Columns » Bob Lancaster

Scarfing it up



We have our first local festival every year in May. We can't have it earlier because the young'uns have to be out of school and have all 20 digits available to help us cipher up admission prices and parking fees. And any later they'd probably be off sparking along the crick, you know how they are. No sense of tradition. Nor much of any other kind.

Our May festival is what we call the annual Hot Diggedy Road Kill Cookoff. Maybe you've heard of it. It has about 40 booths, give or take, where the visiting roadkill gourmands, or anybody else, can sample our roadkill comestibles, gathered yearlong by volunteers and prepared on the spot by our veteran roadkill cooks (three of them in the Roadkill Salvage & Prep Hall of Fame) or by their up-and-coming assistants and interns.   

Our festival's main attraction — what separates it from the run-of-the-mill roadkill fairs — is the great variety of roadkill you can feast on. Other festivals of this ilk tend to be one-meat specialists, such as Armadillofest at Hamburg, the Coon Supper at Gillett, the Mountain Oyster Gobble at Monticello, and the Giant Possum Suck at Smackover, where they don't provide you any tableware and just about their only offering is whomped-up Clampitt Pogo Innard ragout that you have to suck up off the paper plate with a plastic milk-shake straw. And when you're finished you have to give them back the straw.  

One year, by contrast with that menu monotony, we had 73 species of roadkill, most barbecued but also stewed, boiled, baked, fried, braised, pickled (like the wild boar knuckles), jellied, jerkied, put up in Mason jars, or served raw like sushi or tartare or carpaccio. Just my opinion, but you first-time festival-goers without cast-iron stomachs might want to wait a year to try the raw-roadkill options.

That banner year, our 73 roadkill entrees included such exotics as both roadrunner and coyote, alligator, mink, candied tarantula, and an elk pate derived from a herd laid low one midnight in careless flagrante delicto by an eastbound-and-down J. B. Hunt 18-wheeler hydroplaning suddenly over a fog-shrouded 1-30 knoll at just the wrong time, at least as far as the elk were concerned. Mushed in with the elk was another critter never identified but theorized variously to have been a wampus cat, a ringtailed tooter, a platypus, a satyr, or one of the most expendable of the Star Route Veasey clan. Whatever it was it turned out serendipitously to provide the perfect seasoning for the pate.

One cautionary note about our festival: You should come early because our roadkill quantities, having to meet a high standard, are strictly limited. I mean, when our world-class roadkill-rabbit-spread maker runs short, he can't just jump in his pickup and scurry out to the Prague Cutoff, headlight a bunny family frolicking along the median, and introduce them to his steel-belted radials. Roadkill festivalizing just doesn't work that way. He might find one or two croaked cottontails still in usable, edible condition — not yet too badly picked over by the crows — but you don't need one or two of them to keep your festival booth going. You need one or two hundred. You'd feel better if it was one or two thousand. Because you never know when a crammed-to-capacity church bus or nursing-home van is going to pull up.

Our roadkill this time of year tends to be skunk-heavy. The skunks all apparently turn into Pepe LePew on the same night each spring and, like those elk, pitch their woo in the middle of congested traffic lanes. It seems like a big waste, but none of our festival cooks will make up a plate of skunk. We had one old boy who tried it once, but it was horrible. It depopulated the festival even quicker and almost as bad as the time the septic tank blew up.  The skunk-medallion experimenter's reputation shot, we even drummed him out of the local Chamber of Commerce.

One year we had a big grasshopper invasion right at festival time and you could go out on any road around here and shovel up bushel baskets of grasshopper slick. They were so dense that a car would drive into a cloud of them and never be seen or heard from again. That's what happened to Maud Crawford, if you remember her. But our Hot Diggedy cooks came to prefer live grasshoppers to the abundant tread-marked grasshopper paste and we couldn't have that. It went ag'in both the spirit and the letter of a roadkill festival to use meat that's still alive when you go to cook it. Our first and only roadkill-festival ethical lapse. Windshield-smashed cicadas are a perennial Hot Diggedy favorite side, on the other hand, and perfectly legitimate imho.

Roadkill deer are a problem because the meat is nearly always filled with slivers of headlight and windshield glass that are just about impossible of removal.  But most people hereabout tire of venison by May, having subsisted on it pretty much exclusively since November, so why bother with it when there's run-over loggerheads, bullfrogs, emus, bustards, sasquatches, nutrias, woodchucks, walking catfish, rogue roosters, feral poodles, squirrels, and hoop snakes galore available for the time and trouble of scraping them up? Kerosene will remove the tire marks. Patty and grill them yourself. You don't really need a festival.

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