If It Crawls, Slithers, Swims, or Turtle Walks
It's said that if it crawls, slithers, swims, or walks -- we Cajuns eat it. That's a stereotype characterization that is well deserved. Actually, my Grandpere's exact instructions were always, "If it moves, we might eat it." He had a large family to feed and not much money. However, don't be fooled, not everything that walks, crawls, and slithers, can or should be eaten.
I grew up with certain realities that I was, and still am, thankful to have left behind. I didn't mind the things that walked. I don't miss or mind all of the ones that crawled. Anything that swims, well usually is worth eating. However, I'm still not keen on any of the ones that slithered.
If It Crawls -- The Revenge of the Turtle
A couple of years ago, I learned something new about snapping turtles, despite my lifelong Cajun association with eating them. I learned that snapping turtles, who may not be able to talk, can sometimes tell us what they think of humans.
We were away for the weekend and heading home, came across a large snapping turtle crossing the highway. My husband, Mr. I-Know-More-Than-Mother-Nature, decided to move the turtle to a safer place. While others would have moved the turtle off the road, and where the turtle might be headed -- to him, a safer place meant taking the turtle about 250 miles away, back to our house where he could turn it into a pet of sorts.
Keep in mind, in his quest for a safer place, this also meant the turtle was going for a ride in the back of our Jimmy. Not having anything to confine the turtle in, he laid the turtle on it's back as we drove off. From the sounds coming from the back of the SUV, the turtle wasn't very happy about staring at the ceiling on a road trip. Then, less than two miles down the road, we heard the unmistakable sound of a very large liquid turtle "fart." This of course, was immediately followed by an equally unmistakable foul smell.
There was no way we could drive for any amount of time, even with the windows down, without becoming physically overcome. So there we were, in the parking lot of a nearby dirt racetrack, cleaning up the revenge of a snapping turtle, hell bent on not moving 250 miles from his home.
My husband indignantly carried his former friend to some nearby scrub vegetation. To be certain that my husband had understood "turtle speak," the snapping turtle again protested. This time his protest shot down my husband's leg and into his socks and shoes.
Despite the paper towel clean up, and the car wash hosing out before we could proceed home -- it was a long silent drive home with all the windows down. It was an additional $70 to have a professional steam cleaning carpet company treat the carpet in the back of the Jimmy. Moral of the story: Don't mess with mother nature.
Turtle is very delicious if prepared correctly. You can cook it a variety of ways. It can be fried, baked, roasted, or most popular is to put it in soup. It doesn't have a strong taste or a fishy taste. However, if not prepared properly it can be somewhat stringy or tough, like frog legs that have been not prepared right or cooked too long. If you like frog legs, and have never tried turtle, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
There is one simple method to make sure that your turtle meat is tender and not stringy or tough. To eliminate this problem, just soak your turtle meat in milk for at least one half hour. Generally, small and medium turtle meat is somewhat tender. However, the larger the turtle the more chance you have of encountering tough turtle meat.
For very large snapping turtles, there is another method of tenderizing the meat, which is as follows:
- 3/4 water to 1/4 vinegar to cover turtle meat
- 1 tablespoon salt to every quart of liquid
- Let stand overnight
- Rinse well in clean, cold water
- Dry on old dish towels
- Meat is now ready to use as you prefer.
How To Clean A Snapping Turtle
There is only one way to safely handle a snapping turtle, by first grabbing it's tail:
- Turn the turtle on its back.
- Have someone else distract the turtle with a stick, to make him strike and bite at the stick (or at least get his head out).
- Chop the turtle's head off with an axe. Do not use a knife!
- Chop off his claws.
Kettle Method of Cleaning the Turtle:
- Fill a large kettle with water
- Add one level tablespoon of salt per gallon of water
- Put kettle on fire and bring to a boil
- Put the turtle in and boil for 30 minutes (this will make cleaning the turtle easier)
Non-Kettle Method of Cleaning the Turtle:
- Leave the headless body in a cool place from one to six hours (depending on how hot it is -- i.e. hotter weather = less time). There is a reason for this -- it takes awhile for the turtle's heart to stop beating once the head is chopped off and makes the turtle difficult to clean if reflexes are still causing leg movement.
