We live at the junction of two lonely streets, directly across from a densely wooded wetland. At night, with no moon, it’s pitch dark except for the golden glow from two mist-shrouded street lamps casting eerie shadows.
The other evening, right about dusk, as my husband pulled into the driveway, the headlights caught a glimpse of a man-sized shadow crossing between the garage door and his truck. Suspecting an intruder, he took a slow cruise around the block, probably outlining some Marine Corps tactic or wondering if the target pistol is in the truck.
As he drove slowly in front of our house, big ol’ mama black bear emerged from our driveway and lumbered into the wetlands – heading home after an early evening of garbage can looting. Last week, she and two cubs climbed the neighbor’s fence and played with the water hose, wrapping it around the trunk of a tall pine. I suspect they took a dip in the neighbor’s pool, too, to clean up after upending the other neighbor’s garbage cans.
One female bear came too close to a residential neighborhood several miles from my house and swatted at a man and his dog. Sadly, she came too close to man and was captured and euthanized leaving three cubs in the care of animal rescue professionals. I don’t think it was the same bear that lives in the wetlands near my house because there are plenty of black bears around here. In fact, Florida black bears are large enough in number to allow a legal (thankfully short) bear-hunting season.
Seventy-five years ago, when Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote Cross Creek Cookery bears were
becoming scarce, and she saw no reason for destroying the remaining ones for food. She admits in her cookbook, however, that she thoroughly enjoyed bear meat. She even describes the texture and tastes of different bear meats, ranging from mating male to nursing female to young male (a yearling!). And, she includes recipes for Pot Roast of Bear and Bear Steak.
Like Marjorie, I won’t be cooking bear, but I’ll celebrate the 75th anniversary of her cookbook, originally published in 1942, by cooking my way through her Florida flavors. As a Florida Panhandle resident I have access to many of her exotic ingredients – loquat, kumquat, alligator pears (avocados), pecans, grapefruit, lemons and oranges, all abundant in my neighborhood. And I don’t have to enter the wetlands to pick them – one neighbor piles a wheelbarrow filled with grapefruit and rolls it out to the street for all to enjoy her backyard bounty.
But for you die-hard gumbo fans, here’s a Bear Gumbo Recipe straight from the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Department. I won’t be cooking New Jersey Bear Gumbo either – not even for a 75th Anniversary !