Blog Title Photo

Blog Title Photo

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Introduction - The Panther Pond Lumber Camp Cookbook




Whatever renown Batali, that chef of no small girth, achieves at the southern end of New York state in a place called Manhattan, his historical counterpart to the north in the forests of the Central Adirondacks and along the desolate station stops of Web’s old Adirondack railroad line, the one name in fact the only name, to have achieved greatness, despite the fact he is in all other ways a beast amongst men, is that of Morte LaPorte.

Morte LaPorte, or “Death's Door” loosely translated from French, descends from an unknown mother, probably from a brothel in Montreal. He was a foundling, put near the kitchen entrance to a house of ill repute, for rough men of the north who spent their money on liquor and women between bouts hunting, trapping or cutting Adirondack spruce. 

Drawn to kitchens and lands of endless provender, adolescent Morte carved spoons from logs to stir cauldrons of oatmeal, flayed deer carcasses for evening meals, and assisted in the blacksmith shops forging shoes for the giant draft horses that pulled stumps through the forest. Teen-aged Morte also served culinary stints at some of the fancy hotels along St. Catherine Street in Montreal, as well as at the first lumber-camps on Brandreth Park, in the Central Adirondacks.

An uneven temper caused many rifts between Morte and his employers. We notice the lad as a frequent troublemaker in his late teens working the New York Central line from Montreal to Albany where he wandered village to forest, consorting in part-time cookery appointments. His avocation after hours seducing bargirls, fine ladies and actresses in station houses, opera houses, lumber camps, bordellos and stagecoach lunchrooms helped spread the reputation of the giant. From the decks of river ferries, to the living rooms of great camps. Morte never could appease the wanderlust that coursed his giant veins.

Barging into strongman contests, sometimes entering mid-contest, he never lost a bout no matter the form, be it hoisting logs, lifting boulders, or immobilizing any number of opponents. Mort would amuse stage passengers from the city by idly leaping a loaded coach catty corner from bootbox to whippletree landing nimbly without making the whip or jehu duck.

It was rumored that Morte trained by leaping the Hudson from its source at Lake Tear-in-the-Clouds atop Mt. Marcy, past Newcomb to North Creek before the river's girth was simply too wide for any person or deity to leap in a single bound. Speculations that Morte could vault the Hudson at Schuylerville reached newspapers in New York, though this is probably exaggeration.

At eleven Morte expressed interest in the Standing Block Chop, a speed competition cutting through a vertical 12" log with a five-pound axe. One such contest was held in Saranac Lake in 1894:

Contestants preened and prepared in a practice area set about with plenty of odd sized logs and axes to put into use. Some of the woodsmen wrapped wrists with leather straps, and lower abdomens with giant hide belts to add power to their cuts.

Morte got the hang of it, and decided he would participate.

A crowd had assembled in a simple ring of bleachers three rows deep. The promotors wore green gaberdine suits and shouted through megaphones strapped to their jaws, They looked like muzzled St. Patrick's day dogs with brown top hats. Buxom women paraded jugs of lemonade and beer which they used to fortify the contestants and audience before each bout.

Morte stood a head and a half taller, but was leaner of build. His hands were as wide as the axe face he swung though his wrists appeared finely boned and forearms tapered. A few called bets for the stranger, introduced by the barker as "the man from Maisonneuve". The other lumberjacks were known to the attendees, a few were champions, and the share of the bets verbally shouted got placed on them.

An MC fired a pistol and contestants began swinging blades. Chips flew in every direction. After two blows, and hardly an quarter the way through his log, Morte put down his axe. It seemed he had quit the contest. He studied his piece of wood carefully. Then leaning down ever so slightly he broke it in two with his hands. Nine seconds.

An amazed crowd gasped in disbelief. Morte had hardly used his blade at all. Ten seconds later the strongest contestants hacked through their logs. Ten seconds after that the competition had finished.

Judges huddled. A nervousness descended. One of the barkers shouted a decision. Morte was disqualified. Rules stated that logs had to be cut with an axe.

