BRIAR CIRCLE RECIPES: NATIVE AMERICAN
(Leon Youngblood lives in Texas but says his heart is in LeFlore County, where he owns land and plans to move in a few years. His stories are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction involving people and events in and around Briar Circle, a community in the Ouachita mountains in Leflore County. The names are changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike, and to prevent my reputation from being soiled by associating with some of them. His column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted by email at [email protected])
By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
My youthfully encumbered friends Lindsey Port, her cousin “Clem” Clemmens and Fred Grayfeather visited, and Fred informed me I have this recipe column all wrong. Our Ouachita cooking has numerous influences, including southern, Mexican, western, German, Cajun – and Native American. True, these influences had been homogenized, for the most part, but Native American still stood out.
I had to confess my unintentional slight to various cultures’ contributions to regional dinner tables. I apologized to Fred and asked for any suggestions.
“I have some recipes,” Fred said. “Perhaps we can try some.”
“Native American recipes? Fred, I’m interested! What do you have?”
The young man’s pride was showing, and was inspiring to see. He said, “To start – are you familiar with Indian butter?”
“It’s good. You need the big bones of any large animal, like a cow or deer. Crack them, put them in a kettle and boil them for a couple of hours. Then you refrigerate the whole kettle overnight, or just put it outside, if it’s winter. The next morning you skim off the congealed fat, and put it in containers to store it. Use it just like butter. I like it on baked potatoes and fry bread.”
“Hmm. That’s interesting. But, Fred, I’m fresh out of large mammal bones. What else do you have?”
Fred was ready with an answer. “I know where a snapping turtle is, if you’d like to get him. We’ll need a hefty stick for him to bite and hold on to, and an axe to cut off his head. It’s fairly easy. We clean the turtle, and dip the meat in boiling water to get the skin to peel off. Then we cut it into serving-size pieces, and boil it in saltwater for an hour or so. You drain it and dry it off a little. Then roll it in seasoned flour and fry it, like you would chicken. Now, meat from a young turtle will twitch awhile, while it’s frying – that’s okay. It’s not alive, so it’s nothing to worry about.”
I found it handy to lie at this point. “Fred, I’m allergic to turtle. It gives me a rash you wouldn’t believe! Especially when it twitches! I get nauseated just watching it cook!”
“You’re allergic to turtle?”
“What about other reptiles?”
“Yes. All of ’em.”
“I’m glad I didn’t bring the rattlesnake. But it’s pretty good, fried.”
“I’m sure it is.”
Fred took this news in stride. “Well, sir, then beaver is hard to beat! I don’t know why I didn’t suggest it first! You clean a beaver like you do a rabbit, but you’ve got to get all the fat off. If you don’t, you ruin the whole thing. After it’s cleaned, you have soak it overnight in saltwater. Then you parboil it with bay leaves, onions, garlic, celery. Boil it until it’s halfway cooked. Then roll it in seasoned flour and sear it in hot grease. Bake it under moderate heat until it’s tender.”
“Is that all?”
“You can make gravy with the drippings, if you want.”
“Fred, it sounds like having dinner in the New Jerusalem. But hunting up a beaver is more work than I want to do.”
“What about ‘possum? They’re great, cooked with apples.”
“Never cared for it.”
This one surprised me. “You’re kidding!”
“I’m not! Say, are you squeamish about trying new foods, or something?”
All this time, Clem and Lindsey had been quiet, but Clem came to my defense. “Fred, I’ve seen him eat oysters on the half-shell. Anyone who eats raw oysters isn’t likely to be squeamish about anything else on the table.”
Lindsey grimaced. “You eat oysters?” She said it like they were road-killed toads, or something. But Fred’s expression was worse.
“Oysters!? But you won’t try ‘possum, or skunk, or muskrat?”
“I’m not saying I wouldn’t try them. But the national economy will have to get worse than it is, at present. I’m sorry, Fred, but my tastes are pretty domesticated. I’m pretty domesticated, myself.”
Obviously disappointed, they nodded in agreement. I had betrayed innocent trust and murdered their enthusiasm. And, after all, they were only trying to help me. Faced with this, it seemed there was no other choice but to offer a bribe. “Tell you what: Why don’t we go into town and discuss it over a restaurant dinner? You can choose where. I’ll buy. And maybe Fred can give us some tame recipes, with things you can get from the store.”
So, this is what we did, and it was a very pleasant evening. Turned out, I was suckered in, though. A few days later, Lindsey’s Dad told me the free dinner was what the pirates had planned all along!
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