Posted by: ktzefr | January 8, 2010

What’s in the pot?

A-hunting we will go…

My dad was a squirrel hunter.  Every year on the 15th of August (the official opening day for hunting season) he would get out of bed at 2 a.m. and fry bacon and eggs. The scent of bacon swept through the house bringing pleasant dreams to the rest of us.  (Someone asked once what two foods I would choose if they were the only two I could have; easy, bacon and chocolate.  Perhaps not the healthiest choices but…they combine well, too, as in Vosges Chocolat’s Mo’s Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar — applewood bacon and smooth, rich chocolate — but I digress).  Anyway, my dad had to get up early because he always drove almost a hundred miles to the Blue Grass region of Kentucky to hunt squirrels.  It seems they were plentiful in the forests there and the land was flat, unlike the hills and valleys in our area, so one could walk all day at a good pace and come home with a sack of…uh, rodents.

My mom cooked fried squirrel and squirrel stew with dumplings.  For those folks who’ve never had the pleasure of tasting squirrel, it’s a bit like the dark meat of chicken…with a zing.  But squirrel had to be eaten carefully so as not to swallow the occasional buckshot (little balls of lead from the shotgun shells) that ended up in the stew.  Unlike some people in our neck of the woods, however, we didn’t eat ‘possum, raccoon, or rabbit.  As a child my mom had gotten sick after eating rabbit, so she couldn’t even bear to smell it cooking.  What a relief…I loved rabbits– preferably live ones.

When my husband and I were dating we raised rabbits.  Actually we started with two pet bunnies, thinking they were both male.  We named the pair Bo and Jangle after the popular song at the time, Mr. Bojangles.  I knew a man, Bojangles, and he danced for you/In worn out shoes… If you’re over 30, you may remember the lyrics.  In any case, we were surprised a few weeks later to find a whole litter of bunnies!  So, we had to make haste and start dispersing rabbits.  They multiply faster than fleas.

One of my favorite books of all time — Watership Down by Richard Adams.  The rabbits live in their natural environment, but they have a culture, a language, and myths about their ancestors.  I fell in love with all those rabbits — even found an ounce or two of good in the bad guys.  Nowadays, in spring time, when wild rabbits come to our yard to eat the patches of clover that spring up on the lawn, we say the bunnies are on their evening silflay (the rabbit word for having dinner)…it’s always at the edge of dark and I worry that something (a fox?) might catch them before they get back home to the burrow.  I know about the tricks a fox can play…

Fuzzy the squirrel

The freezers in our local specialty markets in DC occasionally have rabbit, as well as deer (venison), ostrich, bison, wild boar…but no squirrel.  On the other hand, our yard is full of them, and I provide a regular supply of peanuts and dried corn to keep them fat.  Our pal, Fuzzy, comes to the front door for his share of the good stuff and then zips through the trees spreading the word to his relatives.  Here, he’s content eating from the birdfeeder!

He’s become quite domesticated, like a hamster or a gerbil or a…guinea pig.  In the Andes guinea pig (cuy) is a delicacy.  These little critters start out as pets and end up in pots. Before Europeans came to South America, guinea pig was the main source of meat in the Andes.  Every family had them running around the kitchen — until dinner time.  Some families still do.  And, of course, you can buy them in the outdoor markets.  Today, however, cuy is mostly reserved for special occasions when the pig is rubbed with spices and roasted on a spit.

Eating guinea pig in Quito

Here’s our friend Luis enjoying roast cuy at a restaurant in Quito (we chose pork, being more comfortable with a bit larger pig):

And a local band played the old Simon and Garfunkel tune, El Condor Pasa.  They love playing it for the norteamericanoes, if only to remind us that it was their song first!  Written back in 1913 by Daniel Alomia Robles, a Peruvian, the real title is Flight of the Condor.  Paul Simon used the instrumental version and wrote entirely new (and unrelated) lyrics.  His version — El Condor Pasa (If I Could) — was released in 1970.

...singing El Condor Pasa

My favorite Andean band: Nanda Manachi.  We went to the band leader’s house once in the Indian village of Peguche…it was Palm Sunday and almost everyone was at church, including Jose Pichamba (leader of the band and owner of a nearby workshop where local instruments are made).  Jose had left the door open for our friend Maria, and we were met by his smiling doberman — a bit disconcerting at first, but the dog took one look at us, decided we were no threat, and ambled off to lie in the sun.  Jose’s walls were covered with instruments!  No trumpets or French horns or cymbals here…. The local people make and play samponas, panpipes in all sizes, and quenas (one of the oldest flutes in the Americas), and bombos, drums made from hollowed-out tree trunks and animal hide.  And, hanging almost out of reach, a charango.  The charango is a 10-stringed guitar that’s made from an armadillo shell!  What a clever use of a local critter.

If you want to hear Nanda Manachi play, you can google the band, or click on the link to the travel channel in the sidebar and get lots of info about their special program on the Andes.  Most of the background music you hear in this program is Nanda Manachi…they are Ecuador’s most famous traditional band.

I’m not sure how I got from squirrels to guinea pigs or from the mountains of Kentucky to the Andes, again, but, as I’ve said, there are all kinds of connections amongst people.  My dad was always pleased when he brought home a sack of critters for Mom to cook.  Likewise, a market-goer in the Andes is always quite pleased to bring home a sack of furry pigs.  As the Ecuadorians like to say: What else are guinea pigs good for?  One might say the same about squirrels…

Have a great weekend!

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