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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Gilbert: The Joy Of Cooking... Game

I bought an old copy of Joy of Cooking at a library book sale. The red and blue lettering on the white dust jacket made it look patriotic, as American as apple pie, perhaps, or maybe that staple of autumn in New England – the game supper.

First copyrighted in 1931, this edition was from 1964. And with apologies to those who oppose hunting or eating meat, I have to say that I found the chapter on game to be fascinating - and at times oddly amusing.

It begins with a warning to never handle wild meat without wearing gloves because of the danger of tularemia, a serious infectious disease. What an inviting way to start.

I was intrigued by the recipe for “Smothered Rabbit or Hare, with Onions.” Did it refer to the manner of death, I wondered, or is it simply a misplaced modifier?

Next come instructions on how to skin and cook a squirrel – which is popular fare in some parts of the country. The book recommends gray squirrels, since “red squirrels are small and quite gamey.” Most New England squirrels are red. Lucky for them.

For Opossum the book says to trap and – quote – “ feed it on milk and cereals for 10 days before killing,” leaving me to wonder if ‘possums like whole milk or skim, Captain Crunch or Cheerios. But anyway, I wouldn’t be able to do it; I’d feel like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel.” “Clean but do not skin” the possum, says the book. To which I say, of course. Who’d want to feed a dirty possum for a week and a half?

The book claims that “[A]ll bear, except black bear, is edible,” but we have only black bear in New England, and indeed in most of the continental US. So I asked my friend Terry Tyler, who knows something about Vermont guns and Vermont bears, if black bear is really inedible - and Terry confirmed that that’s nonsense. Or words to that effect.

“Raccoon.” “Muskrat.” “Woodchuck.” “Dress woodchuck as for rabbit,” the book advises. What, are they going out on a date?

“Beaver.” I’ve actually eaten beaver. I was mushing eleven hundred miles across Alaska; we bought beaver carcasses from trappers to feed our dogs, and we were curious. The pan-fried beaver chop was like a fatty lamb chop. Very fatty. My mushing partner, Chris Todd, from Woodstock, said to me with a grin, “Don’t think of it as beaver. Think of it as the world’s largest rodent.” Thanks a lot.

There’s even a recipe for “Peccary,” a kind of swine found in the US in the deserts of the Southwest.

I learned that “saddle of deer, moose, or elk,” refers to the meat that comes from the part of the animal where a saddle would sit.

And finally, the phrase “Bard the roast” has nothing to do with Shakespeare. It means to secure slices of fat or bacon to meat before cooking.

It's all interesting stuff, but I think I'll stick with the book's other chapters.

Peter Gilbert is executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council.
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