It’s a good thing we don’t depend on my rabbit* hunting skills to keep food on the table. March, when the snow cover is thinning and it is not quite clear if it is winter or spring, is a good time to go and try. Snowshoe hare are crazily searching for mates, and if you ever wondered where the phrase “mad as a March hare” came from, go rabbit hunting, or watching, whichever you prefer, during this confused month.
One March day we spent a few hours hiking and hunting in the drizzle, and while we didn’t get a rabbit, we did get a lot of pig. My brother-in-law, Steven, lives in Eastbrook where there is plenty of good rabbit cover. His pudgy, energetic beagle, Buddy, sniffed out a rabbit and bayed as he followed the scent. The wet made it hard for him, though, and he kept losing the trail. We gave up waiting for Buddy to flush a rabbit and just enjoyed listening to the world beginning to melt and walking in the grainy snow of spring. We headed back to the farmhouse without rabbits, and without Buddy. He was still having a grand time trying to find a rabbit and refused to come.
The house is old and not well insulated. The large unheated catchall entry smells a bit like cat, but inside the kitchen, the woodstove was giving off warmth and a sweet piney smell filled the room. A black and white photo from maybe the 60’s was nailed to the wall behind the stove. In it, a woman stands in front of her car with two deer on the hood. “Oh, that’s Bunny Clark’s mother, from Wonsqueak Harbor. She used to hunt.” I need to learn more about this woman.
We helped bring in wood, and I found there was a second woodstove burning in the living room behind the kitchen. I know how much work it takes to heat with wood, and shook my head. My brother-in-law saw me and said, “Need them both to keep it warm.” He nodded at the old and loose windows, “Those windows aren’t much; you could throw a cat through ‘em.”
One Christmas dinner there were sixteen of us at a long table covered with a gold metallic cloth, dozens of candles, and sparkling glasses. I had my boyfriend (now husband), his family, my family, and friends over for Christmas dinner. Steven went to his mother, got on his knees, and sang, “You are the one.” He had taken off the cap he’d worn throughout dinner and clutched it to his chest. His other arm was out- stretched towards her. His voice reverberated through the room. Eating stopped, dishwashing stopped, conversation ceased. It should have been kitschy and humorous, instead, it was sweetly moving.
My husband has many stories to share. Like Scheherazade telling her prince one thousand and one Arabian tales, he tells me story after story of growing up in Otter Creek, and a few are about his brother. When Steven was eight, he wanted to catch a raccoon. There were lots of eels in the pond then, so first, he got an eel. He left it on the dock where he thought it would tempt a coon, and tied a string around it. This he rolled the string along the dock and up through the window into the sleeping loft, which he shared with my husband. When he went to bed, he tied the string around his toe, thinking the tug of a raccoon would wake him, and he could run down and catch it. He slipped under the covers all dressed and ready to go. My husband recalls the night. “Of course the raccoons came after that eel. When the string yanked Steven’s toe he jumped up flailing and hollering and running to the window, the string wrapping around his ankles and the bedpost. Those raccoons were long gone before he got untangled and down to the dock.”
Steven is a giver, and I think he hated to see us leave without a rabbit, so he rummaged through his freezer, hauling out brown paper parcels and thrusting them at us. There were pork chops, spicy sausage, and a smoked ham. He had raised eight pigs, and this was part of the bounty. “Costs too much to process, though,” he said, and began describing how he plans to slaughter and prep the meat himself next time.
We went home, and the March hare were left to be as crazy as they wished. It was pea soup with locally-raised ham that simmered on the stove that afternoon, and not rabbit stew. I have no regrets.
- 1 pound dry split peas, rinsed
- A small smoked ham or shoulder
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 3-4cloves garlic, sliced or minced
- 2 medium carrots
- 6 -8 cups of water (sometimes I use half chicken broth)
- Place all in a large pot, bring to boil and simmer until tender. Skim foam off if there is a lot of it.
Serve with croutons:
Half loaf of old bread, a bit dry is best.
Cut into roughly 1” squares.
Add ¼ cup of olive oil to cast iron or another frying pan. Add spices: oregano, thyme, basil, whatever.
Add croutons and stir to coat with oil, and fry till crispy dark edges form. Tend carefully, depending on the dryness of the bread you may need to add more olive oil
Serve soup in shallow soup bowls topped with croutons.
*For those from away, we are actually hunting snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), since there are no wild rabbits north of Portland, and even if there were, they are on the state endangered list. Anyone who goes hunting snowshoe hare simply says they are hunting rabbit. They also call their dogs rabbit dogs, not snowshoe hare dogs.