Lovell family hosts 35th annual dove shoot and dinner at family farm

Photo by Ann Cipperly

By Ann Cipperly

With horses grazing in the pasture as the sun lowers over the pines, three large tables are arranged under pecan trees at the farm of Drs. Jo and Tom Lovell for the annual Dove Shoot Dinner. Tom started the dove shoots at the Oak Bowery Farms in the Oak Bowery community 35 years ago and turned it over to their son, Graves, 18 years ago when he was a student at Auburn University.

Graves met his wife, Ashley, while attending Auburn and invited her to one of the dove shoots before they were married. They have been married now for 15 years and have two daughters, Lizzy, 8, and Carey, 5, who also enjoy the annual family dove shoot event.

“I look forward to this more than anything in the year,” says Graves. “It is my favorite day of the year.”

The all day family event is planned in September when dove season opens. As well as inviting local friends, others attend from Mississippi, Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville. While some entire families participate in the dove shoot, it is mostly fathers and children. Wives arrive in the afternoon with a favorite dish for the dinner served under the pecan trees.

Jo covers tables with white cloths and places an arrangement of magnolia leaves and acuba on each table. Strings of tiny white lights are hung from tree branches. The aroma of grilling meat drifts across the dining area, as guests waiting for the hunters to come in watch the Auburn game on the television on the covered porch.

Ashley prepares her special brisket every year for the event. Growing up in Alice, Texas, Ashley learned how to cook in junior high school from her mother, who was an excellent cook, as well as her Italian grandmother. The brisket is covered in barbecue sauce and baked on low heat for 15 hours. Ashley uses Claude’s marinade and barbecue sauce like her mother and orders it from Amazon. Other barbecue sauces can be used, but it won’t have the same taste.

Graves, who grew up in Opelika, is a district fisheries biologist for the state. His father was a professor of fisheries at Auburn in fish nutrition.

Jo and Tom live in Opelika most of the year and stay at the farm during the summer months to plant a small garden and enjoy the serenity of country life. Jo has been active in Opelika over the years and has served on the East Alabama Medical Center board, president of the East Alabama Arts Association, president of the Historic Preservation Society and many capacities at First United Methodist Church.

When his parents purchased the farm, Graves remembers there were abundant quail. “I barely remember quail hunting with him,” he says, “and then he started doing dove fields and inviting his friends over. When he turned the field over to me 18 years ago, I began inviting friends, and some still attend every year.”

Every fall Graves arranges blinds and positions to sit. “I assign people to certain areas in the field,” he says. “I put people who know each other together and people who have kids in an area near the woods where they can build a fort and play if they don’t want to hunt birds all day.”

The state has a limit of 15 birds per person per day. After the hunt, the birds are cleaned and put in plastic bags to take home to freeze. While Ashley has cooked doves in onions and peppers, their favorite way to serve them is wrapped in bacon and grilled.

After a busy day of hunting, everyone looks forward to the dinner. Along with Ashley’s delectable, fork-tender brisket, friends bring their favorite recipes from dips to desserts. One family brings fresh black-eyed peas from their garden, while Jo bakes a delicious Blackberry Cobbler.

Sherry Freeman, whose son, Mac, was hunting, took Mississippi Macaroni and Cheese and yummy Symphony Brownies.

Casey Stewart took a popular Southern Tomato Pie and No Bake Chocolate Delight.

Casey and her husband Heath, along with their three children, attend the event every year. “With summer coming to an end and fall here,” says Heath, “it makes for a good time. The kids like it as much as we do. We are passing it on. It is good people and good food. It is hard to beat. ”

Scott Kirk attended the first year Graves hosted the hunt when they were in fisheries together at Auburn. “I got my grandfather’s shotguns,” says Scott. “It was my first hunting trip. I shot seven doves and was addicted.”

He now attends with his 9-year-old son, Sachh. “It is one of the highlights of the year,” Scott adds, “and it kicks off the hunting season with the hospitality of the Lovell family. Ashley’s brisket and the hunting all come together for a wonderful event.”

With the game playing on the television, folks sitting on benches near the tables and children running around playing, it is an enjoyable time for many families.

Tom developed and managed Oak Bowery Farms, where he raised Angus cattle. “I enjoy the country,” he says, “and hunting, fishing, managing the cattle and timber and sharing these pleasures with friends.”

Jo and Tom are delighted to see the tradition continue with Graves and Ashley, as happy memories with family and friends are ongoing.

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at


Texas Brisket
Ashley Lovell
1 beef brisket, 11 to 13 lb.
16 oz. bottle Claude’s Barbecue Brisket Marinade (You can use a different barbecue sauce, but the taste won’t be the same.)
Large foil pan and heavy-duty foil for covering
Start at least 16 hours before you plan on eating. Trim the brisket so that it will fit into the foil pan. You may ask the butcher to trim the brisket for you, but make sure you retain the fat that is removed.
Place brisket into pan with fat side down. Distribute any loose pieces of fat evenly over the top.  Fill foil pan with marinade until it reaches halfway up the side of the brisket, typically a full 16 oz. bottle.  Cover with two layers of foil and seal tightly.
Plan to slowly bake brisket in oven for 13 to 16 hours (depending upon size) at 175 to 200 degrees. Cooking brisket “slow and low” is key. If meat is not tender, it needs to bake longer. The aroma from the brisket should permeate through the kitchen before it is ever taken out of the oven.
Meat should shred easily with a fork.  You may serve however you wish. I tend to cut with scissors into bite-sized chunks.
Leftovers are wonderful when mixed with one can of green chilies and a can of cream of mushroom soup and served on flour tortillas.

