Fall is a time of harvest in the gardens and fields as well as the woods. The steamy summer has been replaced with two of Alabama’s biggest fall functions: hunting and football season. This has been a summer of education as many newcomers to rural life created gardens, learned how to can vegetables, started raising a few chickens for eggs and meat, and generally took steps to provide their families with additional food without waiting for the government to come to the rescue. A resourceful person can not only plant, tend and put up a garden in summer, he or she can also provide eggs, meat and even dairy products on a regular basis if work is seen as an opportunity instead of an obligation.
Produce the Produce
Even though the growing season for a warm-season garden is over, there’s still time to plant winter greens. Plant turnips, mustard, kale, rape and spinach during October, and you will have plenty of high-energy health food for early winter. Sometimes nothing more than turnip greens, corn bread and a serving of meat on the side can offer a satisfying, healthy meal.
With a little woods wisdom and available land, the resourceful ruralite can add fresh fish to the table in the form of bass, catfish, bream and other panfish. Freshly caught fish from Alabama’s lakes and rivers is a great way to add variety in a high protein, low-fat diet. Larger bass and catfish will filet easily and results in two slabs of bone free meat per fish. The fish freezes well if the filets are put in Ziploc freezer bags and submerged in water before closing the seal to release escaping air.
Find the Fish
Where’s the Beef…and the squirrel, rabbit and deer?
When we think of meat, we typically consider beef, pork and chicken. These animals can be raised easily enough; however, expense is involved in putting up fencing, pens and sheds. Often, we can look no further than the woods line on the back edge of the farm to find fresh meat in the form of squirrel, rabbit, deer and turkey. Obviously, squirrel and rabbits, because of their abundant numbers, are the easiest animals to harvest. They are easy to dress and cook, and there’s no need to enlist the aid of a processor since the game is small. Squirrel and rabbit are easy to cook, and the meat can be stored long-term in the freezer.
Squirrel or rabbit can be cooked the same way and in many of the same dishes as chicken is served. Fried to a golden brown, served in vegetable stew or with dumplings can put these two meats at the top of the easy-to-prepare list. If you have finicky members in your family who insist the dish should taste and have the texture of chicken, the meat can be pressure-cooked to a tender, fall apart consistency, and soaking squirrel and rabbit in buttermilk will remove any hint of game flavor.
There are many outdoor enthusiasts who like to wait until the first few killing frosts before eating the harvested squirrels and rabbits. This is because of a small blotch on the skin of the animal that looks like a sore. These "wolves" as they are sometimes called are actually a tiny larvae of the bot fly entering the skin of mammals like rabbits and squirrels. Once the weather turns cold and frost appears, the larvae is released through the skin. I am told by Department of Natural Resources biologists that these larvae don’t harm the meat of the animals, but, like many others, I like to eat squirrels and rabbits that are free of the sores.
Squirrel and rabbit season opens October 1 and goes through February 28. The limit is eight per day and eight in possession.
Bigger Game Anyone?
There are a few Alabama counties with a fall turkey season. Fall turkey hunting takes place in Clarke, Clay, Covington, Monroe, Randolph and Talladega Counties from November 20 through January 1. By far, however, whitetail deer top the list of big game in Alabama. Deer provides plenty of meat for the hunter and his/her family. The urban sprawl has increased deer populations to the point that control for the health of the herd and for humans trying to avoid deer/car collisions has become necessary. With any wild animal, it’s necessary to obtain a hunting license and pass a hunter safety course before entering the woods. There are exceptions concerning licensing and age restrictions, and all this information can be found by visiting www.outdooralabama.com.
The trade off of big game hunting is usually the expense involved. High-powered rifles and ammunition or archery equipment, expensive camouflage and hunting club dues can cut into the money saved by harvesting your own deer. If you have your own land to hunt, are able to sit still and down wind in your work overalls, and buy an adequate not elegant firearm, you can keep the costs low. Also, if you can field dress your own deer and have a clean environment in which to process the meat yourself, you can save another 60 to 100 dollars on processing and cooler fees. In addition, if you are hunting just for the meat, does are abundant and many prefer the taste to that of the buck.
Alabama has a special youth (under 16) deer hunt running statewide including private and leased land from November 12-15. This is a special opportunity to introduce youth to deer hunting with direct adult supervision and less pressure in the woods. For other information on seasons and bag limits, visit www.outdooralabama.com.
Use this October as an opportunity to get back to the land. Not only will you be teaching the younger generation an appreciation of our natural resources, you will be teaching them how to harvest and prepare their own food in good economic times or bad.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.