Morte became furious. He smashed every other timber for the contest into bits. Police were called but only watched. The mood of the crowd shifted to the side of Mort. The promoters who bet on other contestants looked worried. Police conferred with contest management. Anxious to pacify the mob, and preserve the potential of Morte as a future contestant, a consolation prize was offered, an oversized ice figure of a lumberjack, intended for an end of festivities celebration. Mort carried it to the home of a young lady he had met during the day, but it melted that evening.

Morte distrusted cameras. To this day one shot of the giant survives, believed to have been Morte at ten, standing beside his life friend Knut Deergarten in the kitchen at Paul Smith's.

At fourteen, it was said LaPorte could seize a draft horse by girth harness and hoist it over his head. This is likely a myth, as any live horse would kick terribly. Middle-aged Morte did steal a post-prohibition run of beer from Mssrs Budweiser. He detached the team and pulled the giant keg of beer himself to a private section of woods where he camped for a few days One wonders why Morte did not have the horses pull the wagon since he had already dragged out both drivers and kegmen, and was in total control of the precious load. A quarter of the beer was recovered a week later with Morte alongside it, a crime for which he spent a week in jail. (Champlain Times, July 1935)

At an international competition held in Portland Maine, Morte entered the Caber Toss, a Scottish event where a single 19' 6" Larch log weighing 175 pounds is lifted and thrown. The champion, Mitch McDuggin, a brawny Highland giant, had booked a steamship from Inverness to participate.

Upset from the journey, McDuggin's log bettered a previous record of 17'. Morte strolled into the match grounds and before the shot was fired to begin, kicked a giant timber into his grasp with his instep, caught it, then spun it baton-wise over his head and hurled it like a spear 29' 6".

The crowd roared, convinced that Morte had won, but officials charged Morte with ignorance of the rules, and improper stance at the start.

Disqualified again, Morte attempted to smother his rage,. When the judge's decisions were announced he stood before the pile of larch logs, grabbed two, walked towards the judge's booth in the stands, and threw both simultaneously over their heads and into an empty patch of bleachers. The timbers crashed through upper seats and destroyed concession stands below. No one was hurt.

"Mr. Laporte was asked to accompany Portland police to a holding cell until he cooled down. Much to their surprise he complied and did not break his way out of jail." (Bangor Morning Dispatch, May 1922)

In wrestling bouts Morte could not be bettered by any mortal, though they might rush him ten or eleven at once. Word of the Adirondack giant who was nimble on foot and more agile than any cat reached P. T. Barnum who announced he would train an elephant to take Morte on in a contest of strength. Morte declined. Barnum persisted and offered Morte a chance in his ring with his lions. Morte went to the circus in Albany, met Barnum but was horrified at how the animals were treated, so left in disgust.

Offered contracts to fight across the country Morte had already gravitated towards cooking. Somehow the peaceful stress of an Adirondack kitchen put Morte's aggressive side to rest. He resisted temptations of fame, much to the chagrin of local promoters:

    "Let's sing the hymn of Morte LaPorte
     Who lives in kitchens but also in court.
     At least part human, part Titan in breadth,
     Also a beast, with a gorilla's chest,
     Morte LaPorte has a fearful rage,
     He can hold back an engine of any gauge.
     Can hoist a horse above his head,
     But has no enemies, 'til he's dead.
     When all the contests are finally done,
     One man is standing and Morte who won.
     Is he a human, or is he God?
     From what clan, from what pod?
     What make or use of brawn is meant,
     Unless Morte is Zeus or Neptune sent.
     We see no brothers, he hasn't any,
     Nor his mother, or even a Granny.
     One thing is sure, of this we're proud,
     Morte is the strongest man around."   (Whitehall Evening Gazette, May 1912)


Authorities assert that at the age of twelve Morte reached three hundred-fifty pounds, though here we lack for facts.  Most arguments about Morte's size and girth are not substantiated. Other historians put his maximum weight at thirty stone, which is four hundred and twenty pounds. Admirers say Mort was of athletic build, but heavy because he was muscled and extremely tall. Yet other sources claim he reached forty stone. What's true is the following:

