Many of my friends are addicted to the Food Network or Saturday afternoon PBS cooking shows. They buy cookbooks to find new recipes for arugula, truffles, goat cheese or other upscale food products. Me? I just love to read cookbooks. Cookbooks tell you so much about a society and a specific time in a specific country. I have recipe books from my mother with tons of jello recipes and how to make about every casserole conceivable. In the 1950s, a meal without green jello with carrots, celery and onions was not a complete meal. I can never have enough bread books, although I know all the recipes by heart.
As I was picking up one of my cookbooks to find a recipe for Spanish Rice, it fell and opened to the letter “O” in the index. I expected to find oysters and oxtail soup but was surprised to see an entry for opossum. And this was the Joy of Cooking. My book was a 1964 copyright, not a recipe book from the 1800s.
Opossum. The recipe was not tricky, except the authors suggested one catch the opossum and feed on only clear water for a week to help lighten the taste before killing, skinning and preparing it. No road kill recommended here. Other entries included other forms of varmits, as my mother would have called them, such as raccoon, squirrel, beaver, badger, woodchuck and muskrat.
My mother never wanted to cook varmints, but her father ate everything that moved. He often told her it was due to the near starvation of his Michigan volunteer Civil War Company who had marched with Sherman to the Sea in 1864. No rations were available from the government or the army. Friendships formed due to the scavenging skills a soldier had. My grandfather knew the land and fought off starvation. My grandfather would eat grubs from rotted logs and enjoyed eating red ants (also claimed ants helped his arthritis) all of his life. After the War, neighbors near his farm would bring him turtles, squirrels and I am sure opossum was also a menu item. Many were boiled in a huge pot on an open fire.
My Spanish Rice turned out just the way I remembered it should taste. And no, I am not seeking opossum. But it was great fun to read the recipe. Just in case you need one, here is a recipe for muskrat.
Skin and remove all fat from hams of six (6) muskrats. Poach for 45 minutes. Saute one half cup of diced onions in 2 Tablespoons of butter. Add the muskrat hams and cook until brown. Serve with a cream of celery sauce.
by PCH @Main