In 1952, the University of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Archives asked old timers what the pioneers ate. One fellow, John Bird of Broadview came west in 1882. He said their primary meat was "rabbit, more rabbit and still more rabbit" along with prairie chickens, ducks and the occasional deer. He said a typical menu was rabbit stew for breakfast, rabbit and potatoes for lunch and rabbit again for supper.
Another family who came as Barr Colonists in 1903 was devastated when their winter cache of rabbits, which were hanging frozen outside, was eaten by coyotes. The Métis made a dish called rabbit rababoo, a type of stew with turnips, potatoes and carrots that went back to the days of the fur trade.
A recipe for jugged rabbit is found in many old cookbooks. Traditionally, it was cooked in an earthenware jug. Come to think of it, gophers might taste pretty good this way, too.
1 rabbit, cut in pieces
1/4 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper
3 tbsp butter
1 big onion, chopped
4 cups beef stock
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper
1 lb button mushrooms
Extra flour for gravy
Lightly dredge rabbit in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a Dutch oven or other stove-to-oven pot. Brown rabbit on both sides and remove from pot. Add onion to butter and cook until soft. Return rabbit to pot.
Add beef stock, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover and cook in 350F oven for one hour. Add mushrooms. Top up with water to cover mushrooms. Continue cooking for about 2 hours, adding more water if needed, until rabbit is tender. Remove bay leaf. Lift out rabbit to a serving plate and mushrooms into a bowl, keeping warm while making the gravy.
With your fingers, mix remaining 1 tbsp butter with enough flour to make a crumbly dough. Add to the hot liquid, whisking vigorously while bringing to a bubble on the stove, cooking until gravy is thickened. If it's not enough gravy, add more hot water. Taste gravy and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Pour gravy through a strainer to remove any lumps. Serve with mashed potatoes.
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(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)