Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last-Century 'Joy'

Old cookbooks are always a curiosity, and I've long envied the fact that one of my sisters inherited my mother's old Joy of Cooking, most likely an early 1960's edition. A fortuitous benefit of marrying Paul is that he owns a 1975 edition of JoC. My more modern edition (the front 116 pages are missing so I'm not certain of the publication date) has been updated and, alas, purged of what I consider to be all the really great quirky stuff. There is no recipe for marshmallows, for instance, something I made as a teenager and finally do again thanks to the seemingly infinite number of recipes online.

But what's really been scrubbed bloodless of all interest is the "Game" chapter. Where now there is Lapin a la Moutarde, there used to be Rabbit with Chili Beans, and Jugged Hare. Gone is the black-and-white illustration of a rabbit hung upside down by its feet, being skinned by a pair of gloved hands, as well as this gloved-and-booted skinning of a squirrel:

There are instructions for the skinning and cleaning of porcupine, raccoon, muskrat, woodchuck, beaver, beaver tail, and armadillo. My favorite, though, is this passage concerning the preparation of oppossum:

If possible, trap 'possum and feed it on milk and cereals for 10 days before killing. [Does this mean that I should feed my 'possum Lucky Charms for 10 days? Quisp?] Clean, but do not skin. [Well, okay.] Treat as for pig [pig? I've never cooked 'pig'] by immersing the unskinned animal in water just below the boiling point [If any blog readers know where the boiling point of an unskinned 'possum is, let me know]. Test frequently by plucking at the hair [no, thank-you]. When it slips out readily, remove the oppossum from the water and scrape.... Serve with: turnip greens.

Got that?

As for beaver tail, "Hold over open flame until rough skin blisters."

And in case you were wondering, "small game such as rabbit, squirrel and muskrat may be substituted in most recipes calling for chicken."

I still haven't made peace with game meats after several winters of my childhood faced with a freezer-full of neatly-wrapped packages of dead Bambi and his cousin The Mighty Elk. Some aversion settled in me during those years of tender teen tastebuds where I suffered through elkburgers on Thursday and a bloody haunch of venison for Sunday dinner. I know, I know, venison and any number of odd meats (goat, for one) are fashionable dinner meats among current-day foodies, but if I'm going to eat something that tastes just like chicken, it damn well better be chicken.

So what's on your holiday table? Crow? Vole?


  1. I've eaten Squirrel; frankly, it was disappointing!

  2. "Eet tas'e like cheeken" is what the locals will tell foreigners in many countries.

    (I came here via Claire Beynon, in case you wonder.)

  3. Yikes, sure glad that times have changed! lol Happy Holidays!

  4. Funny post, T.! I'll have to check out my mom's JoC when I'm visiting at the end of the month. She, too, despises venison, having grown up during rough economic times with a crack shot for a father. I remember Grandma was always complaining about the huge inventory of squirrel in the freezer, and found all kinds of ways to cook that up.

    The illustrations are hilarious --- you could not PAY ME ENOUGH to touch an oppossum! MIght as well eat a rat....shudder.

  5. How horrible! I think I'll just eat a granola bar instead. or bundle up and have a chicory coffee ice cream smoothie. Merry Christmas! sp

  6. In Florida, the greenskeepers on our golf course (who are mostly from middle and south America) catch and take home and cook (I'm told) the armadillo who love tearing up the tee-boxes. I'm always curious to know what you would do with that armour-plated animal!

  7. What was meant in those instructions is that you were to submerge the carcasse entirely below the boiling water, as opposed to temperature. Or so I guess, considering I grew up with some of that stuff, and so did the spouse, etc.

    Venison is not beef, chicken or anything domestically grown. It demands different approaches to make it delicious, which we are generally not taught, including you don't do venison as a haunches, unless very slow cooked with much wine and etc. seasonings, maybe even fruit. Particularly if you want tenderness.

    Though these days with deer and geese and other game more than grazing on the hay, grains and cereals that used to be for the lord's warhorses only -- the meat is rather different than it was even when I was growing up.

    Still, never acquired the taste for rabbit or squirrel (hey, we didn't have squirrels when I was growing up - no trees!)

    Love, c.

  8. The boiling point for opossum comes when the animal squeals. Everyone knows that.

  9. Years ago I had a neighbor (in rural New Mexico) who told me he ate robins.....and they were delicious, he said. Only problem was, you had to eat a LOT of them to make a meal of robin breasts. :-(

  10. I feel such a hopeless suburbanite, and fortunate soul not to needed game to survive. My uncle's moose meat pepperoni...enough. Who knew JOC was an artifact, that there had been so much change in such a short time.

    Warm holiday wishes.