Pressure canned pigeon and roasted raccoon: Mother could cook all that nature provided
Author Mychal Wilmes recalls the comeback of eagles, turkeys and coyotes on the farm, while other parts of nature are waning.
A friend who is waiting for the weather to warm so that he can plant corn said he hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. I assumed that worries about planting might be the reason. However, veteran farmers who have survived droughts and floods tend to take nature’s challenges in stride.
He had tossed and turned through the night because coyotes that have grown more numerous howled in the darkness. The sound has a way of unsettling both the mind and soul. Every coyote ought to be hunted down as nuisances, he said, because they threaten wildlife.
Native Americans might disagree with his opinion because in some tribes the animal symbolizes good luck, wealth, and health. Coyotes also represent wisdom and cleverness. Some Native Americans also consider them tricksters.
I never heard a coyote’s howl until we moved to the hobby farm where we raised our children.
The wooded and creek bottom land on the farm where I grew up was a good environment for fox, deer, opossum, cottontails, raccoons, and squirrels. The creek held bullheads, suckers, and crayfish. Before we moved to the purchased farm in the late 1950s, jackrabbits were plentiful in the marsh.
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We fished with hooks salvaged from Christmas tree ornaments, washers, and poles cut from cottonwood limbs that nearly kissed the water. The most prized catch was bullheads, who were so easily caught that an afternoon could yield a milk can full.
They aren’t easy to clean, which meant Mother did the job aided by a small board, nail, and pliers. Although we had never tasted lobster, we agreed that bullheads tasted much better. We would have eaten crayfish, too, if we had been more adventurous. Mother also stuffed and baked carp, a fish so scorned that the DNR says it is wrong to catch and release one back into the water.
We were willing to try raccoon after somebody said it was the equal to jackrabbit, but nothing was further from the truth. Pigeons — dubbed as flying rats by some — were prepared in a pressure canner along with onions and dressing.
Wild turkeys didn’t exist because it was a time before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had yet reintroduced them. The DNR would have great success in doing so .
During those days, news reports talked about the Bald Eagle being endangered because a commonly used pesticide — DDT caused their eggs to be fragile. The loss of habitat, hunting pressure and powerlines were other factors at play. The population has recovered to such an extent that eagles are commonly seen feasting on roadside carrion.
Hunting and fishing fees help fund various programs that benefit wildlife and their habitat along with the federal Conservation Reserve Program.
Trouble may be on the horizon. Scientists warn that the struggling bee population is threatened . Bees’ pollination work is a multi-billion gift to agriculture. Others warn that a narrowing genetic base in livestock and grain is also a threat. Cattle and swine breeds with shared genetics are exposed to shared diseases.
Plant genetics are much more diverse and a guarded facility in Norway’s mission works to ensure that invaluable plant genetics aren’t lost to war and natural disasters.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault contains more than 1 million seed samples from around the world. The vault was opened in 2008 on Norway’s Spitsbergen Island in the Arctic.
The earliest settlers in the Upper Midwest — many of them unaware of how difficult it would be to establish themselves — depended on wildlife for food. The grain seed brought with them was fertile, but harvests were beset with grasshoppers and early frosts.
The buffalo and the Native Americans who depended on them were pushed out, but deer, squirrels and fish were plentiful.
Our natural environment is constantly changing. The human desire to control it has been with us since the beginning of time.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.