It all began with a phone call one evening from the permaculture farm down the road where I resided this past Fall. There had been a showdown in the chicken yard, and they had shot a raccoon. Now, being the omnivore that I am, and having grown up in a family where annual elk hunting and fishing provided the bulk of our meat, we had an understanding that I was serious about local, wild food. My thought process is such that if a person is going to eat meat, they ought to have a good understanding of the whole process, including how to raise it, how to hunt it and how to butcher it. There's a lot going on there before you walk up to the meat counter at the grocery store. It's all part of knowing where your food comes from.
I picked the raccoon up the next morning and took it over to my friend John. A fellow adventurous omnivore and do-it-yourself-er, he and I had an understanding as well that if an edible critter came our way, we would make use of it with a fine meal. He had spent a good bit of time homesteading on a farm down in Douglas County raising sheep, goats, chickens and geese, resulting in years of experience with dressing out an animal. When I arrived, he wasted no time getting out his sharpest knife and bone saw, trading his shirt for an apron, and laying the raccoon out on the table.
I had experience butchering my own grouse that I hunted, and with meat birds I raised on my farm, but a four legged animal with a hide is a bit different, so the education on the step-by-step process was welcome. What surprised me was how tough skinning is. John is quite strong, and there were some points where he was pulling with tremendous force to separate the fascial tissue. He managed to save the hide for me intact, minus the tail which didn't make it through the process, and with a some instruction and help I got it scraped, tacked and salted for a future project.
We cleaned up, composted the parts we wouldn't be using, and got the raccoon marinating in some spices and scotch. Realizing the week was going to be busy, we then froze the meat for a proper Sunday dinner when we could give it the time that it deserved.
This last Sunday, John chopped up one of the oak rounds I had curing in a pile for this winter's firewood, filled a cast iron skillet with the chips, covered it in foil, placed the scotch marinated raccoon beside it on the rack, and fired up the barbecue.
All day long the rich, savory smells of oak smoke and meat filled the backyard. It was absolutely mouth-watering.
What we ended up with by late afternoon was a good amount of smoked meat that would have otherwise been buried in a field if we hadn't dressed it out and made use of it. Being a person who really dislikes putting anything to waste, this really pleased me.
As a culinary experiment, we reserved half as straight smoked meat and steamed the other half for two hours with garlic and blueberries. It made for some melt-in-your mouth, succulent morsels.
So, even if eating a raccoon isn't your favorite idea of a Sunday dinner, I would still urge you to examine and strengthen your connections with your food. Trace it back to where it comes from and really get to know it. Visit some local farms, go out in the woods with someone you know who hunts, or try raising something yourself. If you do eat meat and think of it only as coming on wrapped Styrofoam trays in the grocery store, there is room to educate yourself further. I was pleased to have my son and his good friend try out raccoon this weekend, and although my daughter and John's daughter weren't up for actively participating in this wild food adventure, they were at least around for it and learned something about food webs and providing one's own sustenance. I am confident in knowing that their understanding goes beyond the meat counter.
And they'll have some wild stories to tell about their childhood.