Have you ever played that little game,”Didja ever’? I play it all the time around here, ‘specially since a penance has come a-callin’ and I am getting visitors on a regular basis. I love the lady who comes to take care of this ailin’ old body. She is in the age range of my kids, so that would make her Daddy somewhere around my age, but despite her young age, she was privileged to eat some of the more “exotic” foods that I was raised on.
For instance, one source of meat and protein in more than one “supper” at our house after we moved to Bradshaw Road was the wiley Raccoon. She mentioned Raccoon hunting one day and she asked, “Didja ever eat Raccoon?”. I think she was little surprised when I answered, “Yeah, I thought they were very good”. I haven’t tasted one for a long time and I am sure my family would decline to partake of my choice of protein that day. You could roast it like chicken or, if it was young enough, you could fry it and say, “It tasted just like fried Chicken”.
The Raccoon was probably one of the toughest to come up with of all that “wild protein” running around. We went out with the “coon” dogs about 8 PM, in the middle of winter, waded through frozen creeks and rivers, got water in our boots and frozen feet. If we were lucky, the dogs would put one up a tree where we could shoot it. Most times it went to its den which meant no coon that night. We tried opossum once instead but it was too fat and greasy.
Then she asked, “Betcha never ate a muskrat?”…..”Betcha we did’, was my answer.
When we lived on the farm on Old Landing Road, there were still a lot of Muskrats living along the Big Gunpowder Falls and when ever Dad felt well enough to run a trap line, we caught quite a few, selling the pelts and eating the meat. They were very tasty and in the 1930’s you could still buy them in meat markets and even some grocery stores. After all, they are just vegetarians and everything they eat is constantly being washed by the water. They may even be available for sale on the Eastern Shore today, where they still trap a lot of “rats” every winter.
“Now I know you ate Cottontail Rabbits” she quipped, How about Gray Squirrels?”, she quickly asked.
Of course, they were the easiest to come-by, I told her… When the snows of winter came, like we used to have, we had a dozen or so box traps and “voila”we had rabbits. I did challenge her on groundhogs and won. I don’t think they had many of them in the city. They were fat little critters but vegetarian just the same and roasted, with the fat ladled off a few times during the process, they were on the side of being tasty.
One winter we had a Whitetail Deer come in behind the barn and that was like getting a special ration of Beef for a couple of months, The air was freezing and after Dad shot and gutted and skinned her, she just hung in the freezing cold barn and we consumed as needed.
One year there was a small colony of wild pigs that roamed the farms in the hills along the Big Gunpowder and played havoc amidst the crops, they called them Feral Hogs…just wild pigs to us. We managed to shoot two of them which meant another winter with protein on the menu.
Sometimes all the chickens didn’t make to the Spring thaw, especially the old Hens who decided to stop producing…not paying your “board” with an occasional egg laying put you in jeopardy, since chicken feed didn’t just cost “chicken feed” back in those days either. The chopping block would come out and a sumptuous roast chicken dinner was assured for next Sunday.
Summer time on the farm was not as big of a problem, and apparently it was not as big of a problem in the city either, where my lady was born and raised. There were a lot more fish back then and the waters were less polluted. Fishing was free for the most part, just dig up some worms or net some minnows, find your favorite fishin’ hole and go at it. We would have a “feast fit for a King” occasionally, when the big Bullfrogs were plentiful and Mom would fry up a batch, “better than fried chicken”, we would say.
My in-home-care lady and I had a great time that day, talking about that “living off the land” thing that existed back in the “old” days. Many a mundane winter meal became a great meal because someone asked, “Didja ever Eat a Raccoon?” So, didja?…