Just a tale of how it is... (A Bard's Tale Entry)
|It looked to be a lean day tomorrow. The swamp was up, and when the boys came in, I could see they had no luck. It was rainy, and nothing was flying overhead to shoot. Lean, indeed. Southwest Louisiana was like that, I suppose. You didn’t go hungry, but you didn’t always get what you wanted. I was glad we didn’t have guests coming over. We usually invited an older couple from down the block, but I’d be too embarrassed by the minimal spread we were going to put on the table. It would be full, of course, with breads, local nuts, vegetables, and stuffing, but the big meat platter in the middle would be empty.
We’d been to Schwegmann's already to pick up a few things, but the price on the turkeys was outrageous. There was no way we could spend thirty bucks for one and still keep the lights on. We usually had a couple of ducks or a goose in the freezer, we were on the Mississippi flyway after all, but not this year. I figured the main course was going to be fried catfish. It wasn’t exactly traditional, but at least we had all the trimmings. We even had a full sack of crawfish and a few pounds of oysters. The former were caught yesterday before the big rains hit, and the latter were fresh off the dock. The boys had even managed to gig a half dozen frogs, but not enough to make a meal. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would have to suffice.
I was chopping veggies for dirty rice, the holy trinity of southern cooking -- onions, celery, and bell peppers -- and the dog was driving me crazy. I called for one of the boys to come and put him out. The yard was under two feet of water, but by the way he was dancing, I knew he needed to find somewhere to relieve himself. I told Casey, the son who came when I called, to look on the bright side... at least he wouldn’t have to clean up after him. He put on his wading boots and grabbed his 12 gauge shotgun, just in case something flew low enough to be seen under the cloud cover. For some reason, even in the chilly weather, that damn dog loved to splash around in the water.
The vegetables were frying in the skillet, and I’d just seasoned them up, and they had a real nice bite to them. The best part of being the chef was tasting the various foods as they cooked. It was a delight to the palate. Making a dish with enough bite, but not so much that it burns off the taste buds is a unique talent. I had just set the full cast iron skillet to simmer when that mutt of ours started barking like mad. My assumption was that one or both of the boys were out splashing around playing with him. It wasn’t until the thunder of a shotgun blast brought me to a point of concern.
While the best outcome would have been a downed goose, I knew from all the barking, and then kids screaming, that wasn’t the case. The little neighborhood where we lived was two blocks long and six blocks wide. Normally, it drained to a swamp that provided mudbugs, nutria, and an occasional deer. Unfortunately, when flood waters came, the swamp backed up to us. It was unusual, but running out in just sweats and slippers, I had a feeling. It was right. Casey had put a round of buckshot into the head of an alligator, come up up from the swamp looking for chow.
“Is he dead?”
“Yeah, he dead.”
“Well, put another round in the back of his head to be sure.” The shotgun sounded again.
I told them, “Now, you and Jake put him up on the table and gut him, yeah?”
“Yessum.” Jake replied. He was only twelve to his brother's sixteen.
“Gut him and bring me the liver.” No way would I use old cow liver for my dirty rice if I had fresh.
“What else?” Casey asked.
“Cut the best two or t'ree feet off the tail.”
“No,” I said, “Slice all the good meat you can for mincemeat pie.”
“Oh, one last thing, when you’re done, Jake, go tell the Thibodeaux’s that dinner is at 6:00. Okay?”
The table was set, and the center platter was done. Gator meat has to be done right, skinned, with a little lemon juice, and even less seasoning makes it perfect. It cut much better than any bird, too. I’d sliced a couple pieces, because that apparently what you do according to the recipe books, and our guests arrived on time. They’d brought wine, a nice white and a port for dessert. Before we started he raised his glass.
“A toast! To the chef, to the food, and to good company! Happy Thanksgiving!”