It’s All About the Food When You’re Southern

I’ve eaten a lot of different kinds of food in my life, especially as a kid.

I had to stay with my Maternal Grandparents a lot when I was young because Mom was sick quite a bit. I stayed there almost one entire school year in the 4th grade, and almost every Summer I spent 3 or 4 weeks with Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa had grown up eating wild game and he never intended to change as long as he had a choice. He had deer horns lining the upper beam of his front porch from one end to the other…there were dozens of them. Rattlesnake rattlers also hung down from the beam, trophies of killing some of the biggest Eastern Diamondbacks I ever remember, or want to think about.

My Grandpa’s Uncle Larkin Davenport once killed one that stretched from one side of the old dirt road to the other. I wish there had been iPhones back in those days, oh the photos I could have taken! But, back to the food…

Besides venison, Grandpa also had a craving ever now and then for a Possum. Yes….a possum. The kind you see lying dead on the side of the road almost every time you take a trip up the old Alabama highway. Of course Grandpa wouldn’t pick up roadkill! That was for the REAL hillbillies in the backwoods of Kentucky. Up at the end of Snake Nation road in the Blue Ridge mountains, things were done in a civilized manner.

Grandpa would trap or catch a possum when he had a craving for one, and keep it up under a big old, huge wash tub for about a week. During that week, the possum would be fed the leftover vegetables from our meals, along with the peels and scraps from the vegetables. Grandma gave the little beast bread with a little honey on it on the day before it was to meet his maker. I believe it was to “sweeten” the meat, although maybe it was a last little treat for the critter too.

I had to help Grandpa skin the possum, and it was done just like skinning a rabbit. If you have never skinned a rabbit, I won’t go into it right now, but if you need to know, send me a message and I’ll give you instructions. Chances are if you grew up in the deep South you already know.

Grandma was very particular about cooking wild game, so she carefully cleaned the possum and poured nearly boiling water over him in order to get any scraps of hide off. All of this was done early in the morning. The possum then went into a large pot for parboiling. After about an hour of parboiling, Grandma would take the possum out, put it on a large pan, and sprinkle salt and spices onto it. Peeled sweet potatoes where added, and some slices of bacon, in order to add back some of the flavor which was lost during the parboiling process…which was essential in order to make the meat tender. It then went into the oven to finish cooking by being baked.

I have to note that parboiling was also necessary when preparing and eating squirrel, if you were going to fry them. If stewing the squirrel, you just went right on and kept boiling, but added some spices and some other ingredients. I ate a lot more squirrel than I did possum, and they aren’t half bad.

The last possum I ate was back around1960 if I remember correctly, when I was ten years old. My Grandfather was 67 years old that year. I can’t remember ever eating possum again, although venison and fish still graced the table at times. For the most part Grandma stuck with fried chicken, and beef roasts, and other pretty ordinary stuff in the subsequent years. Of course her cooking was anything but ordinary. Never had another biscuit as good as hers, or a cherry cobbler, or fried chicken…or fried apples for breakfast straight off the apple tree, or…well, you get the picture. I have wished a million times I had paid more attention to how Granny prepared food…especially the biscuits!

As for the possum? Well, I ate the sweet potatoes. The meat was just too greasy for me.

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