Not-so-Wild at Heart
Like a lot of picky children, for much of my young life I avoided unfamiliar foods. I was raised on a farm so regional fruits and veggies, beef, chicken and pork were recognizable and safe, while everything else was suspect. For example, my stepdad’s hearty, spicy venison chili made with the deer meat a friend shared each year was a big no thanks.
By high school some of my hesitance to try new things wore off. I credit this to our health teacher Ms. Ryan and her potluck day. Each student was tasked with bringing food we thought was exotic or in some way unique to our family. I brought my granny’s cornmeal-breaded, fried okra. Looking back, I now know it was neither exotic nor unique and — ironically — I don’t care for fried okra and never have, but it was a hit with my friends, so no regrets.
Some of my classmate’s offerings however were quite unusual to my simple farm girl palate. To that point, I distinctly remember two friends, Dwight and Robert, who brought squirrel and rabbit from their own hunting trips. I experienced a variety of emotions surrounding the meat, including awe at their skill to have hunted, captured, prepared and cooked it, curiosity about the taste and revulsion over the demise of cute, fuzzy creatures.
Curiosity won out.
The squirrel tasted like chicken, but the rabbit had that distinct quality I eventually learned to appreciate as a hallmark of fresh game — gaminess. Or, that extra punch of flavor and texture.
That day in Ms. Ryan’s class, my adventuresome food spirit was born. Since then (and despite some stints of vegetarianism), I’ve sampled frog legs, snails, eel, snake, bison, ostrich, gator, duck and quail, to name a few. The last two are my favorites. Over time, I grew to love fresh seafood, too. Which of course there’s a wealth of in South Louisiana. Thankfully, you can get it from your local “[insert type of seafood] guy,” fish market or grocery, as well as certain game including quail and venison. All it takes to enjoy these culinary treats is the patience to research purveyors and make a few calls. No fishing or hunting prowess is required — a relief to both city folk and farmer types alike.
Melanie Warner Spencer