LABELS — WE LIVE with them every day. They tell us how many grams of fat, protein and carbs are in the stuff we eat and drink. They tell us how many watts the light bulbs in the package are. They tell us something is U.S. Department of Agriculture approved. They tell us all kinds of things.

My labels remind me of some of the best days of my life. My labels are those I write on the wild game and fish packages I prepare for the freezer when a successful hunting or fishing trip is completed.

It isn’t the most glamorous job of anyone’s fishing and hunting adventures, but once you’ve killed a game animal or creeled a fish, the next item on the agenda is promptly cleaning and packaging the meat for the freezer.

It’s a job I take seriously, a job I try to do very soon after I get home from a fishing or hunting outing, with the exception of big game animals which are often better on the table when hung and aged, weather permitting, for a few days.

Like everyone who eats animal meat or fish fillets, I like good-quality pork, beef or chicken and the like purchased at a meat market or grocery store. It’s good to know the label on my ground beef said it contains only 7% fat or that my salmon is wild caught from Alaskan waters. The labels tell me that, but what they don’t tell me is how the delicious meal the contents of the package provide for me were harvested and from where they were harvested.

That’s where my labels make my meals of wild game and fish much better than those that come from the supermarket.

Last weekend, for instance, I was part of a potluck feast my wife and I, along with other members of our Ducks Unlimited committee, shared and enjoyed while we looked back at last summer’s events and threw out ideas for those events we will hold this summer.

My additions to the great table of assorted treats was a super easy-to-make peach cobbler and a slow cooker full of what I called duck breast a la Reuben, which incidentally was the first time I ever put together the dish based on a recipe I found in a Milwaukee newspaper last summer. I modified the recipe slightly and couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.

I’ll get back to the recipe a little later in this missive. Right now, I want to get to the labeled packages of ducks I used for the main ingredient. For years, like most other hunters and fishermen, I simply labeled my packages with the date I readied them for the freezer and what was contained in the package, i.e., two mallards or four brook trout or whatever.

Then, I started adding one more thing to the labels and since I started that, the meals that come from those packages taste even better, provide even greater enjoyment preparing them for the table and bring back the memories of a very special day afield or on the water.

In the case of the ducks I prepared last weekend, one label read “greenhead, little cove slough, opening day,” while another said “two bluewing teal, rock pile pond,” while two others reminded me the mallards they contained came on “last morning snow and sleet storm.”

The labels brought back vivid memories of not just the day I got the ducks, but where I got them, what kind of weather it was, who I shared the day with, the work of the dogs we hunted with and everything else that made each duck I harvested so special.

One of the labels that said a greenhead mallard was in the package brought back the memory of the little cove slough the morning after my duck was killed. That morning, I was simply a spectator carrying a shotgun, but never firing a shot as I watched Tommy John’s young lab do a spectacular job of retrieving four ducks Tommy killed from the very spot where I had killed five mallards the afternoon before. It also brought back a memory from later that morning, when I watched Dr. Greg’s young lab, Red, search out and fetch a pintail my son dropped in thick cattails across the pond from where I watched; a pintail that would certainly have been lost were it not for the keen nose of a great hunting dog.

Each of the labels written on the freezer bags I opened last weekend reminded me of a special moment and place in North Dakota, moments and places I will carry with me in my heart for the rest of my days. The labels I affix to my packages of fish and game are more than a simple reminder of where and when the meal I am about to eat came from. They are a teleprompter, if you will, showing me vivid pictures in my mind of moments I treasure more than almost any others I have.

They are the kind of labels you love and they are the kind of labels I will continue to scrawl on packages ready for the freezer each time I finish the chore of cleaning a duck, filleting a fish or butchering a deer.

Now, for that recipe I promised. If you love or even like sauerkraut, this one is for you. It’s really a simple one. First of all, from a 32-ounce jar of sauerkraut, pour half of it into a slow cooker. Then, spread a layer of duck breasts over the sauerkraut. If you don’t like wild game, this recipe would work equally well for boneless chicken thighs or breasts or even turkey breast. Anyway, on top of the meat spread a half cup or a little more of Thousand Island dressing. On top of that, drizzle a tablespoon (I upped it to 3 tablespoons from the printed recipe) of yellow mustard on the dressing. Then, pour and spread the rest of the sauerkraut on top of that. Finish it by spreading another half cup of dressing on top before cooking on medium for three hours or so. Five or 10 minutes prior to serving, pour 8 ounces of shredded Swiss cheese on top and continue cooking a few minutes until the cheese is melted.

I served it over rice and as the chef on a popular cooking tips show always ends his monologue, I can tell you “Ooh, it’s so good!”