Wednesday, January 25, 2023

We hae meat, and we can eat

Just in time for Burns Night!

Scotland has its haggis. England and Ireland have their black pudding. And the American mid-Atlantic, where I hail from, has scrapple.

Like its transatlantic relatives, scrapple is one of those don't-read-the-label foodstuffs—delicious, but you might be happier not knowing where it comes from or how it's made. I love the stuff; my grandparents served it all the time, and when I lived near Baltimore but travelled to the Eastern Shore for work, I made a habit of stopping in at Holly's Restaurant in Grasonville, just the other side of the Bay Bridge, for a big breakfast that always featured a few slabs of scrapple alongside my scrambled eggs—with Old Bay, if you please. Damn it, I'm getting hungry now...

The most popular brand in Charm City is RAPA, made in Bridgeville, Delaware but found in stores throughout Delaware and Maryland. The company name, RAPA, is an acronym commemorating its founders, brothers Ralph and Paul Adams. But one day many years ago, apparently while playing the dice game Ten Thousand, my own brother and I compiled a list of alternate acronyms. Somehow or another that list, on lined yellow paper and backed by a scoresheet documenting that Greg beat me two games out of three on that particular day, turned up recently. And here it is:

We started off with a few basic definitions...

     Residual Animal Products Associated

     Revolting Animal Parts Accumulated 

     Rejected Anatomy Processed Artificially

...before venturing into what could be construed as slander.

     Rat And Pig Amalgamation 

     Rodents: Agricultural Problem Abated

(I'd like to point out to RAPA and their attorneys that this was all in fun; that I do in fact enjoy their product; and that I may be placing an order soon if I can convince the andouille- and boudin-loving New Orleanian with whom I share my name, my home, and my finances that there is room in both the grocery budget and the chest freezer if there could only be room in her heart...)

Soon we got back on track with another definition:

     Rare Assemblage of Porcine Anatomy

...followed by...handling instructions?

     Refrigerate After Pig Asphyxiates

Eventually we realised that this was

     Really A Poor Acronym

...perhaps of the sort favoured by

     Radical Anti-Pork Activists

And finally, a last, skeptical consideration of a purely hypothetical ingredient listing:

     Really? A Pig's Arsehole?

So there you have it. Scotland has Bobby Burns and his "Address to a Haggis"; Baltimore has the Churchill boys and their stupid Top Ten list. But though the Scots win handily on literary merit, I'll put scrapple up for consideration as "Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!"

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Catch and release

Humans want crumbs removed; mice are anxious to remove them. It ought never to have been a cause of war. 

—C.S. Lewis 

Jack Lewis was soft on mice. The lines above were spoken by one of his characters in That Hideous Strength, but Lewis also wrote in a letter, “I love real mice. There are lots in my rooms in College but I have never set a trap."

I, on the other hand, am not soft on mice, and have set hundreds of traps. I like old houses—the modest bungalow I call Teach Éan was built in 1920, and prior to buying it I lived in rented homes of similar vintage—and I keep birds, which is to say I maintain a constant supply of bird seed, so Lewis's "war" never ends. But if Mus musculus is an enemy in a battle for the integrity and livability of my home, the species is also a resource to be harvested. I have kept not just redtails and kestrels, but also a sharp-shinned hawk and a merlin (both normally bird-eating raptors) fed partially on a diet of house mice.

So it seemed nothing out of the ordinary when, working in my office this evening, I heard one of the snap traps in the kitchen go off. Approaching, I heard the scrabbling that indicates a misfire: most often, the trap kills cleanly and instantaneously, which is of course the goal, but occasionally a mouse is caught by the leg or tail, and I have to dispatch it myself. Unfortunate, but it happens.

Tonight, though, there were two surprises. Firstly, the mouse was indeed caught by a foot, quite securely but in a way that appeared to have left it uninjured. Secondly, it was not a house mouse but a deer mouse of the genus Peromyscus. The two common species are (or were) the white-footed mouse P. leucopus and the deer mouse proper, P. maniculatus; now I find that while I wasn't looking the deer mouse has been taxonomically split into eastern (maniculatus) and western (sonoriensis) species. I've never become adept at identifying them beyond genus, so I'll stick with the generic "deer mouse" for now.

This was a surprise simply because I live in a densely-settled neighbourhood in town; while I frequently encounter deer mice out in the countryside, especially while hawking (though, oddly enough, Stekoa has yet to catch one this season), I've never seen one here before despite plenty of time working with Jessa in the garden.

At this moment, there is a Ziploc bag full of deer mice in my freezer, a gift from an acquaintance who traps them at his place out in the county; a kind man, he feels better about passing them on to me and my hawk than letting them go to waste. The bag is likely full of hantavirus and Borrelia as well, but I don't let that bother me; they'll make good summer rations for Stekoa, and I'll try to be conscientious about washing my hands.

But this evening's mouse will not be joining them. She was unhurt, after all—I say she, though I didn't check; the mouse just left an impression of softness and femininity—a gorgeous creature, reddish-brown above, white below, with big dark eyes. I'm a sucker for big dark eyes. And though I've never seen one here before, I'm delighted that there is at least one (very lucky) deer mouse in my prairie garden.

Related post: Deer mice