Morte Laporte once carried a Steinway grand piano a mile as a service for a young lady he admired in the town of Glens Falls. She wanted to practice at home over the holidays. (Glens Falls Post Star, November 1884)

Morte himself did not play piano, but kept his fingers in tone uprooting steel rails from their beds with his bare hands, much to the chagrin of Mr. Vanderbuilt. He hated railroads and considered them the bane of nature. (Penn Central Railroad Newsletter, April 1919)

He lifted a fifteen-hundred pound granite founding stone for the Tupper Lake Public Library but after misinterpreting cues from the master of ceremonies, held the thing in his hands during a twenty minute speech by the mayor. (Tupper Lake Republican-American 1928)

It was rumored that at sixteen Morte strangled several large black bears to death, though this has not been substantiated by this author, and is doubted because it is known that Morte loved animals, though one must also acknowledge bear fat was Morte’s preferred cooking medium, and he never delayed an opportunity to procure more.

In 1923, again in a furious rage because his famous Deer Head Stew had been ridiculed by a party of politicos, Morte obstructed the progress of a gubernatorial campaign train to Albany:

“He countered that engine at startup with the thrust of a giant arm outstretched. The head of steam, built for ten minutes at the crossing, could not achieve any degree of movement. Morte was lured aside with the promise of as many apple pies as he could eat in a single day and went from that argument happy as a pussy cat, much to the relief of Mr. Vanderbuilt who had been informed of the train’s delay.” (Glen’s Falls Gossipmonger, 1923)

One day in March 1921 Morte, having not been provided enough firewood to properly cook the feast for a Champlain Boy Scout Muster, tore the picnic tables to shreds with his naked hands to provide enough kindling to cook his famous “Morte Laporte's Flash-Fired Corn Dogs”. That recipe, born of rage, omitted the corn. “ Morte Laporte Arrested for serving Dog to Boy Scout Troops!”. Morte later confessed to police that the dog had already died, and that it was a sin to waste good meat. (Saranac Chronicler, 1926)

-:-

We hereby submit, respectfully, the recipes of one Morte Laporte, a man of enormous stature, but modest renown. His cuisine, collected throughout his later years at Brandreth Panther Pond Lumber-camp, was transcribed by his kitchen assistant Knut Deergarten, whom Morte kept as a sort of pet. Knut could write but could not read since being blinded during a kitchen accident at Paul Smith's. So please excuse Knut's penmanship.

We shall supply details of Knut Deergarten in another chapter of this compendium. We will say had been the most agile of man ever to scale the spruce. His exploits at limbing giant conifers have never been equaled by any lumberjack since. Axes were to Knut what the six shooter was to Jesse James.

The loss of sight put Knut into a deep depression, from which he might not have emerged were it not for Morte, who insisted that Knut be hired at full wages wherever Morte took a job. Peeling carrots and potatoes and chopping game was an easy task for Knut, what gave him life was his compendious note-taking on the craft of the Adirondack chef.

The first known recipe created by Morte de la Porte is mentioned in Vaughn, whose compendium of Adirondack tales freely mixes fact with reminiscences often doubted by scholars. Vaughn comments on this entry, saying it is myth, concocted by an ill mannered co-worker who hated Morte for reasons of his strength and physical beauty and his success with women. Nevertheless Vaughn makes the following citation:

"An early dish "Chat abandonné en Croûte", fashioned by Morte at "Hotel du Monde" in Montreal, features alley cat, parboiled in clarified butter, packed with french toast, and wrapped in a sheet of pastry. Morte was just eight. He had not yet been taught to fillet or de-bone a carcass, or remove outer layers of fur." (Arthur Vaughn, Heroes of the Mountains, 1972)

Imagine for now, if you would, the culinary masterpieces, as Morte dictates to Knut these immortal recipes:


How to Cook the White-footed Mouse




The annals of world cuisine have made one terrible omission, and that is the failure to mention the bravery of Adirondack woodsman at trying new combinations, and preparing meals in ways unparalleled by chefs in the nation's finest and most modern kitchens.

