Eating Peter Rabbit

This post contains a description of how to skin and prepare a rabbit for cooking, with website links to graphic instructions which some people might find distressing. So, if you are of a gentle nature or vegetarian and do not wish to be upset, please do not read any further...

Sure? Then I will begin.

We are having some blessed sunshine, and there is no better time to go for a spin than early Sunday morning, when you are pretty assured of having the countryside to yourself for a couple of hours. Hercules and I set off and headed for the biggest hill in the area. Which naturally we walked up; we are not entirely foolish. All around us could be heard the drones of farm machinery, as the farmers took advantage of the rare heat to catch up with baling and harvesting.

It is well worth the effort of getting to the top - I may be biased, but for me this is the most spectacular view over England, looking towards the Ridgeway. For full panoramic glory, click on the pic and use the magnifier (and you didn't have to walk up the darned hill to see it either!)

After the climb, the reward and we pootled down into lush high banked lanes, while butterflies giddied about the hedgerows. Passing a farm, I noticed a sad little form in the road - a young rabbit, stone dead - obviously hit by a vehicle and very recently, as its eyes were bright and clear, and there were no flies yet. There were no external wounds, apart from the tell tale trickle of blood from its mouth. Since our adventures with plucking pheasants, I have often wondered if I had it in me to prepare a road kill rabbit. I thought not. I like rabbits, and they frequently turn up in my artwork, as toys. It seemed one step too far. And yet...and yet, it was a fat little fellow, and as usual my household budget is tight. I'm on about 25 pounds a week, maximum, so a free meal is to be welcomed.
I am fine about buying rabbit from the butcher, surely I should be able to get over my distaste and pick up an already dead, free range rabbit, which must have had a pretty decent (if short) life. Because if not, then I am simply being silly and indulging in anthropomorphic associations with such lovable characters as Peter Rabbit - whose father, if you remember, ended up in a pie made by Mrs McGregor. And all too often we glibly buy nicely prepared meat off shop shelves, packed in plastic trays and bearing little resemblance to its origin - I am with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on this. Know what you are eating and be aware of the sacrifice an animal made for you.

So into Hercule's basket went Mr Bunny and we continued our journey, with the sun beating down on one side and the waning moon, half empty, still high in the sky on the other. A black cat crossed our path, and I occasionally put out a hand to stroke Mr Bunny, his fur soft as a kittens. I felt glad that he must have had a lovely morning; up with the dawn, lolloping about in the summer fields, gorging on sweet grass and then, one quick blow to the head, which must have killed him instantly and so on to the next life. Many of us would wish for such a swift and merciful end.

I still wasn't looking forward to getting him ready for the pot though. My mother once told me that she could skin a rabbit; I was quite young at the time, but it has stayed with me and I like the idea of being able to do something she could. (She could also shear a sheep, but I'm not going to try that just yet). As we neared home I spied some gorgeous allotment lettuces for sale at a house, and picked up a fat iceberg, a luscious lollo rosso, and a juicy butterhead, costing me a grand sum of 90p for all three.

So, time to bite the bullet. Thank Heavens for the internet and I quickly found highly detailed instructions on how to field dress a rabbit. The first thing to do was to empty its bladder, as the urine taints the meat. I used to have to do this to a sick cat of mine, (as instructed by the vet), so that was quite easy and there was barely anything in there anyway. Then following my computer print out, I gutted him. This was quite easy - I have to say, once you get over the fact that you have your hand stuck in a load of fresh offal, you are over the hurdle and the rest is plain sailing. Most of the gutting is done with the hand, apart from the first small incision below the ribs, so as not to burst the organs and contaminate the flesh. Once you have torn the skin from under the ribs to the bottom, you can pull the head back towards the back legs, give a sharp shake and they fall out naturally, needing only a few small cuts to detach them from the body. I called for Clover, our top matriarchal cat and she devoured the raw heart and liver - there is something primeval about our darling girl, especially when she has blood round her furry little chops. I am sure in a previous incarnation she was a Celtic warrior queen.

Next, to skin it - this is simply a matter of getting your hand between the skin and the flesh and peeling the two apart, cutting off the limbs, tail and head and washing the body in cold water. From start to finish, twenty minutes, barely any mess, minimal smell (certainly less than the pheasants) and not as horrifying as I had imagined. The end result was exactly the same as anything I have bought from the butchers and I felt quite pleased at having gotten over my initial squeamishness. At this very moment, what was once Mr Bunny is in a pot, in the fridge, marinading in savoury herbs, garlic and white wine vinegar. Tonight he will go in the slow cooker. Recipe for rabbit casserole to follow.


tlchang said...

You are so brave and self-reliant. I've been working hard to learn all about the foraging of locally growing green things (makes one feel most virtuous!)- but haven't been been courageous enough to extend that to animal life.

Soozcat said...

Well done! I have to admit, rabbits have a "cute factor" decidedly missing from fish and poultry, so it would be more difficult to prep a rabbit. But I'm with you--know your meat, and realize that a creature gave its life to nourish you and yours.

We have been very frank with my niece about where meat, fish and poultry come from. She has a gentle heart, and is uncomfortable with the thought that animals died to make our dinner. I suspect she may go vegetarian as an adult.

Francie...The Scented Cottage Studio said...

Lovely photos...okay I did skip over some parts I admit...but you do constantly amaze me (in a good way lol).

Cotswoldgent said...

Excellent stuff Gretel, Ray Mears would be proud. The clearing of the bladder should be done as soon as possible to stop meat contamination. Reminds me of the survival training I used to do in the military, except sometimes we had squirrel!