- Lay turtle on back
- Cut the belly or under shell from the turtle by finding the soft spots at each junction of the top and belly shells that holds them together
- Free the under shell of any skin holding it in places
- Cut the skin from the flesh to remove and throw away the under shell
- Skin out the four legs
- Locate the leg joints to body and cut off the legs with attached hams of legs
- Skin out the neck
- Skin out the chunk of meat at the base of the tail
- Cut off and discard outer part vent back
- That is all of the turtle that is edible
- Do not handle the entrails and throw away the shell top
- Remove all fat from meat
- Wash meat in mild salt water for fifteen minutes (1 tablespoon per quart of water)
Snapping Turtle Gumbo
- 6 green onions or 2 small sweet onions
- 1/2 cup of finely diced celery
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 cups of chopped okra (can substitute zucchini squash, but do no sauté with the onion)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- 3/4 cup catsup
- 6 cups beef stock
- 1 medium green pepper, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds to 2 pounds chopped, deboned, and sauteed turtle meat
- 3 cups of cooked rice
- Chop onions
- Sauté with okra in butter (if using zucchini, sauté separately)
- Add tomatoes and catsup
- Cook 5-10 minutes on medium heat
- Add celery, beef stock, peppers, garlic and all seasonings
- Bring to boil.
- Simmer 10 minutes
- Add turtle meat to mixture.
- Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
- Spoon over cooked rice in soup bowls.
Serves 6-8 people.
Fried Picante Turtle
- Fry 1 1/2 pounds chopped, deboned, turtle meat in 3 tablespoons butter
- Remove from heat
- Make a roux using 6 tablespoons butter to equal amount of flour
- When roux is medium brown nut color, add onions and cook until transparent (do not overcook)
- Add six cups cold water and bring to boil
- Add finely 3 finely chopped tomatoes and juices
- Add 2 stalks diced celery, 1 yellow diced pepper, 1 diced green pepper, 2 tablespoons garlic, and 1 finely chopped banana pepper
- Bring to boil, reduce and cook for 15 minutes
- Add juice of one lemon
- Add turtle meat
- Simmer on stove top for 1 1/2 hours
- Stir in 3 cups cooked rice
If It Slithers - Snakes
Bayou living meant owning shovels that were placed strategically -- at the front door, the back door, by the tool shed door, by the barn door, and by the outhouse door. Their sole purpose was to chop the heads off intruding snakes. In self defense, I've chopped off many snake heads. It was either them, or risk getting bit with no doctor for miles. The family rule was "leave them alone, if they are away from home," otherwise they were dead. This doesn't mean I don't have a phobia tendency when it comes to snakes.
Snakes don't seek us out, but they do seek shelter from the sun, and they seek food. That often means that our homes and other shelters are inviting. So, it's not unusual for humans and snakes to cross paths, especially in Louisiana. A lot of women are afraid of snakes, and that includes me -- even though I can kill one, render it for the cook pot, and eat it. Killing one is not something I would do just for a meal.
By nature, snakes are afraid of humans, unless cornered. The applies to poisonous ones, as well as the non-poisonous ones. We are bigger than they are. Because of that fact, they aren't interested in doing anything more than getting away from us, the majority of the time.
Rattlesnakes and Cotton Mouths
Rattlesnakes and cotton mouths, both poisonous, I fear them equally. Rattlesnakes were the ones I was most likely to encounter on a regular basis, the ones destined to have their heads chopped off by the shovel -- before they struck you or your pet. They were also the ones that you didn't mind eating.
I've had one under my bed. I've had one under my camping roll. I've had one slither into the outhouse to keep my company. Needless to say, I'm not thrilled with things that slither.
Cotton mouths or water moccasins are the snakes that should perhaps be feared the most. Generations ago, some of my own family members died from the bites of them.
So, the day my young son, gleefully came home with a five gallon bucket of baby water moccasins (he didn't know what they were) that he had "found" in the nearby lake -- was a day to remember. In his ten year old mind, he was going to make a fortune by selling them to pet stores. Always the "entrepreneur" didn't immediately appreciate his mama's reaction to his business plan.
Modern Day Cajun Fried Rattlesnake
- Cut rattlesnake into 3" pieces
- 3 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Soak all of the above overnight in the refrigerator
- Turn over at least a couple of times
- Beat 2 eggs
- Add 1/2 cup milk to eggs
- Add 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper to mixture
- Dip rattlesnake pieces into egg mixture
- Dip rattlesnake pieces into flour
- Fry in butter in frying pan
Serve with any salsa or piquant sauce you prefer.
Proof There Is No Safe Place From Snakes
Noodling or Hand-grabbing Catfish
If It Swims - Hand-Catching Catfish
Today in South, you commonly hear of a hand fishing method, called noodling. For those who are not familiar with this method of fishing, it is simply hand grabbing fish and it's nothing new.
A method that has some danger attached to the practice. to be more specific, that of getting bit by a water moccasin; getting too close and personal with an unexpected alligator; reaching into a submerged dead tree stump to encounter something other than what you expect -- to name a few of the hazards.
I was taught that the Cajun people learned this method of fishing from the Choushatta Indian tribe. While Cajuns have many recipes for various fish, the favorites are perch, crappie, and bass. However, nothing tops the Cajun food menu, like the catfish. Everyone knows that the really large catfish, are wise to the ways of the fisherman. The only way you are likely to catch one, is by hand-grabbing.