The region is known for its variety of game, from the noble and lazy Moose (Alces alces), the miserly coyote (Canis latrans), noisy Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and delicious Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Any huntsman tasked with provisioning a backwoods chef understands that the difficulty of moving through forests of the region often leave the larder bare, and the icehouse, even after a long hunting season, concludes winter with nary a scrap of protein to nibble upon.

Difficult though they may be to hunt, nearly every species in these northern woods is edible; some are truly delicious. A few are downright appalling. However the starving trapper or woodsman often does not have the luxury of choice. What nature provides is what we eat, and are thus grateful. 

North American Beaver, Castor canadensis, is by many considered a delicacy that compares with the finest rib-eye beef. Unrivaled for flavor and tenderness, forest chefs across the country also delight in stews made from the Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina. 

In winter these species are unavailable. The snapping turtle is buried deep in mud and unless one observed him digging his marsh lair, you will not see trace of him until spring. The beavers cuddle in their den, a bank vault of sticks reinforced by ice and snow. In seasons when snowfall is at a minimum, it is possible to excavate a beaver dwelling and pirate the young, though this is rodenticide of the worst kind. It is murder only bears should do, or have the strength for. We shall leave beavers safe and snug in their dens, because we are weak from hunger, and cannot survive the exertion of an unsuccessful dig through four feet of frozen wood and ice.

Loons and ducks have flown south. A few grouse churr quaintly along runways beneath crusts of snow, where only a coyote or fox or owl with superior hearing can gauge where they might be. Birds of prey abound, hawks that may have wintered over or owls, or even an young eagle might fall to a lucky or illegal shot. Don't believe chefs who have claimed to have eaten these avian species. The overused epithet 'tastes just like chicken' is not to be trusted. On the contrary birds of prey are minute in portion, being mostly feather and bone, not tasty at all, furthermore the meat is not healthy for another predator such as Homo sapiens, unless starving.

Crows and jays abound but are amazingly attuned to a hunter's intent. You shall not get close enough for a shot. Forget about crow pie.

So Adirondack ingenuity calls upon a nearly endless source of protein, the very rodent that plagues our sleep at night. Yes, that daring little brat, the White-footed Mouse, Peromyscus leucopus,who performs acrobatics above our heads, tintinnabulates during our dreams, pullulates in our pantries, and poops in our breadboxes, that great boon of rodentia, has saved many a hungry lumberjack from a miserable starvation worse than death.

Yea, though the White-footed Mouse nibbles our tropical fruits, deposits mini-currants on nearly everything, and is the cause of many a hurled and broken piece of china, he is also our savior, and provider of culinary delight especially at the dinner or breakfast table during off-season. As bothersome as this species is to civilized Homo sapiens, he is amongst the most delicious of creatures in the central Adirondack plateau. His grass-fed flesh is succulent, with notes of thyme and wintergreen spiced with raisin accents dropping down into base notes of fetid ammonia.

Note on Butchery: Peromyscus leucopus is not purveyed by local butcher shop shelves, not Clawbins in Copenhagen, nor the Grand Onion in Old Forge, or Canned Peas in Tupper Lake. though the species teems through these institutions at night. Not offered to clientele, they are regarded as a health nuisance due to rodent hantavirus. (More on this pesky syndrome later. See Mort's Pan-Fried Mice with Pork Pants).
So goes the tragedy of Peromyscus leucopus. Our most superior food-source is not only common, free, and universally available, but ubiquitous in parts of our architecture where we would cook and eat them. Transportation costs are nil. Thus the genius of the Adirondack chefs has acknowledged that most ancient of Latin proverbs, “Comede quaecumque habes, Nolite adnuntiare in anima.” Eat what you have, Don't tell a soul."

Species: Please don't confuse Peromyscus leucopus with Rattus norvegicus, the Norway Rat. The larger distant cousin is not as desirable, nor as tender, since it prefers life in cities or temperate farms down-state. These recipes evolved from a genus that are fine-boned and may be eaten entire. Whereas the Vietnamese farmer may delight in his meal of rat meat and rice, so the Adirondack Trapper has adapted his cuisine about the easy to obtain small rodent that is most delicious when consumed whole.

