Peggy Keener: Eating with wild abandon

Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Where has my brain been? Here I’ve been spending hard earned dollars on super market meat when all along I could have been eating it for free.

This epiphany happened as I was paging through my true-blue, never failing “Joy of Cooking.” Who knew there was a dark underbelly shrouded in that sainted tome? Much to my chagrin, I discovered it. The section on Game.

It was a game changer.

The Joy taught me there’s a malevolent subterranean world of free eating out my back door. It’s been there all along and I’ve been snubbing it. Don’t you see? It’s those little woodland creatures romping about out there.

It may be too soon to thank me, but here are some Jim dandy recipes that are certain to add immeasurable joie de vivre to your dining experiences.

To begin, never ever (The Joy insists), handle wild meat without gloves. Tularemia is the danger. Unfortunately your new source of wild protein carries this plaguelike disease. Use gloves. Toss gloves.

So, where shall we start? Well, how about amiable rabbits, squirrels and muskrats? Did you know their deliciousness may be substituted for anything calling for chicken? (Once again the blessedly accommodating hen steps aside. Cluck cluck.)

Detecting freshness in our little furry friends is a cinch. Start with the rabbit. You can tell it is young and healthy if the cleft in it’s upper lip is narrow and if its claws are smooth and sharp. Test them by simply turning the claws sideways. If they crack, drop that critter like a hot poker as it’s been around the block one too many times. As for the upper lip, it’s now a moot point.

Furthermore, an exemplary hare’s ears should be bendable and it should have long front legs and a stumpy neck. Stumpy neck? Just how stumpy is stumpy, for Pete’s sake? The Joy has failed us here. Things are getting complicated.

Now for the visceral part. Butchering. Sever the front legs. The long ones. Cut the skin around the hind legs and tie them together. Pull the skin from the legs toward the feet just as you would when taking off your gloves … only a little messier.

To guarantee tenderness hang the carcass for 1- 4 days. If eaten before then, it gets stiff. If, however, it hangs longer and the joints become overly pliable—like who the heck wants overly pliable joints?—throw that sucker to the jackals.

If all of the above is successful, you may now fry, boil, stew or fricassee to your heart’s content. Note: for the tastiest au jus, imbue it with blood mingled with spices. Be gone Better Than Bouillon!

If your pallet grows weary of the same-old same-old squirrels, rabbits and muskrats, move on as a myriad of other gastronomical delights await you in your backyard.

But not so fast. About now you should probably arm yourself with a gun, baseball bat or pepper spray. These next varmints are robust and churlish. Also best not to prove your manhood just yet. Yup, this might be the time to call in favors from your local dog catcher.

Opossums. Do not kill them. Trap them. Then feed them milk and cereal (Fruit Loops would be nice), for 10 days in which time you will feel your own appetite building.

Next give that beast a good shampooing, but do not remove the skin. (Oh, darn!) Immerse it in water, testing the temperature by frequently plucking the hairs to see how readily they slip off the skin. Remove creature from the pot and vigorously scrape. (By now your salivary glands should be dripping.)

At all costs, remove the small red glands on the back, under each foreleg, and between the shoulders and ribs. They are ishy. Rejectamenta! (About now you may find your salivary glands retracting a bit.) Finally, parblanch for 20 minutes, two or three times. Roast and feed your happy!

On another hunt Dame Fortune may help you bag a porcupine! Skin it, whilst being ever so careful of the loathsome quills. Warning: hiding in the small of the porcupine’s back and under the front legs are dreaded “kernels.” Thrust them aside. (With no depiction of how kernels look, I’m guessing nothing like corn on the cob. But, then I’ve been wrong before.)

Hang the deceased, naked porcupine in a dry place for 2 days. Then soak overnight in salt water. About now you’ve figured out that porcupine is not fast food. This is precisely why it’s not on Hardee’s menu.

Luckily these same techniques also apply to cooking woodchucks, beavers and armadillos. Some find the beaver’s tail particularly delectable. Hold it over an open fire (it’s best if the fire is outdoors and not in the kitchen), until the rough skin curls. Remove from heat, cool and peel off the skin. Roast what’s left until tender. Dig in.

As a surprise, I have saved the beast …. er, best ….for last. Stuffed Boar’s Head! Sweet!

1. To loosen the skin and cook the meat, place the head on a shallow rack in a large boar’s’ head boiler. (I’d loan you mine, except I don’t have one … and never plan on getting one!) Important: this recipe is for a 15-18 lb. head with its eyes, teeth and brains intact. (Thank God for that!) In water 1 inch above the base of the head, simmer for 2-3 hours. Remove and refrigerate.

To truncate the skin all in one handsome piece, make an incision lengthwise from the base of the snout to the neck edge. Gently (especially around the eyes) cut upward under the skin. Do not puncture. Some fat will stubbornly adhere to the skull. Leave it. A brown, shiny glint will develop on that meat. Fold and chill the skin until you’re ready to stuff it. (What!)

If you want to leave the room, this would be the time.

Prepare the stuffing as you would for a turkey. You will need two unflinching people to accomplish this, one to stuff the stuffing in the hollow floppy head skin and one to manage the foil container. Place the skin face up with the snout looking directly at you. (Am I really saying this? Pray for me!)

Suture everything in place by sculpting it (where, oh, where is Michaelangelo when you most need him?) to the previous boar head shape. Protect the ears to avoid burning. (Swine earmuffs?) Roast. Serve with hard boiled eggs in the empty eye sockets, an apple under the snout and small carrots as tusks. Tres wonderful! Bon appetite!

In conclusion, the next time you see a Boars’ Head commercial on TV, take aim at the screen with a full bottle of beer. Then burn your copy of Joy of Cooking