My Aunt Leesa had dozens of her own cookbooks and then inherited many from my grandmother. Looking for a praline recipe this morning, we discovered Mary Land’s Louisiana Cookery (1954). Scanning the index, we found something unusual before we hit “Praline.”
There’s sweet intro copy before many dishes and then precious few instructions or measurements in the “recipes”; Louisiana Cookery appears to be a cookbook for those who already know how to make this stuff but need a reminder before they, you know, skin a possum. That’s right. “Possum” comes before “Praline” in Louisiana Cookery. The intro:
“A clear, cold night, baying hounds, and a flash of flambeaux form a picture dear to the Southerner’s heart. Treeing possums has long been a nocturnal sport with country folk of the Deep South. Whether it be the large Virginia possum, the small Gulf possum, or the long-tailed Texas possum, both the hunt and its reward are exciting experiences. If the possum is taken alive, pen and feed him for two weeks on milk, bread, and persimmons.”
What have we have learned, students? “To tree” is a verb, and feed your possums persimmons for two weeks before you slaughter and eat it. Here I thought it was oranges! Oh, you southern cooks. You think of everything.
Land offers five recipes for your now-persimmoned possum: Clay-Baked, Idle Acres Plantation Possum, Arkansas Style, Louisiana Style, and Possum Dressing a la Gowanloch. Here’s the winner in my view, though this one doesn’t specify what another does, namely, “Scald, dress, and pick hairs off possum.” Take out your notebook, here we go:
Prepare possum as for kitchen baking. Roll in a sheet of moist clay and cover with a bed of coals. Bake from one to four hours, depending on size and age of possum. Break away the clay and eat. (Serves six.)
I do love the idea of baking something in a clay sheet. But if I understand this correctly, when you break off the clay, you’ve got hot possum. That is not okay. But I have to be careful sharing my feelings about the attractiveness of these recipes; I once shared my distaste over another of my grandmother’s recipe books and received a well-that’s-a-bit-harsh note (my first!) from a lady who thought I was being disrespectful and rude, that if “[I] wasn’t grateful enough to appreciate it, I should send it to [her.]” I felt like I was pretty fair. I mean, there was olive jello loaf involved. My grandmother was great.
If anyone makes Clay-Baked Possum and serves it with olive jello loaf and takes a picture and sends it to me, I will… I’ll think of something good. Because you should win something for that.