Note on Substitutions: The strong jawed may if necessary make a substitution: 6 White Tailed Mice (approximately) = 3 Field Voles = 1 Norway Rat

Such delicacies must, for purposes of this article, be caught fresh. Fortunately our Brandreth clearings and fields provide an abundance, yeah even a plague of the little rodents who are only to anxious to help themselves to bananas that aren't theirs. After years of experimentation we have settled on the Bucket trap as a method for capturing these varmints, smothering them in a most muscatine manner, and pre-coating them with oil to ready them for the pan:

Brandreth Station Bucket Trap

1 Length of String 120-160"
1 Bucket
1 Board
1 Yardstick
Several books
Stinky Cheese
Water (or cheap wine)
Rancid Oil

If you are planning a mouse feast, the key is quantity. For this we recommend the bucket trap, an aid indispensable to any Adirondack chef.

Procure a bucket, any bucket and fill half full of water. Then pour in 1-3 cups of rancid cooking oil, which is usually very easy to find in this part of the world. (Hint for the less intelligent: Do these two steps first!)

Now stretch across the rim of the bucket some brown butcher's paper so well that you could practice your drumming if you felt inclined. Tie the paper around the rim of the bucket with string. Test it well for tone. Resist the temptation to harmonize all night. If it hums when struck with a fingertip it is tight enough. Taking a straight razor, or equally sharp hunting knife, (this may mean you have to sharpen it) slice an X, with two strokes into the center of the paper. The X should be about half the dimension of the bucket diameter. 

You should be able to ram your hand through the X into the bucket but not your open palm. You're trapping mice, not rabbits.

Now erect a ramp of some boards, or some such scaffold whereby our little procession of delicacies can run on up towards the cattle pond. I advise you do this on a flat part of the floor, not in a place where you will trip over it during the night. Tie a piece of string to one end of the yardstick, and weight the other end onto the kitchen table with books. Suspend the stinky cheese from the string above but out of reach of the cut in the paper, and dangle it there with a tempting spin. If it can be smelled from one's sleeping bag in front of the stove, this is ideal.

The apparatus will resemble a kind of causal proof, a Rube Goldberg performance piece, where Aristotle's cause and effect brings down a thing that swats a fly. Pay no attention to distracting doubts. This contraption works. When erected you will see before you a bucket covered neatly with brown paper, with a wooden gangplank leading to a gallows with a piece of rancid dairy product hanging just above it.

Now sleep, smug in delight that breakfast is on its way. 

During the night you may become conscious of some scratching as the Peromyscus leucopus that have plague your rest run with delight up the catwalk, exhort a Disney-like gasp, then 'splash' as they fall through the paper X into the oily mire you've prepared below.

You strain to hear the wheeze of lungs pleading for life, but alas, as butcher you have provided a quick and easy death. The pinging sound of claws against bucket slows as they swim helplessly looking for an exit, and attempt in vain to raise noses above the level of the oil.

Were the lights on during this show of horrors you would not be able to proceed. As a general principle never watch the process of killing an animal for the kitchen larder lest you instantly convert to vegetarianism. There are cooks in this world, and there are butchers. It seems cruel, yes, but death must visit all of us. Night is the appropriate time for nocturnal Peromyscus leucopus.

If gas-lamp were on or candles were lit you could not help but admire the athleticism of our tiny distant cousins. You might see the bravest amongst them at the end of the yardstick looking down. You would pity the human grasp of their tiny white hands as they reached out in vain for the cheese before breaking the pucker of the paper and popping like pebbles into a pond. One acrobat may reach the string grasp it and slide down, before realizing that to shift position in order to eat the cheese means jumping off,  alas his final leap.

Others lead a procession of loyal friends up the gallery to the museum and out onto the skating pond of brown paper. And there fatally, you would see the ice break as the little procession falls through. You would be captivated with admiration as courageous followers plunge into the void after their friends, never to emerge again.

Worry not, breakfast will quiet soon enough. Finding it impossible to remain buoyant in the layer of fat floating at the surface, our delicacies soon drown but first have a good breath of oil which seals in their good flavors ahead of your morning treat.

