Thursday, September 14, 2006

Could You Substitute Chicken?

Once about twenty years ago, while we were living in California, Hank and I took the children on a trip to Maui. One evening while we were there, we were feeling especially worldly, got a sitter, and went out to have dinner at the motel restaurant that overlooked the island of Molokai.

Hank is one of those people who can talk to anybody about anything, and this evening he struck up a conversation with some folks at a nearby table. We chatted about being from South Carolina and living in California and how much we liked California, but were a little homesick for the South. Hank casually mentioned, apropos of our meal I guess, that he and the children had really grown to like the homemade pasta I’d learned to make.

“Possum?” the neighbors responded in unified amazement. “You cook Possum?”

By now, Mario Batalli or Paula Deen may have come up with a good Possum pasta recipe. If so, I might pass it along to my friend Kent Smith, who asked me the other day if I knew what to do about possums in his garden. They especially prefer his yard, he said, to the exclusion of his neighbors’. Though they hadn’t done much damage to the plants, they like to dig through the grass and pinestraw, creating a mess and insinuating themselves upon the hospitality of Kent and his wife Carol (who works at Plum Pudding, a great downtown kitchen store). The Smiths are happy transplants from colder climates, where there are also possums, but people don’t expect that you have them for dinner.

Should they choose to go this route, recipes for possum abound, probably not in any of the cookbooks on the shelves at Plum Pudding, but on the internet and in a few of my old cookbooks as well. My mother passed along to me a faded blue copy of Mrs. S.R. Dull’s Southern Cooking, first published in 1928, that includes in the preface a tribute to Mrs. Dull, as well as a chronicle of her forbears. The cookbook was the one my mother’s most often consulted, though I’m sure she never tried “Alma’s Recipe for ‘Possum.”

Charleston Receipts, published in 1950, also mentions a recipe for Roast ‘possum. I started to include some of the details, but decided that any recipe that includes the words “…pull off hair while hot” and “cut off ears, remove eyes and head if desired” would not likely tempt the modern appetites.

The National Gardening Association suggests that opossum control may be accomplished by keeping food or plants you’re growing covered, dusting with baby powder, cayenne pepper or blood meal. Loud noises scare them away they say, but might keep you and your neighbors awake as well. Otherwise, about the only solution is to trap them, being very careful to avoid the critter’s razor sharp teeth, and take them far away to release them. Or you can do the-other-thing-that-people-sometimes-do with large household pests – call Aiken Animal Control.

And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em I guess. There is, believe it or not, a National Opossum Society which reminds us that Opossums are beneficial: eating the harmful, unwanted pests around your home such as snails, slugs, spiders, cockroaches, rats, mice and snakes. Think of the opossum as your free gardener. The opossum is known as “Nature’s Little Sanitation Engineer” for a good reason!
Join me online at to see a photo of a possum and for other news and advice about life and gardening in the South Car