the skin. That’s if I breast them out- if they’re whole, the skin stays on.