Anonymous said...

I haven't skinned a rabbit personally, but I do eat them, and our local game shop leaves the pluck in (liver, kidneys, heart), which is very yummy gently flash-fried (the dog gets the heart)!

My mother made finger-puppets out of rabbit skin, which she'd skinned herself, and I'd be tempted to use the skin in some way, shape or form - but I'm not quite sure how to go about doing that!

Libbys Blog said...

I admire you well done! Not sure I could do it!

lu summers said...

thanks for your comment, i'm glad you like my work! most impressed with your rabbit skinning abilities -i'm a farmer's wife (a REALLY crap one) and i'm sure that somewhere it says you should be able to do such things, but sadly i don't think i could! :)

Jane said...

Well done you! We don't get rabbits in the cutting garden unless the cats bring them in frm elsewhere but I am firmly with Mr MacGregor on this ne

Mind you we do get hares and I love them and would not have anyone shoot them at all, despite the nibbled hedging plants.


Anonymous said...

I noticed that Tash commented on doing something with the skin, there are lots of instructions on the internet about preparing pelts. It is actually a very simple, if lengthly, process. Stuarts' brother has been doing it for years and Stuart started preparing a deer skin (actually given to him by the butcher) before his accident, months later it is still a w.i.p. but at least it isn't smelly or fly blown. Anyway I digress, Stu deals with any plucking or skinning in our household which is only fair as he is really the only one in the household who enjoys game. I don't mind a bit of pheasant provided I have lashings of bread sauce but dislike the taste of rabbit and hare intensely. I am however fairly confident that I could do the job myself if absolutely neccessary.
BTW well done for managing on such a low budget, maybe you could write a sort of frugal food ?cookbook

Mary said...

Hi PG,

thanks a lot, Im leaving this place (Romania tomorrow) will be home in Italy 2 weeks.
I will try to post if I can for the next weeks but for sure will start again when settled in Bangkok, lots of stuff to post from there.

Take good care and see you soon again.

julie said...

Well done Gretel! It's good to think that Mr Rabbit didn't go to waste - afterall as you said he wouldn't have known much about the swift despatch and being marinaded in white wine vinegar and herbs sounds like a much more preferable end than being squished into the tarmac by endless car tyres or being slowly devoured by maggots. It's a shame most of us are raised to be at distance from the origins of our food - there is something honest and pure about your encounter with the rabbit - bet he'll taste good!

Caroline B said...

Hope your rabbit stew was delicious! I agree, the skin should be used for something - I was taught in Greece to home-cure sheepskin by staking it out upsidedown in the garden covered in salt(on the fleshy side) - it turned out ok if a bit stiff and we used it as a rug for years while the dog slowly chewed it smaller and smaller.....

Shona said...

Brave lass - I love my meat, but am absolutely rubbish when it comes to things like that!

On a totally unrelated note.... your nipping press and printing adventures: I'm thinking of buying a nipping press - you may recall that I want to take some of my forthcoming GD back to basics.... you don't happen to have a tutorial about using one of these things, do you? I'm after kooky ways of putting together plates and printing without masses of cost.... any tips, chickadee?


Lisa Oceandreamer Swifka said...

You continually amaze me. I think you'd be a great candidate for the show Survivor...you have no fear.
At least the bunny did not die in vain....he nourished the two of you and did not lie on the road with no destiny.

gilfling said...

Oh yet another visit where I am astounded by the countryside surrounding you!!! just beautiful - if I can't see it for myself I know I can at least get a portion here. I am full of admiration for you and your rabbit preparing skills - it is good to know the rabbit was not wasted - I really have a desire to go back to the former days of knowing exactly where your supper was coming from and what is in it.

weirdbunny said...

Well done you !!!

Our children have plucked feathers from chickens since they were young for us to eat. Other children ask them all the time how they can eat their chickens, but the kids just tell them it's okay as we'll just bread some more.

In fact we rearely buy meat from the butchers due to the expense. Also there's nothing better than knowing that you've reared the birds yourself.

Have you considered breeding rabbits for meat. The woodcutter used to years ago.

John Nez said...

"Then following my computer print out, I gutted him. This was quite easy - I have to say, once you get over the fact that you have your hand stuck in a load of fresh offal, you are over the hurdle and the rest is plain sailing. "

LOL! I have to say... rabbit is one item that is NEVER encountered on the menu this side of the pond. I have seen ostrich, buffalo, venison and alligator.

But NO rabbit!



Anonymous said...

I've been a vegetarian for years, but I found your rabbit encounter and subsequent pot finale fascinating. I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's latest book (non-fiction) and if it could be summed up in just a few words, they would be KNOW YOUR FOOD. It deals with the loss of small farms, the urgent need to return to organic ways of growing food and her family's journey away from the industrial food pipeline to a rural lifestyle, eating only food that they've produced themselves and food produced by their neighbours in Appalachia. It's called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and it's right up your alley. She would be cheering from the sidelines as you skinned the rabbit.

Gigibird said...

if only all animals could have such a quick death.

Kristin Nicholas said...

Hi Gretel: This is post is one of your best and it is exactly why I love your blog so much! So honest and no nonsense. And your photos are fabulous. I live in the British countryside vicariously through you. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

I think eating the rabbit in some ways gives meaning to his or her death. An accidental death to an unsuspecting rabbit, provides and accidental dinner to an unsuspecting passer-by.

As someone said above, leaving the rabbit to be squished and defiled by cars running it over would have been wrong.

I'm in awe of your brave boldness.