Monday, April 1, 2013

Rabbit Stew and Blappleberry Crisp: Remembering an Early Summer's Harvest

"No offense to the easter bunny, but we're having rabbit stew!"- Anonymous-
My FiancĂ© and I had made the long trip north to my family’s orchard for my grandma’s 90th birthday.  When we rounded the final turn and saw the trees laden with fruit, I couldn’t tell who was more excited, me or our Jack Russell Terrier who began bounding around the back seat in anticipation. My cousin had made it out from Colorado for the event and brought with him his lovely wife and kids. It had been a while since the last time we’d seen each other, but we pretty much started up where we had left off.
 That evening as the setting sun’s last rays filtered through the stand of black walnut trees to the south, we walked the apple orchard.  I took a bite from the year’s first Gravenstien apple and noticed that there was a lot of rabbit, deer and wild turkey sign around. About that time my brother walked out showing me his new .22 caliber rifle. “I put a six shot group in a circle the size of a quarter at a hundred yards,” he said proudly as he opened the bolt action to show that it was not loaded, keeping it always pointed in a safe direction, and handing it over to me to inspect. The rifle was an old WWII era target model used both to train soldiers and to train boy scouts to shoot. The hardwood stock was beautifully finished with a deep chestnut brown and the action and barrel still exhibited the original bluing with no hint of rust. This was a beautiful rifle, and from the sound of it, accurate as well.
   Deer and wild turkey were not in season at this time, but Jackrabbit is open year round. Now I have heard many a hunter say some pretty harsh things about Jackrabbit. I have heard that it is stringy, tough, and downright inedible. But to all those skeptics I have one thing to say, clearly you have never had my wife's Jackrabbit stew! Early the next morning I crept out next to an old blackberry patch and watched from the brush, observing the rabbits in their natural element, hopping about, chasing each other, and stopping to brows a shrub here and there. Scouting really does bring out the magic that makes the country so special.
The following evening I took up my brother’s rifle and headed out to the same spot. Hunkered down below the shade of my favorite apple tree and concealed amidst a small clearing in the berry brambles, I waited. After a half hour or so, I slowly extended my arm and removed three ripe blackberries from the vine and ate them one by one. Again the sun set and the last beams were shining through the stand of black walnut trees, and then there was the rabbit. He ran into the orchard, stopped, rolled on the ground kicking up some dust, and began hopping straight towards me as though he wanted to eat right where I was sitting. About 15 yards short of my position he stopped, there was less than 20 minutes of legal hunting light left,  and the shot was true.
Many folks out there these days seem to think that hunting is a sadistic act, and that hunters are in it to see blood and kill, kill, KILL. But I will tell you that this is really not the case among a large portion of the hunting community. I am a subsistence hunter, I always hunt for meat which I share with friends and family, and though a good shot like this is something to be celebrated as the animal didn’t suffer at all, my favorite part of the hunt is watching the animal in its natural element. After all, far more than the average backpacker, the average hunter gets to experience the natural world so concealed that the woods come to life and go about their day as though no one is even there. And as a side note, all the people so down on hunting wouldn’t be alive to critique it if their ancestors hadn’t hunted for thousands of years with great success! But alas, I digress.
After saying my honorary prayer of thanks to the rabbit and the woods, I set to work. The rabbit was skinned, cleaned and butchered with a single obsidian flake, and as my Dad summed it up “I think that was quicker than if you’d used your knife!” I fried up the liver, heart and kidneys for a snack and put the rabbit in the fridge to “tack up”.
The following day I started the stew. After braising the rabbit in a pan the stock was started with carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. The rabbit was added, and then extracted a few hours later and the bones removed. When the meat was returned to the broth, so were a few mushrooms, potatoes, herbs from my Mom’s garden, and a bottle of my Dads award winning homebrewed zinfandel wine. While the stew cooked, my brother, cousins and I set out to get fixings for a crisp for dessert. We got the first pick of heirloom organic gravenstein apples straight from the trees and then finished off with a colander full of ripe blackberries. Though to be honest we ate more  berries in the field than we brought home for supper.
Once back home, my little cousin took charge and got the apples skinned, cored, and sliced while her brothers ate the “shoe laces” (long strips of apple skin peelings).
The fruit was mixed and the oat flour crust finished the blackberry-apple crisp, or “blappleberry crisp” as we call it, was in the oven. The whole family feasted and there was still enough stew for my lunch the next day! Of course the blappleberry crisp didn’t last long.
 When all was said and done, my cousin’s wife broke the news to the kids that they had just enjoyed rabbit stew from a rabbit I had got a couple days before. I was expecting someone to say “EEEWW”, but instead one of my cousins gave me a big smile and said “That’s legit!” -Keep the old ways alive! – By Kevin Smith

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