Rise, shine, and remove the paper. There, if you have done it right you should find petit dejeuner for one two maybe four compatriots in arms who have been unlucky in their pursuit of the Odocoileus virginianus. Here I would add that many a guide's commission has been saved, for the chase that ends in failure is likely to cause resentment especially when the checkbook is brought out. This dish is certain to add percentages onto a total previously agreed.

Tell them, "Mourn no more, for a more delicious treat awaits you. The trout, the deer, the noble grouse or bear, are all sullied nasty snacks compared to . . . 


Meadow's Edge Pancake-Batter Fried Mice

This recipe originates from one of the coldest little cabins in the north, a six hundred square foot runion shack at the edge of the forest, perched with a field-view of mustardy Golden Rod, and subject to fierce winter winds from the south.

Meadow's Edge is of ideal construction for summer use. The original owner, Paulina Brandreth, heaped firewood against the sides for extra insulation. However those not making a regular practice of laying over during the coldest months will freeze if attempting a brief January holiday.  The most frequent miscalculation is not enough high energy food to combat the cold. But nature provides as she always does. Mice congregate at the little way station, as word passes amongst throngs of rodent kin that there is a wood stove alight that offers secluded shelter from the wind. 

One wonders if the eating of mice did not first occur simply to reduce their numbers. All manner of delicious confections have roots in the most improbable cause.

Prepare: Gather up a litter of the little mammals, rinse briefly in luke-warm dishwater . . dry thoroughly.

Mix up a frying batter. For this we suggest fermented neglected leftover pancake batter. The more gone the better. Stir it up, add some breadcrumbs, parmesan, spices. Use your imagination.

Dip each mouse holding the tip of the tail into the batter. Drag the fellow around like an Olympic swimmer going backwards until he is liberally coated from head to tail.

As a pepper substitute sprinkle on desiccated black flies gathered from the window sills, perfectly preserved by a long autumn in the sun.

Drop mice into a pan of very hot oil.


Note on Fats: Waverly Root opines on the gastronomy of fats used to prepare fine feasts in France, land of overweight monarchs.  They are briefly the South, land of Olive Oi, the West, land of Lard and Duck Fat, and the north, Land of Butter. This all very convenient when the ingredient list includes vast herds of Charolais cattle waiting to be sacrificed, or gaggles of degenerate geese barely able promenade their livers after a force-fed meal, or hillsides of giant olives guarded by vipers swaying in Mediterranean breezes.

Indeed Normandy butter is so delicious that one breakfast delicacy in the Isle de France consists solely of a 200 gram slice of butter eaten raw with a fork, and lubricated by a shot of brandy.

Have you ever tried 2 pounds of Adirondack bear fat washed down with a bottle of Thunderbird?

No? You haven't lived.

For these dishes any fat that may be rendered, scraped, melted or rescued may be used. Starving trappers in Tupper Lake heated motor oil to fry their mice, a culinary catastrophe that set fire to their cabin. Texan guests may swoon over the flavors of Sweet Texas Crude, but alas the auto industry up north has added too many chemicals to make motor oil safe for ingestion. Bear fat is most ways preferable and recommended with a good shot of brandy afterwards. 

Tips on Preparation. Squeeze your mice well. Try to eject the colorful runs from either end. This alleviates some of the bitter aftertaste. If you are in a hurry to eat your freshly caught mouse you may dispense with this crap, I mean step. Some chefs elect to pull incisors out with pliers, this being the only part of the beast that does not do well in the jaws, however adept diners dispense with this step and compensate by eating technique. (See tips on Eating below) 

Cooking: Some chefs elect to parboil their mice before removing hair with a dull razor, preferably not one to be used later to shave with. Others will skewer the mice on a stick and thrust them into flames of a wood-stove briefly to burn off the layer of hair. But the true Adirondack cognoscenti allows the hirsute mouse felt to gather folds of yellow batter and become crispy along with it, adding to the je ne sais crois never adequately described in the annals of French deep-frying. The piece de la resistance, needless to say, is the tail. It is said that the finest of batter-fried field mouse tails will break off on the tongue like a crispy pretzel . . . and melt in the mouth, albeit with a bit of flossing afterwards.

