Right now I'm reading "The Art of Eating" a collection of essays on food, and the love of it by M.F. K. Fisher. It's a wonderful book that is fun, witty, wise and interesting. And it made me think of all sorts of odd things we eat in the course of a lifetime.
In 1967, my mother, Eleanor A. Ellis, wrote "The Northern Cookbook" as the Canadian centennial project for her department within the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Intended for use as a text book for students across northern Canada, it is a compilation of recipes and techniques for harvesting and cooking country food aka beaver, moose, seal, ptarmigan, goose, rabbit...all sorts of fish and game. There's also recipes for breads, fruits, veggies and a whole section entitled "Pointers from Pioneers".
Mom always claimed that she had tried every single recipe that she collected in her abundant travels across the Yukon and North West Territories (now Nunavut). I have a little trouble seeing her working with this nugget for Baked Skunk: "Clean, skin, wash. Bake in oven with salt and pepper. Tastes like rabbit. (No smell). Skunk fat very good for whooping cough." However, I do know that she tried Sweet Pickled Beaver, because I was actually the one who made it. An old fur trapper named Henry Metcalfe, whom I'd befriended, once brought me a beaver. He'd skinned it, and then brought me the meat to try in this recipe. It was a very lengthy process, as the meat had to soak overnight, then it simmered in a brine for ages, and had to be skimmed every so often...bearing in mind that beavers eat trees, and taste just like...trees. Until you use this recipe that ultimately calls for roasting it with cinnamon, mustard, pickling spices, white wine, and pineapple juice.
When it's all done, you have a party and invite a lot of friends over for a potluck buffet dinner. You place the beautifully carved and presented Sweet Pickled Beaver, which now looks exactly like a roast of beef, on the table amidst all the other meats and salads and rolls and see what happens.
At our dinner party, it was totally cleaned up...nary a sliver for leftovers. And when guests asked what they'd eaten we told them....made'em feel akin to the north, and more than one was heard to say "Eat a beaver, save a tree" with a new little chuckle!
The cookbook became a northern classic, and even had a favourable write up in the NY Times. Mom died several years ago, and every now and then I get out the cookbook and hold it close.