The practice consisted of reaching into submerged hollow logs, grabbing the catfish by the lower jaw, and shoving your other fist and arm into it's mouth and out one of it's gills. Hauling it out catfish much like you'd lift an overstuffed, wet and heavy suitcase that had been thrown in the bayou.
My Grandpere told me that the first time he was sent out into the water to catch a catfish, his father tied a rope round his waist. He tucked a feed bag inside the rope, and told him the rope was to help bring in his catch. His father didn't bother to mention that the rope was intended to help him rescue Emile, should he encounter the jaws of an unwanted catch.
Catfish Grabbing Not For Sissies?
If It Walks - Racoons
If it walks, usually it's pretty good eating. Personally, I can't kill a mammal willingly, not even for food. I say willingly because sometimes it's necessary to kill a mammal, either for food or for your own protection. I learned that early, as I sat high on a front porch swing, playing with my doll one afternoon, shortly before lunch one day.
My Grandpere sat nearby, just talking with my uncle when a raccoon seemingly came from nowhere and ran up on the porch. I'd already raised a couple of baby raccoons that had lost their mother.
At that time, I looked upon them as cute, and amusing little friends. So, I was quite shocked to see this large raccoon run straight for my Grandpere and fiercely attack his boot, as he proceeded to kick it as hard as he could. It latched onto his boot with all the ferocity of a fight-to-the-death pit bull.
Emile hobbled on his other leg to the front door, dragging the coon with him. He opened it and brought out his shotgun. He promptly blew the racoon's body parts all over the porch. This was in 1958, and needless to say, I felt like I was in a bad horror movie. My beloved Grandpere had become a monster, killing an animal species I loved right before my eyes.
I soon learned that only a rabid raccoon would have behaved in that manner in the middle of the day. It's a myth that raccoons, being nocturnal, only come out at night. A hungry raccoon, a nursing raccoon, will hunt for food day and night. However, only a rabid raccoon would have attacked without provocation. Emile was lucky it went for his boot.
Afterwards, all the family dogs and cats were put into hastily built crates to be watched for weeks. All children were examined and questioned about scratches and possible bites. The adults were tight-lipped and clearly worried. Rabies can spread rapidly.
Note: Raccoons are the most likely source of rabies spreading from animal to animal. They are smart, adorable, and very entertaining. However, they are a wild animal, and should be treated with the respect and caution that you should give any wild creature.
Skinning and Eating Raccoon
The nocturnal raccoon simply has to be hunted in order to control the population and all states have a hunting season for them. Like other creatures, we humans are guilty of encroaching on their territory, so it is not unusual to see them in urban areas these days.
Skinning a raccoon isn't overly difficult, but it is a complex process. With raccoons, it is absolutely a necessity to remove all fat, the lymph nodes, and many other parts. Rendering and skinning a raccoon isn't something for the novice without guidance.
Roasted Cajun Coon
In lean times, our family did eat raccoon. It was not Hirma's favorite meal to prepare, nor was it my favorite meal to consume. After having some of the babies as pets, it was hard to reconcile the images of eating one vs. playing with one.
As a child, I'd never heard of being a vegetarian, but if I had known back then -- I would have certainly claimed to become one, at least on the nights we were eating my pet's cousin.
The meat tastes similar to lamb. It is good if prepared correctly, just like any other wild game dish. Hirma usually roasted the coon, the recipe is as follows:
- Using an already skinned and dressed out raccoon:
- Prepare the raccoon by cutting across the back (behind the ribs)
- Keep the back legs attached
- Soak the raccoon in salted water overnight
- Early in the morning, pour off all water, rinse in clean cool water
- Scrape off all fat on the inside and outside of the coon (wild game fat is always terrible tasting)
- Put the raccoon in a large pot of boiling water and cook for 10 minutes
- Rinse the raccoon again in cool clean water
- Scrape the inside and outside again to remove any additional fat
- Soak the raccoon for three hours in a bath of milk, turning frequently
- Stuff one of the two body cavities with any stuffing you prefer
- Use the other cavity by tying it off, like a tent
- Season the raccoon with: Cayenne pepper, minced garlic, minced onions, and a small amount of salt
- Lay strips of uncooked bacon across the top (about 8)
- Roast raccoon at 350 degrees covered until near done
- Uncover and brown during the last 15 minutes
More About Things That Crawl, Slither, Swim, and Walk
- All About Snakes
- Animal Rascals--National Geographic Kids Magazine
- Catfishing the hard way With Hands Noodling
- Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, Information, About, Article, Definition, Magazine
- Raccoon, Raccoon Profile, Facts, Information, Photos, Pictures, Sounds, Habitats, Reports, News - Na
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