2009-01-14 15:29:43 UTC
Lee Hill Kavanaugh
Kansas City Star
January 13, 2009 08:32:44 AM
He rolls into the parking lot of Leon's Thriftway in an old, maroon
Impala with a trunk full of frozen meat. Raccoon the other dark meat.
In five minutes, Montrose, Mo., trapper Larry Brownsberger is sold out
in the lot at 39th Street and Kensington Avenue. Word has gotten around
about how clean his frozen raccoon carcasses are. How nicely theyre
tucked up in their brown butcher paper. How they almost look like a
trussed turkey or something.
His loyal customers beam as they leave, thinking about the meal they'll
soon be eating.
That is, as soon as the meat is thawed. Then brined. Soaked overnight.
Parboiled for two hours. Slow-roasted or smoked or barbecued to
Raccoon, which made the first edition of The Joy of Cooking in 1931, is
labor-intensive but well worth the time, aficionados say.
"Good things come to those who wait," says A. Reed, 86, who has been
eating raccoon since she was a girl.
"This right here," she says, holding up a couple of brown packages tied
with burlap string, this is a great value. And really good eatin.
Best-kept secret around.
Raccoons go for $3 to $7 each, not per pound and will feed about
five adults. Four, if theyre really hungry.
Those who dine on raccoon meat sound the same refrain: It's good eatin'.
As long as you can get past the "ick" factor that it's a varmint, more
often seen flattened on asphalt than featured on a restaurant menu. (One
exception: French restaurant Le Fou Frog served raccoon about a dozen
years ago, a waiter said.)
Eating varmints is even in vogue these days, at least in Britain. The
New York Times reported last week that Brits are eating squirrels with
Here in Kansas City, you won't see many, if any, squirrel ads in the
papers. But that's where Brownsberger was advertising his raccoons last
The meat isnt USDA-inspected, and few state regulations apply, same as
with deer and other game. No laws prevent trappers from selling raccoon
As for diseases, raccoon rabies doesn't exist in Missouri, state
conservation scientists say. It's an East Coast phenomenon. Parvo and
distemper kill raccoons quickly but arent transferred to humans. Also,
trappers are unlikely to sell meat from an animal that appears to be
"Raccoon meat is some of the healthiest meat you can eat," says Jeff
Beringer, a furbearer resource biologist with the Missouri Department of
"During grad school, my roommate and I ate 32 coons one winter. It was
all free, and it was really good. If you think about being green and
eating organically, raccoon meat is the ultimate organic food," with no
steroids, no antibiotics, no growth hormones.
And when people eat wild meat, Beringer says, "it reminds the modernized
society people who usually eat food from a plastic wrapper where
food comes from.
Statewide, consumption of raccoon meat can be tracked somewhat by how
many raccoon pelts are harvested each year. In 2007, 118,166 pelts were
But there are plenty more out there, Beringer says. The raccoon
population "doubled in the '80s. There's more now than when Missouri was
He estimates there are about 20 raccoons per square mile of habitat.
In the wild, raccoons typically live five or six years. Populations that
grow too dense can be decimated by disease, especially when temperatures
drop, Beringer says.
"The animals huddle together, passing on the infections. In the winter,
we sometimes have massive die-offs. If we can control the fluctuations
in the populations by hunting and trapping, we can have healthier
Fur trappers, who harvest most of the raccoons sold in Missouri, "try to
kill as humanely as possible," says Beringer, a trapper himself. "It's
part of the culture."
Pelts last year sold on average for about $17. They're used for coats
and hats, and many are sold to Russia. But the conflict between Russia
and Georgia severely cut into the fur-trading market, Beringer says.
"Pelts will probably be less this year."
For the average person, who probably doesn't spend much time thinking
how a steer or a pig or a chicken might meet its maker, raccoons may
seem too cute to eat.
Until you try one.
At the Blue Springs home of Billy Washington, raccoon, fish, bison and
deer are staples on his familys table.
On this day, it's raccoon.
All night he has been soaking a carcass in a solution of salt and
vinegar in a five-gallon bucket. Now he rinses the raccoon in his
"Eating raccoon has never gone out of style. It's just hard to get
unless you know somebody," he says as he carefully trims away the fat
and the scent glands.
"My kids love eating game. They think eating deer and buffalo make you
run faster and jump higher. My grandkids will just tear this one up,
it'll be so good."
The meat is almost ready to be boiled, except for one thing: Although
its head, innards and three paws have been removed, it still has one.
Thats the law.
"They leave the paw on to prove it's not a cat or a dog," Washington
He cuts off the paw and drops the carcass into a stew pot, slices up a
carrot, celery and onion, and sprinkles some seasoning into the water.
Two and a half hours later, he transfers it to a Dutch oven. It looks a
lot like chicken.
He bathes the raccoon with his own combination of barbecue sauces.
Stuffs the cavity with canned sweet potatoes and pours the rest of the
juice from the can over the breast.
"I follow the same tradition I watched when I was little. My uncle would
cook 'em all day, saving the littlest coon for me," he says.
"If stores could sell coon, wed run out of them. It's a long-hidden
secret that they're so good."
After several hours, a delicious smell roast beef? chicken? drifts
from the oven.
A mingling of garlic and onion and sweet-smelling spices.
And when Washington opens the lid, a tiny leg falls easily from the
See that? Tender as a mothers love, he says with a grin. Good
And the taste?
Definitely not chicken.