How to Cook a Skunk

I picked up this book a couple of years ago on one of my Salt Lake City trips:

The title is somewhat misleading, because the recipes were not from just  Utah pioneers — or even pioneers in general.  Nevertheless, a fun book to flip through: on the way to last night’s fish chowder was this priceless gem, reprinted from Recipes and Stories of Early-Day Settlers (Kansas City: Discovery Publications, 1988):

How to Cook a Skunk

Skin clean, remove scent glands under front and hind legs.  Put in strong salt water and boil about 20 minutes or so.  Drain off this here water, add seasons: pepper, bay leaves, sage.  Steam till tender.  Larpen’ good eaten!  Baked sweet tater & wild greens go good with yer skunk.

I am willing to take somebody’s word for it 🙂

But, I went for tamer stuff, a fish chowder made with cod, potatoes, bacon, onion, milk, and a couple of butter crackers.  It would never have occurred to me to use the crackers as thickener, but it worked remarkably well, and the Teenager claimed that the chowder is now one of her new favorites.

What was more interesting was the recipe itself; I loved its simplicity and its economy with regards to not just the ingredients, but the cooking process itself.  The instruction, in part:

Put the sliced potatoes into the kettle; hold the strainer over the potatoes, and pour through it enough boiling water to cover them.  This is easier than to fry in the kettle, and skim out the pork and onions — which to a novice would be running the risk of burning the fat, cleaning the kettle, and beginning again. 

I forget that the ordinary kitchen of 100 years ago did not have an endless array of pots and pans and gadgets — that perhaps the frugal housewife may have had only one pot and one frying pan, and not the graduated set of pans my local cooking store will sell me for $499.99.  I like to think I have a fairly simple kitchen; when we remodeled the kitchen last year, I took the opportunity to freecycle mugs, glasses, dishes, utensils, pots and pans.  But, I still have probably more than my fair share of “stuff”: the Cuisinart that was a wedding present (yes, it’s 27 years old) and that I use only a couple of times a year, the Kitchen Aid mixer that I use only a couple of times a year, the big pot with multiple strainers that I use only a couple of times a year . . . . and of course, a beautiful set of Danish Modern serving fork and spoon that I have had for 15 years and never used.  See a trend here?

I am doing my best not to buy, but I still covet.

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Red Chair Reads: Ashton-Kirk, Investigator

The proprietor of my favorite fabric store told me once that the way to make all criticism less harsh was to preface it with “Bless his/her heart . . . .”

So, bless his heart, there is a reason why J. T. McIntyre offered no real competition to Arthur Conan-Doyle, and why Ashton-Kirk was never a convincing rival to Sherlock Holmes.  Not for lack of trying, of course.  Ashton-Kirk is young, handsome (piercing eyes and all), rich (lives in the comfortably well-appointed family homestead), eccentric in a well-mannered way (said family homestead now in a seedy neighborhood), well-educated (speaks several languages), cultured . . .  and the list goes on.  And it really is a list, because McIntyre was not a particularly good writer and could not tell you what a character is like without telling you what a character is like.  The book just was not interesting, because none of the characters were interesting, and most egregious of all, no one seemed to have a sense of humour, unless it was of the unintended sort: midway through the book, Ashton-Kirk announced that one of the suspects was a short, dapper man who was deaf and knew short hand.

And so it went.

Red Chair Reads: The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice

I am not a Wilkie Collins fan, but since I seem to be on a Victorian mysteries kick, and I liked the subtitle, I downloaded the book for a cozy sit-in-bed-on-a-blustery-winter-day read.  I imagined all sorts of thing beforehand, but nothing close to the actual convoluted plot.  I understand now that Wilkie Collins loved the twists and turns, the coincidences, and expected the reader to be a generous co-conspirator in suspending all belief.  And so I did.

The heroine, while depressingly sweet and honorable, actually did possess a spine, and the hero did not turn out to be too remarkably stupid.  The mystery, with its supernatural elements, was perhaps a bit lackluster but doubtless sensational when published.  Wilkie Collins sounded like he was having fun with it all, which was good enough reason to keep reading.  My favorite quote came early in the book, in the description of Countess Narona:

“. . . .  she was of middle height, and (apparently) of middle age–say a year or two over thirty.”

Way over middle age,  well into my dotage.  This is how I know I am an elderly woman.