I'm sure that in many theaters in the United States people screamed. How could anyone do such a thing? Those people never ate at my grandparents house in Arkansas.
My grandparents were truly Old School Americans. They remembered the Great Depression well.
They raised their own chickens, killed them, plucked them and ate them. And although while my grandmother could fry a chicken and make a side dish of white cream gravy and mashed potatoes that would make Colonel Sanders drool, to his dying day my late father could not stomach fried chicken. I'm sure besides being seriously burned out on it, it reminded him of much leaner years.
And when there were no chickens to fry my grandfather would either get out the fishing reel and go catch some fish or get out his trusty .22 rifle and hunt down something, anything so as to put food on the table. I'm sure that meant the difference many times between Dinner and No Dinner. And my grandmother had recipes for just about anything he brought back.
When I was a small child visiting my grandparents was an adventure. It meant a long road trip from our North Texas home eastward through Dallas, through the cutely-named town of Texarkana and then east on long stretches of two-lane highway to Stamps Arkansas where my grandparents lived. They lived in a creaky wooden two-bedroom house next to a lumber yard right off a two-lane highway; the house shook every time an 18-wheeler tractor trailer rig rumbled by. Of course when I was a child I had no idea how close to the Beverly Hillbillies diet that people's existence in Arkansas was really like.
I once made an acquaintance from Boston's jaw open in sheer horror as I told him about my recollections of standing in a chair and looking up at my grandmothers stove and seeing the following:
Rabbits stewing in a pot ala FATAL ATTRACTION.
Skinned squirrels frying in a cast iron frying pan.
Breaded frog legs kicking in a puddle of bubbling hot frying grease.
“You're KIDDING, right? “ he said.
No I wasn't.
We ate fried squirrel, stewed rabbits and breaded frog legs served with sides of mashed potatoes and cream gravy. Stuff you certainly couldn't buy at the Piggly Wiggly down the highway from my grandparent's humble house or at the local A&W root beer stand. Now mind you as a child I was somewhat traumatized by the whole business of hunting, killing, cooking and eating the very cartoon friends that appeared daily on TV but the fact that my grandmother was such a good cook sort of took the edge off of it. Often I was drug along with the “menfolk” on hunting and fishing expeditions at all hours of the day or night to see how it was done. Shooting squirrels out of the trees or floating along the edge of a creek, river or stock tank in a metal boat with a spot light and “gigging” frogs when we spotted their eyes glowing in the light. The whole business of “cleaning” these various critters grossed me out immeasurably and has probably kept me from shooting anything but paper targets to this day.
The first one is from the 1998 First Baptist Church Acteens of Whitesboro Texas cookbook. You may need a translator and I assure you the spelling is NOT mine:
“Thez ugly ole varmit iz gud, but you gotta cook as much fat as you kin outta them'r yo' mouth will be kivered in fever blisters! Bleed possum furst, then dip in scaldin' water with a handful uv little rashes in it. (I presume/hope the cook meant radishes) Scrape hit lak a hog, gut' n be shore to cut out musk glands under the front laigs; soak overmite in salty water wid pepper added to taste. When tender, bake in greased pan'n put sweet taters all 'round him fore cooking; hit'll probably take 1 ½ to 2 hours to git him jest rite. “
Then from the appropriately titled “White Trash Cooking” cookbook by one Ernest Matthew Mickler (1986) comes this little gem of a recipe:
Aunt Donnahs Roast Possum
“Possum should be cleaned as soon as possible after shooting. I should be hung for 48 hours and is then ready to be skinned and cooked. The meat is light-colored and tender. Excess fat may be removed, but is no strong flavor or odor contained in the fat.
1 possum 1 cup breadcrumbs
1 onion, chopped 1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1 tablespoon fat 1 teaspoon salt water
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
Rub possum with salt and pepper. Brown onions in fat. Add possum liver and cook until tender. Add breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce, egg salt and water. Mix thoroughly and stuff possum. Truss like a fowl. Put in roasting pan with bacon across back and pour water into pan. Roast uncovered in moderate oven (350 degrees) until tender, about 2 ½ hours. There's only one thing to serve possum with- sweet potatoes. You only eat possum in the winter.”
Ooooo-eeee that sounds delicious, don't it?
Mom's Last Word
Mr Mom jests (I hope) at catching dinner, since I know he's got the softest heart in America, and disliked the idea of hunting when he was a child, other than the time spent with the "men folk".
Now while I certainly understand the need to survive and admire greatly the spirit of his ancestors in providing for themselves and their family, I'm just not able to go there. My family up North was used to dining on moose and deer meat, and occasional elk, and I do remember excusing myself from dinner as a child at my grandmother's when she served up rabbit stew, herself.
Mr Mom and I come from very sturdy stock of pioneering souls who did whatever they could to feed their families and to survive in times much tougher than hopefully we'll ever have see, and for that we're most grateful, but I'm equally as grateful that providing food for a family these days is a lot easier than it was back then. Any possums caught around here can rest assured that they're simply going to get a first class ride to Possum Holler to live out their life fully and in the luxury of a forested haven for misplaced marsupials.