Native Food: Dale Carson Shares the Truth Behind Rabbit Folklore and Recalls the Family Hunt for Dinner
There was a time long, long ago when men, animals and all living creatures could speak to one another. This is true—how else would legends, folklore and mythology come to us so blended into traditions? Themes with more than vague similarities traveled across the continent as oral tales spoken by the Ancient ones. These stories passed down were adapted by names and places to fit their audience. Evil doers, giants, bumbling heroes, weather spirits, magical animals and their deeds all told and retold for the purpose of teaching or entertainment. Rabbit has many adventures—so many in fact one cannot possibly tell all. Rabbit, known as Mahtigwess in the Micmac language, tried to copy many other animals’ lives. In these stories, he tries to fish like Otter, tap for insects like Woodpecker, to play tricks on Wild Cat, aka Loup-Cervier, by magic, and failed to cook dinner like Mooin, the Bear. Finally, Rabbit learns he doesn’t have to copy everyone; he is good at being original. Rabbit provides food and clothing and is greatly respected for this in a social dance given to the Iroquois people long ago. Small game is a staple of the Native diet. In rural areas, even today, beaver, ground hog, squirrel, raccoon and porcupine are hunted for food. They—along with their game bird cousins wild turkey, pheasant, duck, quail, goose and others—still provide tasty dining. Many of these are available in commercial form at your market or butcher. Rabbit is one type of game now raised domestically. This is a far cry from the tough times when my mother and grandmother would send my uncles out to hunt “dinner.” They would bring back one or two rabbits, skin and hang them in the cold back hallway of grandma’s house. I remember seeing them there once as a child, never realizing they were for dinner, nor did I realize that a gift made of soft grey fur was a bunny bag.
Really Good Rabbit
1 four-to-five-pound rabbit, cut in pieces
1 large onion, cut up or sliced
4 whole cloves
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 large garlic clove, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon mace
1 cup water or dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
Flour to dredge
Butter or corn oil to brown
Put rabbit pieces in a plastic bag and add onion, cloves, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, mace, wine or water and salt. Let the rabbit marinate in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours. When ready to brown, remove rabbit and pat dry, do not discard the marinade. Dredge or sprinkle pieces with flour. Using a heavy skillet, heat the oil and/or butter (both is ok together) and brown the pieces for a few minutes, turning frequently. Put rabbit in a crockpot and cover with marinade. Cook on low for 6-10 hours, or put in a baking dish and bake at 325 degrees for 3 hours. Either way, delicious.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.