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Possums Tales and Other Southern Fare

Posted: Aug 21, 2009

I was inspired to write about possums when I first saw this sign in front of  Hickory Barn Barbecue . I got so excited I nearly drove off the road. I called immediately to ask if they really had possum on the menu. Although I had sampled nearly every food available in the south when I was growing up from brains and eggs to mountain oysters  and everything in between, I had never tasted possum. Daddy, who was a veterinarian and therefore an expert on animals of all description, always said I would not like possum—that it was too strong and greasy. Since Daddy would eat anything that did not run away from him, you would think his advice would deter me, but I never stopped wanting to try possum—possum with sweet 'taters.

My sister speculated that the restaurant was serving Opossum sardines since sardines and crackers are a staple of the southern diet, especially that of hunters and fishermen. The thought was a great disappointment to me. I had my heart set on eating possum. In response to my phone call, Bill Davis, the owner of Hickory Barn, told me they did not actually serve possum but barbecued bologna. “However,” he added, “I got your attention.”

I was sad not to be able to taste possum, but I was thrilled to find out that the Hickory Barn restaurant not only offered award winning barbecued pork and chicken, it also served awesome fried catfish on designated Saturday nights. Fresh fried catfish may be my favorite southern delicacy. Give me crisp, succulent fried catfish any day and all thoughts of possum with sweet potatoes will vanish from my mind.

Speaking of possums, a few weeks ago our garbage was ripped open and shredded all over the hill. We suspected either a possum or a raccoon. We had to "bungee" the top of all the garbage cans, and if we failed to do so, the garbage would be scattered from here to kingdom come. This week we narrowed our suspects to a big fat (and, no doubt, strong and resourceful) raccoon. My sister bought a large live trap and declared war, but I kept thinking about possums. Then my friend, Dr. Brobson Lutz, shared with me a story.

Brobson Lutz grew up in our small town of Athens, Alabama, not far from my house and just over a mile from the downtown square. Dr.Lutz, a world renowned Infectious Disease Specialist who resides in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, sent me this tale from his childhood.

“It was not unusual for one of my parent’s friends to bring us a live possum that they had caught or treed somehow. This usually happened in September or October when they were really fat.

“I would load up the possum and his cage in a little red wagon and roll down to the courthouse. I think I was 5 or 6 years old. The square was littered with toothless old men chewing somehow on tobacco and probably spitting out TB germs. I would cover the possum’s cage with a tablecloth and roll him around the square. One of the men would always stop me and want to know what I had in the wagon. I charged five cents to see and then a quarter if they wanted to poke it with a stick I also had on the wagon. They always wanted to poke it for whatever excitement people get out of seeing a poked possum hiss.

“Must not have done this around Christmas as I don’t see a little boy with a wagon on the Christmas tree ornament that the Athens Historical Society sold. Besides I am sure we had purged the possum by this time of the year so that it had been turned into simmering possum with sweet potatoes. My mother, though, would never cook possum. I think my mother would give my possums to the maid to take home after a while leaving me with a guilt trip of ‘You probably left the cage door open.’

“But my mother did cook everything else from rabbit to road kill bird. My father found a dead but warm hawk on the road once. She cooked that and I came down with the mumps a few days later. Old Dr. Hand always said I had the only case of mumps he ever treated caused by a dead bird on the road. The term ‘road kill’ was not even around in those days.”

Nowadays, you can see Dr. Lutz on YouTube talking about Galatoire’s or read his review of a restaurant in Cartagena, Columbia. Dr. Lutz dines in the finest establishments in New Orleans, is himself an epicure, and employs his own fabulous chef.  I have had the great pleasure of dining at his table. He raises his own chickens for fresh eggs and has delectable honey from his own bees ("Honey From the Hood"). How far we have all come from our little red wagon days.

Last week a young woman ploughed into The Hickory Barn  restaurant demolishing the ladies' restroom. I reckon she was in a big hurry. At any rate, the sign for the  week read  “Drive Thru Ladies Room --Rib Eye Sandwich --Loaded Taters.”  In addition to being an excellent chef, Bill Davis has a marvelous sense of humor. You can read the full article by Holly Hollman in the August 14 Decatur Daily and/or by Karen Middleton in the Athens News-Courier. (Photo courtesy of Kim Rynders of the News-Courier.) 

PS--Happy Birthday tomorrow (August 22) to my friend Brobson. Bon appetite!!.

 ---Penne J. Laubenthal

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Thank you, Bob. I LOVE it that you got lost in the Swamp. Hope lots of other folks will. :-) Thanks for sharing your story.

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I got lost in the swamp.. took me over 3 hrs. to find my way out.. What a fun place to visit.. The opossum story reminded me of my childhood and going to the barn with my mother early each morning for a bucket of milk from the cow.. Time went by quickly and soon I was old enough to get on the school bus with my 4 older brothers.. I remembered the day I got off the bus and the milk cow was gone, beef stew was served for several weeks afterwards and the milk started coming from town in bottles. I really felt grown up.. Don't remember opossum being served, but lots of other stuff was fair game..

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