Audire ad murium: Allow the mice to remain in boiling oil until bubbles from each begin to slow down. In a sense, as these bubbles slow, the mouse is saying to the trapper, "I'm done. Eat me!" Finitus sum. Comedere mei!"

Listen to your mice. 

We recommend frying up litters of Peromyscus three or four at a time, and placing the cooked critters on a layer of clean paper (or terry cloth) towels to drain. A cotton undershirt will also do though guests may prefer it if said undergarment is clean.

Eating: Cogniscenti of this fine dish, trace the descent from fried Ortolan, Emberiza hortulana, the little bunting of France that gorges on pourriture noble or noble rot of the vineyard grapes. Ortolan inspired the following ditty which is sung by French schoolgirls to this day (rough translation).

    When first I swallowed Ortolan,
    I thought I'd die from that ordeal.
    But when the dish had worked-a-day,
    All the birds flew the other way!

Ethnomusicologists traced iterations of the vineyard children's song through Canadian lumberjacks and trappers to the Central Adirondacks and observed a similar rhyme sung by Potter children around Easter.

    After rodent feasting on Muridae
    I knew my parents had gone on holiday,
    In Tupper Lake, we knew they ate steak
    But at Brandreth each had a mouse-a-day!

Note: Muridae family of order Rodentia, eg. 'mouse'.

Ortolan must be held properly by the beak when eaten. So with Peromyscus leucopus, or Adirondack Pan-Fried Mice. The rest of the bird, or beast, may be devoured in one satisfying implosion of hot gastric juices, protein, and ribcage crunch. 

Ortolan are eaten with a napkin draped over the head. This may be in consideration of one's neighbors, though it also concentrates precious aromas of the bird's flesh. The principle reason though, given by experts is:

". . . this is to shield – from God’s eyes – the shame of such a decadent and disgraceful act."
                        (Wallop, H. (2014). "Why French chefs want us to eat this bird". The Telegraph. March 16, 2015.)

When eating Peromyscus, hold the crispy bite-full between thumb and forefinger by the incisors, dangle the tail into open maw of one's throat, then close jaws with a spasmodic smack. Allow hot deep-fried juices of the central cavity to bathe over the tongue, being sure also to close lips else you splatter your trapper-at-arms with overheated mouse offal.

(Serves 1-12)

Whole-Roasted Mouse ala Thunderbird

We've spent enough time on ways to prepare Peromyscus fried in fats of various origins. However this most adaptable and flexible food is equally fine roasted. For this delicacy we have to plan ahead and vary our butchering technique. 

As all cooks know, frying is the form of cooking that most easily preserves juices inside the flesh of an animal, or vegetable, whereas roasting desiccates the flesh somewhat, depending on technique, and reduces its weight. This is both a blessing and a curse. It concentrates flavors, but also dries out what is being served. The French chefs in their cooking of Ortolan, opt for both methods. The little carcasses are kept moist and succulent by drowning them first in Armagnac. 

We therefor make the following substitution. Instead of water, fill your bucket trap with Thunderbird wine, or any other dollar wine that you find in the cheaper stores of the area. The little babies when they drown, will inhale the wine and this will infuse their bodies with a most delicious cooking medium that will keep the flesh moist when roasted.

Whole-roasted mouse is not gutted at all. You are eating the finest diet nature can offer. For what is inside the little darlings but the greenest grasses, and grains that he has eaten from the fields, seeds of the forest, tidbits of bread that he found on your countertop after you went to sleep, and yes, other delicacies that you yourself so love. He is a creation of nature one-hundred percent.

Tie him to a green maple stick using fine steel wire, dip in liquified bear fat, then put into an open fire for 5 minutes until crispy brown. Remove and serve.

Roast Sides of Mice

Peromyscus may also be halved like a carcass of a beef. Whereas a side of beef or pork may be grilled over an open fire, the half-rack of mouse, or Rack of Mouse, are tiny illustrations of a classic gastronomic problem, how best to convey heat to flesh without burning the thinner portions and undercooking that which is thickest. 

