Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Possum, The Other White Meat

My mother grew up on a cotton farm during The Depression and I've been hearing her stories all my life.

I did not fully appreciate them, though, until I turned 50. Then I really started to listen, because I realized I was not just hearing our family's history, but the history of our country.

Since she, her parents, and her five siblings were on a farm, they had plenty of vegetables, eggs, and chickens to eat and milk to drink, but not much cash. One time, my mother said her "papa" showed her a penny and said it was all the cash money he had.

Occasionally, they needed to forage in the woods for meat. One winter, mama said her Uncle Claude returned home to Mississippi from his travels. Uncle Claude was a hobo during The Depression and for years afterward. I guess it just became a habit.

I've heard that "hobo" stands for homeward bound, and eventually Uncle Claude did return home to North Mississippi. I remember him when I was a small child. He was a grizzled old fellow that was always telling stories. I guess it runs in the family. My mother and her sisters welcomed him home like he was a king, and I am proud of that.

So back to the winter in the 1930s when Uncle Claude came home. During his travels he had learned to cook possum with "sweets"--sweet potatoes.

Mama's brother, my Uncle Edward, propped up a washtub with a stick, put some bait under it, and caught a possum. He fattened it up on acorns, and eventually it was ready for Uncle Claude to skin, dress, and cook it over a fire with the sweets.

My mama is a bit evasive about how it tasted; she comments more about how good the sweets were but said the possum was not that bad. I guess it was really tender. Uncle Claude learned how to cook in the hobo camps.

And, I guess if you are hungry you will eat just about anything.

Fannie Flagg, in her Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook, includes a recipe for roast possum, but it's a joke (kind of) because she does say, "For Yankees or anyone else who cannot locate possum, substitute pork." and the recipe directions refer to pork, thankfully.

But I wanted to post the recipe here since, even though it's kinda embarassing, possum is part of my culinary heritage. And since, like all the rest of our family recipes, Uncle Claude's is lost.  So here it is, Fannie Flagg's Roast Possum:

1/2 cup herb stuffing mix
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 plump possum or two 1-lb pork tenderloins
1 lemon, cut in half
1/2 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons bourbon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl; mix well. Rub tenderloins with cut halves of lemon and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Make a lengthwise slit down center of each tenderloin, cutting to within 1/2 inch of bottom; open tenderloins. Fill centers with stuffing, pull outer edges of each tenderloin together over stuffing, and tie each tenderloin with kitchen string. Place on a rack in a shallow baking pan; bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until done. Transfer to a serving dish. Combine jam and bourbon and spoon over meat. Yield: 8 servings.

And be thankful you are eating pork and not possum!

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