Jul 26 2006

Rabbits!

 

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Rabbits have been on my mind rather a lot recently; grey furry rabbits, large and fat, small and sweet. Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and my childhood favourite, Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit: all of them, sisters and brothers, children and cousins, aunties, uncles, old ones, young ones, suddenly here they are invading this valley.

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Like Travellers they have silently appeared. I watch them on the back lawn strutting across the grass in broad daylight. They take a rest, sit down fatly and stare boldly back at me. How long it will be, I wonder nervously, before they find the salad in the polytunnel and munch their way through the fattening pods of peas and beans.

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There are rabbits in the garden, in the orchard, in the quarry, in the fields, up and down the whole valley, rabbits everywhere. Where they have suddenly come from, I wonder.

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Rabbits, whole or dismembered, turn up in my kitchen. A crunching beneath the table reveals Fred supplementing his already enormous diet with fresh meat. Dogs compete for leftovers, guests pale in distress, Mini, the ageing Cairn, so incensed to have a warm morsel removed from her jaws, took off past me yesterday, rabbit on her mind, and disappeared up the valley in seconds. It was only a message from an irritated Parcel force driver that lead us eventually to find her, tired and confused and rabbitless in the quarry. Oh Rabbits! 

Naturally my mind floats towards the culinary virtues of orytolagus cuniculus that cony introduced to the UK in 12th Century by the Normans even then to supplement our diet. Those fecund little creatures are described quite wonderfully thus in my precious, worn and torn “New Edition” of Mrs Beeton’s Household Management dated 1880

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“Almost everybody knows that a rabbit is a furry animal, that lives on plants and burrows in the ground; that it has its varieties as well as other animals, and that it is an especial favourite with boys. Among its varieties, the short-legged, with width and substance of loin, is the most hardy, and fattens the most expeditiously. It has besides, the soundest liver, rabbits generally being subject to defects of that part……………Rabbits are divided into four kinds, distinguished as warreners, parkers, hedgehogs, and sweethearts. The warrener as his name implies is a member of a subterranean community, and is less effeminate than his kindred who dwell upon the earth and have the world at their will, and his fur is the most esteemed. After him, comes the parker, whose favourite resort is a gentleman’s pleasure-ground …….the hedgehog is a sort of vagabond rabbit, that, tinker-like, roams about the country, and would have a much better coat on his back if he were more settled in his habits and remained more at home. The sweetheart is a tame rabbit, with it’s fur so soft sleek, and silky, that it is also used to some extent in the important branch of hat making……..the fruitfulness of this animal has been the subject of wonder to all naturalists………in the time of the Roman power, they once infested the Balearic Island to such an extent that the inhabitants were obliged to implore assistance of a military force from Augustus to exterminate them….” And so on!

There follows some ten different recipes from boiled rabbit to stewed and baked rabbit. The example below took my eye and reminded me once more, to my relief, of how our eating habits have changed!! This is probably not one to try!

No:1013 – RABBIT A LA MINUTE

Ingredients-1 rabbit, ¾ lb of butter, salt and pepper to taste, 2 blades of pounded mace, 3 dried mushrooms, 2 tablespoonfuls of minced parsley, 2 teaspoonfuls of flour, 2 glasses of sherry, 1 pint of water.

Mode-Empty, skin, and wash the rabbit thoroughly, and cut it into joints. Put the butter into a stewpan with the pieces of rabbit; add salt, pepper, and pounded mace, and let it cook until three-parts done; then put in the remaining ingredients, and boil for about10 minutes; it will then be ready to serve. Fowls or hares may be dressed in the same manner.

Time– altogether 35 minutes. Average cost, from 1s. to 1s 6d. each

Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons

Seasonable form September to February.

All my old cookery books list endless, to my mind, rather unappealing ways to cook rabbit. Modern Cookery Illustrated; 1947 lists no less than sixteen ways with rabbit and the wonderfully named “Radiation Cookery Book” 1936 lists whole dinner menus…….

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Number 34: Roast Rabbit, Braised turnips or carrots, Baked potatoes Apple Charlotte

Regulo Setting 7

Time 1 Hour

“The whole dinner is placed in the hot oven, is cooked without any attention and is withdrawn at the end of the specified time, ready for serving. Sweets, etc., not wanted at once, merely require to be kept warm in the oven, employing the “Regulo” at mark1/2”…

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But alas, no, not for me! I turn once more to my trusted, tatty old French Provincial Cooking and Elisabeth David’s’ thoughts on rabbit. Here I find just two enticing possibilities:

Rillettes de Lapin: A traditional rillettes recipe with rabbit replacing some of the pork. Cook the rabbit slowly with garlic, herbs and pork belly, then drain off the fat, first pound, then pull apart the meat with two forks, pile into an earthenware dish and completely cover with the carefully strained fat. Cover with foil and store in the fridge. Eat with toast or crusty bread.

Sauce au Vin du Medoc:  Rabbit stewed so slowly in red wine with beef and pork that is almost becomes a sauce. Chop 6 shallots and brown them in dripping, add 3 large carrots cut into big pieces. Add the meat,1 jointed rabbit, 1 ½ lbs each of stewing beef and pork, add garlic and herbs, sprinkle with flour, stir and pour over a bottle of red wine (!) Add a little water and a square of plain chocolate. Simmer, “just murmur”, for three hours. Let the dish cool completely. Leave in the fridge over night then simmer again the following day for a further two hours. Serve with plenty of bread and / or a mousseline of potatoes.

It is “la grosse cuisine de la campagne” and sounds the perfect dish for cold winter days not, I stress, in the heat wave of today! Bon appetite!

Oh and still more rabbits…. there’s that Usagi-san. http://tworlds.wordpress.com Whizzing round the world right now ….that small pink and blue stripped paper rabbit who arrived last week from Tokyo via Parcel Force. Such a big presence for one so small: he pops up in every photograph and seems to dominate proceedings. He drives tractors, climbs trees, explores the plants, rides donkeys, play statues, floats on lily pads. He’s everywhere. And now he wants to go to the pub and play by the river………..

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Rabbits!”

  1. ali & rog & winnie & harryon 26 Jul 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Hi Sal, “I think you have finally flipped !!!!!!!!!! only joking, A & R xx

  2. addyon 30 Jul 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Lovely and informative post. Now I know one of your time travel secrets, Usagi.
    Addy

  3. domestikaon 01 Sep 2006 at 3:40 pm

    Rabbits, coincidentally, have been much on my own mind (and in my garden) of late – perhaps fattening themselves up in anticipation of taking part in one of your delicious recipes?! A lovely bit of writing, as always…
    🙂 Jen

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