Nothing makes me feel richer than eating foods historically made by the poor: soups, stews, organs, ferments, sinewy cuts of meat, unrefined grains and fats and sugars. Most peasant foods are born from a combination of necessity, accessibility, and a little of what we in Maine call “redneck ingenuity.” You take what you have and use what you know to turn it into something more. The ancestral need to feed ourselves in lean times has led to methods of preparation and preservation that yield foods akin to miracles. Hungry people are true alchemists.
I find that I unintentionally gravitate towards recipes with peasant roots, partly because of their utilitarian nature, but mostly because I truly find them the most decadent. Maybe my taste comes from a long lineage of working class folks – but I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could eat this meal and not feel like the king of their own castle.
I was lucky enough to spot and shoot a snowshoe hare in its winter coat. Hunting on my own without the help of dogs, this doesn’t happen very often. A small animal but a big success, I wanted to make as many meals as I could out of it. I fawned over how pretty it was for a while before skinning it. Then I cleaned it, cut off one of its namesake hind feet to preserve for future luck and put the meat in the fridge to age for a day while I daydreamed about how I wanted to eat it.
During cooking and eating, it was fun to keep in my mind two old legends that I learned from a friend: One says the image of the rabbit was placed on the moon as a reward for this animal having offered its body to feed a beggar who turned out to be a god. The other says that rabbits conceive by looking at the moon, and they live to be 1,000 years old. Once they reach 500 years of age, they turn white and, if seen, are omens of good things to come.
Snowshoe Hare Stew
- 1 hare – sectioned into eight parts: four leg quarters plus backbone with backstraps, ribcage, and belly flaps. (I reserve one hind quarter for future meals).
- 4 tbsp olive oil (roughly a glug or two)
- 3/4 cup chopped parsley (save 1/4 cup for garnish)
- 1 large onion – chopped
- 6-8 cloves garlic – roughly chopped (though I might just smash next time)
- 1/4 cup capers
- 1/2 cup green olives (in salt water not vinegar) – halved lengthwise
- 1-2 cups mushrooms – sliced (I used dried chrome footed boletes because I liked that they have the same golden toes as the hare, but any mushroom you enjoy will be fine.)
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar (I used dandelion white wine vinegar – red wine vinegar would also be good)
- 1 tbsp Juniper berries– crushed (you can omit if you don’t have access to them)
- 1 tbsp sweetfern nutlets – crushed (thyme, oregano, or sage are a good sub here)
- 3 or so bay leaves
- Knob of butter or dollop of lard
- Salt – to taste
- Salt the hare WELL on all sides and set aside at room temp while you prep the rest. Use more salt than you’re comfortable with.
- If you’re using dried mushrooms, put them in a bowl or jar and cover with about 1.5 cups (or more if that doesn’t cover them) water just off the boil. Cover with a plate or lid and set aside.
- Heat your olive oil on medium-high in a large pot or Dutch oven. Pat the hare dry and place as many pieces as you can fit in your pot without crowding. Flip every couple minutes until well browned on all sides and set aside while you repeat with remaining pieces. Don’t rush this – a deep browning is essential here. Set all browned meat aside.
- Lower heat to medium. Pull your mushrooms out of their bath – set liquid aside. Add onion to your pot, and saute until lightly golden. Add garlic, olives, capers, juniper, sweetfern, mushrooms, and knob of butter/dollop of lard and cook for 3-ish minutes. Salt.
- Add your browned meat, 1/2 cup parsley, bay leaves, mushroom liquid and vinegar. You want the liquid to come at least halfway up the sides of the hare – if it’s too shallow add water or stock. A glug of white wine might be a nice addition if available. Cover tightly and simmer GENTLY over low heat. Take a peek in about 2 hours – when the meat comes readily off the bone to the touch it’s ready.
- Pull the hare pieces out of the pot, and when it’s cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones. Stir the meat back into the pot with half of your remaining parsley – taste and adjust salt and seasoning as you wish. Put the lid back on the pot for a few minutes.
- Serve ladled over a big scoop of polenta, mashed potatoes, rice, noodles etc…(I chose roasted garlic mashed potatoes) – garnish with the rest of the parsley. Crusty bread does not hurt.
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