A recent story about a Tennessee Sandhill Crane being prepared on an upcoming TV cooking show got me thinking about some of the more, well, unique outdoors dishes I’ve tried over the years.
I guess I’d start with groundhog. One autumn when I was a kid, my dog Kazan and I bagged a young whistle pig that had grown fat chowing down on apples in my grandmother’s orchard.
We figured if the groundhog ate our apples, it was only fair that we ate the groundhog.
My grandmother stewed the critter and, as I recall, it tasted like mutton. It was OK, although over the years I’ve never had a carving for a second helping.
My grandmother, who was born in 1884, said when she was a little girl her father cooked a skunk he trapped. All she remembered was that meat was dark-red, like bear.
My grandmother, like most old folks, liked squirrel brains. I used to eat them too as a kid. They taste good, but getting them out requires some effort – like cracking walnuts – and those big orange teeth aren’t too appetizing.
I’ve eaten raccoon, which tastes a lot like groundhog.
I’ve never tried possum; I’ve seen where they’ve been and what they eat. (Although, in fairness to possums, their idea of fine dining is no worse than chickens’ and pigs’.)
I’ve eaten robin breasts, back before robins were protected. We impaled them on sticks, sprinkled on salt, pepper and sage, and roasted them over an open fire. They were as delicious as dove breasts.
During a fishing trip to Canada I nibbled a chunk of fried beaver tail. It looked like a blob of brown fat but didn’t taste as good.
I’ve eaten smoked wild goose (delicious) and baked wild duck (too red and gamey.)
I like wild turkey gizzards.
I ate a roasted grasshopper once, just to see what it tasted like. It tasted like a roasted grasshopper.
Once on a Tellico River trout-fishing trip my buddy Bob Sherborne and I planned to gorge ourselves on fresh trout for supper, so we didn’t bother bringing any groceries, just corn meal and grease. Naturally, we didn’t catch a single trout.
We noticed that the stream was teeming with chubs, dances and other creek minnows, so we decided to give them a try. We caught a bucket-full, fried them bones and all, and ate them like crunchy French fries. They were tasty, although by that time we were so famished that Sherborne said we could give rise to a new expression: “I’m so hungry I could eat a creek chub.”
Not even Sherborne could stomach a drum that he and the late Jerry Thompson filleted and fried. He said it had the texture of an old tennis shoe sole, but – like the beaver tail – was less tasty.
My Uncle Bud used to pickle skipjacks. The brine dissolved the bones, like canned sardines, and tasted similar – according to Uncle Bud. I didn’t try any. Like passing on the fried beaver tail, I skipped the skipjacks.
I likewise missed a chance to try rattlesnake, and now, like robins, they’ve been taken off the menu as a protected species.
I intended to eat a turtle once, but lost my appetite midway through the cleaning process.
It would be interesting to sample a Sandhill Crane, called “ribeye in the sky” for its delicious taste.
I’ll bet it would go good with a side order of groundhog.