Cooking a Road-kill Raccoon

Skinning a Raccoon
Skinning a road kill raccoon by flashlight.

This is the first time I have skinned and butchered road kill. Yes, I was apprehensive. But the raccoon was young, small by raccoon standards, had no visible injuries from having been hit and was clearly  healthy. I looked up skinning online but ended up being helped y a friend who had grown up skinning raccoons and other small animals in Arkansas. Certainly, doing this for the first time with someone who has experience is helpful though in many ways the biggest help was simply having the confidence to open the raccoon up and work the knife to separate the skin from the body.

Skinning the raccoon is easier than boning a chicken. There is nothing about skinning a raccoon that is as challenging as separating the skin of a chicken from the back without tearing. My primary advice if you haven’t done it before is just to be sure your knife is very sharp and wear thick rubber gloves to protect yourself from accidental cuts. Past that, it is really the first cut up the belly (you will cut straight up to the head) that presents a challenge — and it is purely psychological. There is a layer of fat between the raccoon’s flesh and the skin which makes it obvious to see where you are cutting.

The hind and fore-legs have lots of meat. For this small raccoon that is all we saved to eat. I wilted some onion in olive oil in a Dutch oven in the fireplace. When the onion was wilted, added the raccoon, a couple bay leaves, salt, and then wine to just cover. I cooked it at a very low simmer for hours. Utterly delicious.

 

Spit Roast Bread — The Kneaded Loaf of 1823

Today, as part of my work on the glossary section of the history of bread I’m writing for UC Press, I have been researching the British Northern dialect term knodden cake, and its Standard English parallel, kneaded cake. I’m still working on the words and can today only say that I think they were enriched breads made by kneading fat, usually butter or lard, into dough removed from the day’s batch. In the course of this research I came across this fabulous text that I’d like to share with you. It combines my move of the hearth fire with my love of bread. This is an excerpt from a story The Fairy Miller of Croga publshed in The London Magazine in 1823. It is in part written in a Scottish dialect. It is a rare reference to a spit roasted cake and the only one I am aware of being described in a poor person’s household. But what also makes this passage incredibly rich in historic detail is the fairy’s attraction to the “new-meal” bread, a rare literary reference to the period preference for fresh flour.

So as the sun was setting I baked a cake, and put it over the embers.

Except for roasting very large animals, like goats, pigs, and oxen, spit roasting takes place just in front of embers, not over them. I would thus not take the over ember description as literally true — at least if Barbara Macurdo is burning wood.
But what also makes this passage incredibly rich in historic detail is the fairy’s attraction to the “new-meal” bread, a rare literary reference to the period preference for fresh flour. Fresh flour, particularly if it still has some bran in it, is much sweeter tasting than flour that has been stored and has oxidized.

And kindly loved I our goodman; never thought of another,though I was in my prime when lost him;—and I made it a point to have a kind look, and something comfortable and warm for him when he came home at even. So as the sun was setting I baked a cake, and put it over the embers,—for weel he loved a kneaded cake, and aue brander’d brown ;—I never knead a cake now but I think of him. So the cake was on the embers, and’ a sweet smell it made;—for the meal was white and warm from, the millee, and I sat beside it to watch and turn it. As I sat I thought I heard a foot on the floor, and looking o’er my shoulder who saw I but a wee wee womanie! A wee wee womanie, and snodly was she clad, ami fair was her face; ami without halt or cure hoc close came, she to my side. I think I see her yet. and hear her words, ‘Barbara Macmurdo,’ said the wee wee womanie, using my maiden name, ‘I live nigh thy house, —I live on the same bread, and drink of the same water. But water waxes scant, and bread is far from sure; and those who gather earth’s sweetest fruits for me are now in Guiana and Araby, seeking spice, and cloves, and myrrh, and will not be with me; sooner than morning. The smell of thy new-meal cake is sweet, and we felt it underground, and my little babes love it. Therefore give me some, and when the next meller is ground in Croga mill I will repay thee. Give and prosper– refuse and pine.’

You can find the entire store here: http://books.google.com/books?id=aewRAAAAYAAJ

Candied Angelica

Like many recipes published prior to the stricter copyright laws of the twentieth century this recipe for candied angelica is found in many cookbooks. I include two version here, one from 1717 and one from 1788. They are identical but for one detail. The later recipe leaves off the option of drying the angelica before the fire. The only suggestion is drying in the oven. This offers us a hint both of a use of the fireplace to dry herbs and candied fruits but also offers a rough date for when cookbook authors no longer assumed that a fireplace was available for cooking. At least in England, by the late 1780s, the age of the range had arrived.

Angelica candied.

Gather your Angelica in April, cut in lengths, and boil it in water till it becomes tender. Having put it on a sieve to drain, peel it, and dry it in a clean cloth, and to every pound of stalks take a pound of double-refined sugar finely pounded Put your stalks into an earthen pan, and strew the sugar over them. Cover them close, and let them stand two days. Then put it into a preserving-pan, and boil it till it is clear. Then put it into a cullender to drain, strew it pretty thick over with fine powder sugar, lay it on plates, and dry it in a cool oven, or before the fire. The accomplished housekeeper, and universal cook by T Williams, printed for J. Scatcherd, London 1717

Angelica candied.

TAKE it in April, cut it in lengths, and boil it in water till it is tender, then put it on a sieve to drain, then peel it and dry it in a clean cloth, and to every pound of stalks take a pound of doublerefined sugar finely pounded, put your stalks into an earthen pan, and strew the sugar over them; cover them close, and let them stand for two days ; then put it into a preserving-pan, and boil it till it is clear ; then put it into a cullender to drain, strew it pretty thick over with fine powder sugar, lay it on plates, and dry it in a cool oven. The English art of cookery, according to the present practice: being a complete guide to all housekeepers, on a plan entirely new; consisting of thirty-eight chapters, by Richard Briggs. Printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1788

Hearth Cooking at Plimoth Plantation

What you see here is a woman cooking in an iron pot over a fire. It is hard to see, but the iron pot is hanging over the fire from an iron hook. The woman in the photograph is stirring the fire. This pot has three short legs so it can also stand on the ground where it can be heated with embers shoveled out of the fireplace under the pot.

It takes a lot of heat to boil water so when boiling the pot would be hung over the fire. The fire is much hotter than a fire on kitchen stove. Thus, this water will boil much faster for pasta than would the same amount of water put onto your stove at home.

When cooking something that is a little thick, something that could burn if the heat was too high, then this three-legged pot would be placed on the ground and heated with embers. Because the cook could exactly control the amount of embers pushed under and around the pot she could precisely regulate the heat.

Sometimes there is no need to have any heat under a big iron cooking pot. If one wants the soup or stew or porridge to cook slowly then it is enough to just set the pot beside the fire. It will simmer on the side closest to the fire and that is enough. As far as the food cooking is concerned it really doesn’t matter whether a pot simmers on its side or from underneath, as it does when we heat pots on our kitchen stoves.