Whole-Roasted Mouse ala Thunderbird (above), accomplishes this with the cooling effect of wine and innards left within to hydrate the flesh that contribute to the sauces of satisfaction. 
Roast Rack of Mouse is the dish offered to meat purists, who eschew eating innards. This dish is kept moist by shorting the time of cooking, splitting it open evens out the presentation of flesh to flame.

For this reason we do not recommend roasting heads with this version. Instead, remove and put aside with all innards after gutting the animals, for a sauce.

Using a razor sharp chef's knife - a cleaver will take pinpoint skill and accuracy - cut Peromyscus exactly in half up the spine, leaving a portion of the skin at the back to bind the two halves together like the spine of a miniature book. What results is more than a 'rack', it is a full carcass that includes both fore and hind legs.

Don't worry about the hair, this will all burn off.

Lather well with bear fat, garnish with dried black flies. Do not use wolverine musk on roast mouse.

Place over a blazing fire for 2-4 minutes per side. You will need to turn the little beasts once.

Garnish with pine-needle jelly. Serve immediately. 


Mouse-House Pie

It would be irresponsible of the author to present this fabulous dish without context or history. It was first served by the great Adirondack chef Morte Laporte to General Edwin A. McAlpin, a military man turned tobacconist turned hotel magnate, and a cognizant of outdoor food. The General hired Morte who flung up a menu of deep-woods dishes over an open fire beneath a lean-too at the edge of Brandreth Lake, in the Central Adirondacks. 

Also served at the meal were Laporte classics as: Coupes de Balles Orsine dans son Jus, (Rounds of Bear Testicles in their own Gravy), Tête de Cerf mariné aux Framboises, (Pickled Deer Head with Raspberries), Hachée foie d'Ours avec la verge d'or, (Hashed Bear Liver with Goldenrod), and Piperade de la Couleuvre avec de la gomme Epicéa, (Piperade of Gartersnake and Spruce gum).

So impressed was the General with the bounty of the region and the innovation of Mssr. Laporte at preparing meals when served this version of Mouse Pie, that he declared: "My sons and their son's sons shall eat this dish in memory of this great meal, Mssr Laporte. They shall eat it and build upon this place a home to celebrate the great flavors you have brought forth from the forest. We shall call this home Mouse House, in memory of this dish."

And so, today in honor of that very same spot there is a dish, named after a house, named after a pie, named after a mouse: Mouse-House Pie:

Preparation: Dress a Peromyscus litter just as you would for Meadow's Edge Deep Fried Critters (above).

For crust use any mixture of flour eggs, water, sugar baking powder, salt . . . whatever powders you have on hand. Ingredients matter not at all, what matters is consistency. The pie crust dough should be strong enough to stand a hunting knife when stabbed into it. 

Shape the pie crust into a pie plate. If such a pan or plate doesn't exist use a hubcap. If an old style metal hubcap is not to be found, shape the pies into pop tarts, and cook on a cookie sheet liberally smeared with bear grease if available, motor oil or auto grease if not. 

Form the first layer of crust carefully in or on whatever metal form nature has provided. Fill whatever shape is available with de-haired mice. Add butter if available, else bear rind will do in a pinch. Add pine or spruce needles for flavor, and seal up the topside with another piece of crust.

Puncture your crust with your hunting knife, but no need to stab. You are simply allowing the steamy souls of Peromyscus leucopus to ascend to Orion.

(Serves 6)

Mouse Sandwich au Crus

    The greatest Adirondackers of all,
    Whack and eat their field mice raw,
    They sharpen their teeth with a knife that's unsheathed,
    Then eat intestines, skeletons, and claws.

Make a selection of three of your finest mouse carcasses, properly de-haired. Alternate in an attractive pattern upon one side of a piece of carefully buttered, or bear-greased toast. Dribble on dabs of peanut butter, mustard or cheese. Fold in half. Consume. 

(Serves 1)

We refer this dialogue on mouse preparation, cooking and eating to the master of many deep woods dishes, Mr. Morte Laporte. His volume, Cookery of the Great Camps, published in 1933, was dictated by Morte after he completing a five-year tour as celebrity chef, concocting delicacies for the Adirondack rich and famous.

Search This Blog