Blackberry Cobbler
Jo Lovell
1 quart blackberries
Water to cover
1-3/4 to 2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. butter
1-3/4 cups flour
¼ tsp. salt
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup milk
In saucepan add sugar, water, cornstarch and butter to berries. Let simmer and thicken while making crust.
In a bowl, mix flour and salt. Cut shortening into the flour mixture with pastry blender. Add milk and stir with fork until mixture forms a ball.
Turn out onto pastry cloth or parchment paper. Roll crust to size of baking dish. Turn dish upside down on crust and cut around the outline. Put trimmings in berry mixture for dumplings in filling.
Pour berry mixture into 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Carefully fold crust in half, lift and gently unfold and place over berries. Seal edges against baking dish. Dot crust with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes until crust is lightly browned.

Mississippi Macaroni and Cheese
Sherry Freeman
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 to 2 cups half and half
3 cups shredded cheddar, divided
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 tsp. salt
8 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
Heat olive oil and butter; add flour, whisking until smooth. Slowly add half and half and continue whisking. Gently bring cream to a boil, stirring.
Let thicken and stir in 2 cups cheddar cheese and mozzarella a little at a time. Add salt and macaroni. Stir to coat completely.
Pour into a greased 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes.

Symphony Brownies
Sherry Freeman
1 box brownie mix (I use Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Two 7 oz. Hershey’s Symphony bars (almonds and toffee chips or your preference)
Preheat oven to 350 (325 for glass pan). Lightly grease the bottom only of an 11 x 7-inch baking pan.
Prepare brownie mix, using eggs, water and oil. Stir until smooth.
Spread half the batter into pan. Place candy bars on top of batter. Top with remaining batter and smooth to the edges.
Bake 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out with a few crumbs. Cool completely before slicing.

Lemon Cheese Bars
Kathy Kastner
1 yellow cake mix
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs, divided
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
Mix cake mix and 1 egg. Reserve 1 cup of crumbs.
Light past remaining crumbs into an ungreased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.
Beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and egg until light and smooth. Spread over baked crust. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top.
Bake 15 minutes longer. Cool and cut into bars.

Southern Tomato Pie
Casey Stewart
1 deep-dish piecrust
3 medium tomatoes
5 slices bacon
3 cups shredded cheese (I mix mozzarella and cheddar), divided
1 cup mayonnaise
Dash hot sauce
Garlic powder
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
5 green onions, chopped
Poke holes in crust and bake at 400 degrees until lightly golden.
Slice tomatoes; place on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper Cover paper towels for 30 minutes.
Cook bacon, reserving half of grease.
Cook green onions in bacon grease for about 3 minutes.
Put half cup of cheese in the bottom of piecrust.
Layer half of the tomatoes. Sprinkle sugar, garlic salt, half of cooked onions and half of bacon over tomatoes.
Repeat layers (eliminating bottom cheese layer).
Mix mayonnaise, remaining cheese, hot sauce and fresh basil. Spread mixture over top.
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. May have to tent sides with foil halfway through cooking.

No Bake Chocolate Delight
Casey Stewart
20 Oreo cookies, divided
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
16 oz. carton whipped cream cheese, divided
20 miniature Reese’s cups, divided
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup cold milk
3.9 oz. pkg. instant chocolate pudding mix
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
Crush 16 of the Oreos and mix with softened butter. Spread mixture into bottom of 9-inch pan to form a crust.
Using an electric mixer, combine softened cream cheese, peanut butter and powdered sugar.
Fold in half the whipped cream and spread over crust. Chop half of the Reese’s cups and sprinkle on top.
Make pudding according to directions on package. Fold in remaining whipped cream.
Spread this mixture over Reese’s cups.
Crush remaining Oreos and chop remaining Reese’s cups. Sprinkle these over pudding.
Chill 2 to 3 hours before serving.

Famous Grilled Jamaican Venison Back Strap
Scott Cherones
Start with a whole venison tenderloin (back strap), preferably dry aged or from a very young doe. Trim ends and any connective tissue and cut into two manageable, approximately 10 -12 inch long pieces, leaving them whole. Do not cut them any further.
Melt 1 stick butter and pour 1 whole bottle of “Pick-a-peppa” sauce into the melted butter and stir vigorously until completely blended. Pick-a-peppa sauce can be found in most grocery stores in the hot sauce section. It is not a hot sauce, but a sweet and spicy dark brown sauce similar to Jamaican “jerk” sauces. It comes in a very small bottle with a cream colored label that has green and orange lettering.
Pour off about 1/3 of the butter/sauce blend into a small bowl and set aside to drizzle over the cooked meat later.
Place back strap pieces in a flat dish with sides and pour remaining butter/sauce blend over them to marinate for around 30 minutes. Turn on grill (if it is gas).
Once the grill is hot, place the whole tenderloin pieces directly over the flame. The butter in the sauce will have congealed by now, but don’t worry, it will immediately melt. The melted butter dripping into the flames will cause the grill to flare up. This will “sear” the outside of the meat and seal in the juices.
The sauce will begin to form a glaze on the outside of the meat. Flip or “roll” the meat after several minutes, just long enough to get good “grill marks” on all sides. Dip the meat back in the sauce between flips or baste the meat with the sauce while it is cooking. Do not over cook! Medium-rare to medium is best.
After cooking, let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes, then slice each back strap into ¼ inch or thinner medallions and leave the slices laying at an angle on top of each other (like a spread out deck of cards) on a serving tray.
Take the bowl of butter/sauce blend that you set aside earlier and heat (microwave is fine). Once it is heated, stir vigorously to blend the sauce and drizzle over the cut medallions. Serve immediately while it is hot.
For an interesting simple appetizer for this meal is to take another bottle of “Pick-a-peppa” sauce and pour about half directly over a block of room temperature cream cheese. Serve with crackers.


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