Can a vegetarian city-girl find happiness in the arms of a hunter who thinks the four basic food groups are deer, elk, turkey and squirrel?
When I married Ken in 1965, I knew he was an avid hunter; I knew he ate meat. Although I lived mainly on whole wheat toast smeared with processed cheese, I wasn't a vegetarian who refused to wear leather and furs. I didn't question the ethics of hunting creatures for food. In fact, I had never known a hunter. I just refused to eat anything which had eyes or lips.
The Monday morning after our Saturday wedding, Ken left for his honeymoon (deer hunting in Colorado with a truckload of friends). My half of the honeymoon was spent in our small apartment in Columbia--all part of the on-the-job training for the vegetarian, city-girl bride of an avid hunter.
I know now that it was foolhardy of me to set a fall wedding date. If a woman who marries a serious hunter ever wants to spend a wedding anniversary with her husband, she'd better consult the Wildlife Code.
With the prospect of deer meat in the freezer, I glanced through Betty Crocker while Ken was gone. Also, I had a couple of general ideas about cooking meat. I knew the number-one method involved coating the raw meat with flour and plunging it into hot grease until it turned "golden-brown," and the number-two method consisted of immersing the meat in a pot of boiling water for hours and hours.
As for the mysteries of skinning, plucking or hacking the carcass into pieces? I guess I just thought meat always appeared magically in shrink-wrapped foam trays at the grocery store.
From the sight and odor of Ken when he returned from Colorado, I thought he surely must have spent most of his trip rolling in dung to mask his scent. Since he had come back empty handed, I guessed he'd even grossed out the wild animals. Even with the help of baking soda, the rancid stench took days to fade.
I was relieved not to have to cook a deer because I had decided that hamburger was the answer to my aversion for handling meat. I could get hamburger from the package to the pan without having to touch it, and, according to Betty Crocker, hamburger could be tossed in with any number of ingredients. And hamburger was meat, right?
We threw away heaps of leftover casseroles. Ken claimed he'd rather pitch those delicious casseroles than risk having them spoil in our refrigerator. How many secret trips did he have to make to the local steakhouse to stave off malnutrition?
Saturday night after another dinner of hamburger mystery, Ken blurted, "I need some meat with bones in it! I'm goin' huntin' tomorrow morning!" Around lunch time on Sunday, he returned from the hunt and casually tossed a bread sack containing some kind of peeled creature on the kitchen counter. I recoiled in horror from what looked like a miniature human whose head, hands, and feet had been crudely amputated. "What is that thing?" I shrieked. "Haven't you ever seen a squirrel?" He shook his head in disbelief as he headed to the living room to catch a baseball game on TV. Yeah, I had seen many a squirrel, but none in this condition. I stared at the carcass. Yuck! This meat couldn't be tossed into a bed of noodles and mixed vegetables. I called into the living room, "How do I cook a squirrel?"
"Fry it, of course!" he yelled.
Bingo! Method number one! The one with the flour and grease! I gritted my teeth and began the grisly job.
Using a dishtowel to grasp the squirrel, I dropped it into a paper bag and added enough flour to coat a moose. Thumping and shaking the bag produced choking clouds of escaping flour, but I persevered.
After the flour dust settled, I peered into the bag to find the squirrel satisfactorily camouflaged with flour. Next step, grease. I melted a fist-sized dollop of lard in an iron skillet. When the grease seemed hot enough, I gently lowered the squirrel, belly side up, into the pan. I jumped back from the skillet in horror at the instantaneous reaction of the squirrel. The torso bent, leaving only a portion of the meat in the boiling oil.
Resisting the urge to rescue the poor beast, I pressed a fork tentatively against the sharply arched belly to urge it down into the lard. No luck! I flipped the squirrel over. The belly was in the grease, but the rest was not. I flipped the meat over again and mashed even harder. I thought, "Maybe the lard needs to be deeper," so I added the rest of the package. Still too much squirrel out of the lard!
What now? At this rate, the darned thing would be only partially golden-brown. May be I should use something heavy to press the squirrel down in the grease? With no time to consult Betty Crocker about proper techniques for flattening a curved squirrel, I took action.
I looked up from the smoking iron skillet to scout for a fireproof, heavy object. What luck! On the nearby counter stood several one pound cans of pork and beans. Shouldn't five or six pounds be enough weight to squash the squirrel into submission? I grappled for the cans with my free hand and maintained the pressure on the squirrel with my other hand.
All the pork and bean cans covered the squirrel, but caused the lard level to rise alarmingly high. Using potholders to protect my hands, and stretching as tall as possible onto my tiptoes, I bore my weight into flattening that rodent into the smoking, popping grease.
By now, the stove, the cabinets, the floor and most of me were layered with a combination of gummy flour and lard. My pity had vanished. We were both destined to be fried if that's what it took to finish him off. Hasta la vista, squirrel!
Was it the smell of burning hair--mine, not the squirrel's? The clouds of flour drifting into the living room and coating the TV screen? The sound of lard popping? My furious grunts of exertion? Or was it the delicious smell of the squirrel reluctantly turning an all-over golden-brown that penetrated Ken's ballgame-induced comatose state? Who knows? Something diverted his attention from the baseball game.
He arrived in the kitchen to discover a wild-eyed, flour-encrusted madwoman poised over a skillet full of smoking lard, several cans of beans and the misshapen chunk of more than golden-brown something-or-other. "What are you doing? Don't you know those cans could explode? You could get killed!" he bellowed.
After turning off the burner, rescuing the cans of beans and telephoning for a cheese pizza, Ken scraped the worst of the caked flour and lard from my overheated face and asked, "Why in the world didn't you cut that squirrel before you fried it?"
"Cut it up?" I asked.
His mind must have reeled. What might I do with an elk hindquarter? Fry it up in the hood of his `54 Chevy? So much for his dream of marrying a girl just like the girl who cooked wild game for dear old Dad.
In the past 31 years, I have progressed slightly beyond piling pork and bean cans into the skillet. There was an unfortunate incident with a small mallard duck roasted hard enough to be an NFL football, but I have satisfactorily barbecued a coon, produced edible deer jerky and I've even been asked for my venison stroganoff recipe.
But the wild game preparation remains unchanged. If Ken wants sliced meat, he slices, it. If he wants chunked meat, he chunks it. If he wants hairless or pin-featherless meat, he packages it exactly the way he wants it to hit the pan! And, if he still has doubts? He cooks the game himself.
Ken figures that if I am flexible enough to celebrate our wedding anniversary on any convenient, infrequent day of the year which doesn't coincide with a fishing or a hunting opportunity, he can be flexible enough to break a venerated outdoorsman's tradition and dress his own game for the pan. And the herbivore and the carnivore shall sit down to a meal together in peace!