If you’re looking for something to change up your typical holiday meal, consider trying a more traditional style main dish that pays homage to longstanding hunting traditions, while honoring all the values that make this holiday season so special, too.

Throughout Europe, Christmas dinner fare past and present typically involves wild game such as venison, rabbit, and goose. These meats, brought in as part of the holiday preparations, may have been fairly standard to the diet of these people.


However, they would be loving prepared with flavors that befit the season and with gratitude for the consistent nourishment these game animals provided. Enjoying wild game as part of your Christmas dinner is an excellent way to bring back old traditions and further appreciate the rewards and benefits your hunting brings to you and your family at a time when gratitude and loved ones are at the forefront of all our minds.

This is a sweet and spiced recipe that is incredibly simple to make. It takes three to four hours minimum to cook, with some attention needed throughout that time (in other words, you can’t just stick it in the oven and forget about it.) The resulting dish is tender, falling apart before you can get it on your plate, with a sweet, lightly spiced flavor, which has a tangy finish. It goes great with crusty bread to soak up the sweet juices.

While young children may find the abundance of flavor to be a bit much, even if they’re accustomed to eating venison regularly, adults are sure to find this a delicious and memorable meal that brings old world charm and tradition to the holiday celebration.

What you’ll need

  • ​A large roasting pan or Dutch oven of at least 6 ounces of size
  • Venison roast (what specific type of roast is irrelevant though the longer cooking time is particularly well suited for tougher cuts) a 2 to 3-pound roast is enough for a family of five
  • 2 cups of whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • One large apple or 2 to 3 small apples
  • 1 ½ TB of whole cloves
  • One tsp of whole allspice
  • 1/2 tsp of nutmeg
  • Two tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of black pepper
  • Water

Preparation and Cooking

You won’t need to thaw out the venison ahead of time; rather you can start cooking it completely frozen. Keep in mind, though, that if it is fully frozen, you will have to account for extra cooking time to ensure that the meat has had adequate time to absorb the sweet juices in which it’s cooking.

  • Set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place the venison roast in the roasting pan or Dutch oven. Add enough water to reach 1/3 to ½ of the way up the roast. Add the cranberries, sprinkling them around and atop the roast. Sprinkle the spices onto and around the roast. Now sprinkle the salt and pepper onto the roast. Fit the lid onto the pan (or Dutch oven) and place in the oven.
  • At least once every hour, you’ll want to check on the roast. Scoop some of the liquid up and drizzle it over the top of the meat to prevent the top from drying out. It can become rather chewy and akin to jerky if you forget to do this step often enough. Be sure to replace any water lost to cooking, too. As it gets closer to being done, you’ll want to check on it more to continue to drizzle juices over the top of the roast to keep it moist and sweet.
  • When finished, you’ll want there to be at least enough water to reach ¼ of the way up the roast to ensure there are enough juices left to keep the meat moist and tender and the cranberries plump and juicy. The roast will be evenly colored, with slightly darker color on top. You won’t need to worry about checking the inside of the roast to ensure it’s done thanks to the prolonged cooking time. However, you may notice that the interior of the roast will be lighter in color than the exterior, possibly even pinker in color. This is perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about it. It’s just a natural trait of cooking venison meat and consequence to the spices it was roasted with.
  • When finished, this roast will fall apart when you try to serve it, making it a great dish to present directly from the roasting pan (or Dutch oven) rather than to attempt to mess around with fancy presentation. Those cranberries and juices should be drizzled across the top of the roast when serving. Ideally, there should be just enough juice to require soaking up with a thick cut bread.

This is a very versatile main course that goes well with a wide variety of side dishes, particularly savory root vegetable dishes that offer a pleasant contrast to the sweet, tangy, and spiced flavors that this hearty roast delivers. Thanks to the acidity of the cranberries and that long cooking time, the meat is very tender and doesn’t sit too heavy -leaving you with plenty of extra room for delicious holiday sweets and pastries.

But the best part of this holiday-perfect roast is that it’s a home cooked meal from an animal that you brought in yourself and that lived its life wild and free. In a time when there is so much for which to be grateful, this meal highlights the important things in your life while honoring traditions that have existed for generations.