Tuesday, July 17, 2012

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Hannah Montana Coon Repellent — With Recipes

Bill Smith of Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina put me onto the efficacy of Hannah Montana Coon Repellent. Hannah whaaa? You've not heard? Before we go any further, take 29 seconds to get caught up:

While countless Americans can make respectable fried chicken, say, or chocolate/rum pie, the proper preparation of raccoon is not common skill, nor is the gamey little critter to everyone's taste. If your goal is not to repel raccoons, but to eat them, read on.

In some parts of the country, "critter dinners" are annual events that feature some local game that has fallen from use at the daily table. They may feature muskrat, turtle, venison, or womp rats no bigger than two meters across. Or, yes, raccoon. In Southern Food, John Egerton quotes Stephen Steed in The Arkansas Gazette about such a local fundraising dinner in 1986:
A good-sized crowd of farmers was still gathered around the homestead of Harvey and Neal Holzhauer of Gillett [Arkansas] early Thursday afternoon, putting the finishing touches on . . . preparations for the town's 43rd annual Coon Supper Friday night.

A few hours before, the farmers—all members of the event's sponsor, the 115-member Gillett Farmers' and Businessmen's Club—had removed 2,012 pounds of raccoon from large vats of boiling water spiced with celery and other vegetables "to take out the wild taste" one member said.

The coon was then stored in a refrigerated truck until Friday morning, when the meat was spread over a fire of hickory and oak logs and doused with barbecue sauce.

Across town, at the high school cafeteria, the women of Gillett were cooking 10 bushels of sweet potatoes, 100 pounds of barbecued rice, 14 large hams (for those who decline to eat coon), about 2,000 rolls and numerous cakes.
And by Friday night, most of the coon had been eaten by the 1,200 or so people from five states and about 60 Arkansas towns able to [buy tickets at $11 each] and crowd into the Gillett High School gymnasium.
Well and good if you want someone else to smoke your coon. But what if you want to cook a more manageable portion for yourself and your family? What about that "wild taste?" Virginia Mixson Geraty offers a solution in Bittle en' T'ing': Gullah Cooking with Maum Chrish':
Roas' Rokkoon (Raccoon Roast)
W'en de rokkoon done shoot, heng'um up by 'e behime foot so 'e blood kin
gone tuh 'e head.
Cut off de head en' skin'um en' clean'um out. Tek cyah w'en 'e clean. Mus'
cut out 'e kunnel. Mus' sho' en' don' bus' de kunnel, eeduhso de meat gwi'
Rub'um wid pot-salt en' peppuh en' browng'um een laa'd. T'row uh medjuh
ub watuh 'cross'um en' pit'um een de obun fuh roas'.
Dig 'nuf swee' 'tettuh f urn de 'tettuh bank fuh eb'ry head hab two. Bake
de tettuh long de rokkoon so alltwo ready fuh suppuh.
So, clearly, the thing to do is...what? You...you don't speak Gullah? The Gullah are an African American people who have long lived in coastal South Carolina and Georgia — heavy on the "African." Gullah speak a creole language derived from Sierra Leone Krio, tell African folktales, make African handicrafts, and are largely descended from slave laborers who worked on rice plantations in the area. More on Gullah folk here.

Now, back to that recipe. Geraty offers this translation into modern English:
After the raccoon is shot, hang it up by the hind feet so the blood can go to its head.
Cut off the head, and skin and clean the body. Be very careful to cut out the glands under the legs. If these glands are broken, the meat will be ruined.
Rub the raccoon with salt and pepper and brown it in lard or cooking oil. Add a cup of water and put it in the oven to roast.
Dig two potatoes from the sweet potato bank for each person, and bake them along with the raccoon so they will be ready for supper. 
The thing to note here is that the "kunnel" — the scent glands under the raccoon's legs — must be removed or they can impart an inedible taint to the meat. Sometimes, that little kernel of wisdom is assumed in general directions to "clean" the animal. Regardless of method, nearly every experienced raccoon cook demands long cooking. Lizzie Moore, interviewed in The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery, gives a detailed, multi-step recipe that takes special care to remove the gaminess:
"You know you've got to have raccoon all skinned and dressed first. Then you wash it and cut it up into small pieces, put it in a pot and put cold or warm water over the top. [Bring to a boil] and then you put in two pods of hot pepper and let it cool for an hour in that water. Then you drain all that water off, put water up over it again and put a teaspoonful of vinegar in it. Vinegar is what tenders them and takes that old wild taste out of them. And then you put salt in it, and let it [boil again and] get as tender as you want it to. Stick the fork into it to see if it's as good and tender as you want it. Then you take it out of that water and roll it in meal or flour. I always prefer meal. Just roll it in your meal, have your grease hot in your [frying] pan, and lay that meat all in your pan. Then put some pepper on it, salt it to suit your taste, and let it stay in [the skillet] till it gets as brown as you want it. Take it out, and it's ready to eat. It's lean, dark meat, and it's good."
 Bon appetite, y'all.

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1 comment:

sam k said...

Wow. This post really struck a nerve...on old, Hitchcock-like nerve. As a kid, I went with my parents to visit an elderly acquaintance in a Cleveland low-income high rise. She was not home at the time, but her neighbor, an old black lady, invited us into her apartment to wait for, as she put it, "Miss Sophie's return."

She had something cooking in a covered roaster on the stove, and somehow the conversation came around to what she was cooking up. She said she had a friend who routinely caught raccoons in the local parks and brought them to her, since she was an experienced 'coon cook.

My Dad was an avid outdoorsman, and we had eaten wild game, including groundhogs (but no raccoons), all my young life. He asked to see the ingredients of the roaster.

She removed the lid to expose a complete, skinned raccoon carcass, head and all. The teeth were bared and glistening through the pot likker haze, and to this day I hear the screeching music from Psycho (when Tippi Hedren is getting slashed in the shower) every time I think of that moment.

Thanks Matthew. I guess I won't sleep well tonight, either!