June 28, 2012

"Did you have to eat wild game when you were a kid?" I asked Lady Laura the other day. A program on the TV about eating game had triggered a flash-back to my childhood.

She thought I was crazy. "Of course we ate wild game. We grew up in the country. And I remember eating lamb."

"Lamb isn't wild game," I commented. "It's mutton."

She said her mother fixed both lamb and goat on occasion. It was considered a treat. It tasted something like a cross between beef and pork and was always cooked with a dash of vinegar, I supposed to tenderize it.

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, nearly all grown-up men that I knew were hunters. When you hunted game, you were supposed to eat what you killed. First of all, it would be wrong to kill simply for the sport of killing. Secondly, free food helped to stretch the family budget.

My dad owned a shotgun for hunting. When I became a teenager he bought me my own gun and taught me to safely hunt. Guns made mom nervous, but she had grown up in an environment where guns and hunting were a way of life. Once when dad was cleaning his gun, it went off in the house and he shot a hole in the chest of drawers. Needless to say, mom was not happy about that episode - not happy at all.

Dad's favorite wild game to hunt was rabbits. He and a friend or relative would go out to hunt and come home with a sack of dead rabbits which were skinned and gutted, and then fried by mom in her big black iron skillet, like chicken. They did not taste "just like chicken" however. They tasted just like rabbit.

Another of dad's game items was squirrel. Squirrels were more difficult to shoot, and it was hard to kill a "mess" of squirrels. However, if a squirrel happened to scamper into sight during the rabbit hunt, chances are that it too would end up in the bag and, later, the big iron skillet. Dad also hunted pheasant - which we all loved. It looked like chicken but had a flavor all it's own. Pheasant was only served in the fall because you never froze pheasant. I recall that dad only hunted turkey once. It is a popular game bird around here but we spent the entire meal spitting out shotgun pellets.

One of the oddest creatures dad hunted, though, was frogs. He and a friend, Ben McCormick, would decide to go frog "gigging". This was done with a flashlight at night when the frogs were out. The only parts of the frog that you ate were the legs. Frog legs were also fried and tasted rather fishy ... so dad said. We kids never got to eat the frog legs - probably because dad cooked them in beer. Probably with enough breading and grease, anything wild could be fried.

One of our common experiences with wild game, however, was with venison. Dad hunted big game, but never had any success. At least I never remember him coming home with a deer strapped to his car. Ben, however, often gave us a big venison roast. Mother dutifully cooked it, just like beef. She knew about soaking it in salt water, to get the game taste out.

Ben seemed to be able to get venison all year round even though deer hunting was allowed only in the fall. I'm not saying Ben did anything illegal but he always seemed to have fresh venison to share. That's just the kind of guy Ben was ... ah ... let's just say he was resourceful!

I know that some people eat wild things a whole lot stranger than rabbits, from snakes to possums. Thank goodness dad didn't know how to hunt for opossum. We didn't have wild duck or quail either, probably for the same reason.

Nowadays, we are pretty far removed from the reality of hunting for food. As far as I'm concerned, meat comes from the supermarket, butchered and wrapped in plastic wrap. Our tastes have changed as we've gotten older and we would not touch a piece of venison with a ten foot pole. So it is mostly beef, pork, chicken or fish around here.

Occasionally my brother will give us a piece of venison. We gracefully accept the offering and just pass it on to another family member. He doesn't know we do that but he will after he reads this. And I guess we won't be getting any more venison from him. That's okay with me.

I haven't eaten wild game for a long time and that's okay, too. If I want anything that tastes just like chicken, I'll just eat chicken.