As a young biology teacher and summer park naturalist back in the 1970s, I developed a fascination for wild edible foods. That interest included cuisine that varied from wild cranberry muffins, birch syrup and wild grape jelly to boiled crayfish and fried frog legs.
I had a few local mentors, but my idol at the time was the face of Grape Nuts Cereal Boxes, Euell Gibbons. His book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” was my bible in the woods.
My enthusiasm carried one wild food to an extreme, by acquiring enough of them to not only make gourmet meals but also to sell. Here’s how that unfolded.
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As all of us who are fond of chasing filets with fins know, not all fishing excursions turn into the bee’s knees. On some of those lackluster days, I have had a propensity to make lemonade out of lemons.
On one long-ago experience, I had the urge to take my 12-foot Maine canoe to a distant brook for squaretail trout in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. I managed to boat a few very small brookies on flies, Mepps spinners and worms. Meh.
But paddling along I noticed some gargantuan bullfrogs along the brook’s edges and immediately had a lemonade moment. Frog legs!
I took my red handkerchief (anyone with a bit of woodsy substance to them carries one) and ripped off a small patch to hook on my Mepps spinner. By dangling that shard of red hankie over a frog with my spinning rod, it was better “fishing” than I had had all day.
I managed to catch nine of these leggy leapers to take home for a feed, but with no internet or YouTube back then, I was on my own when cleaning and cooking the frogs. I went to Euell Gibbons’ book for help in the kitchen, and since my biology students had dissected frogs (remember those days?) I had a little bit of a background for the cleaning process.
My biggest problem was enticing certain members of my family to participate in the gastronomic delight but, if my memory serves me right, only my young son, Andy, was up to the task. (He ate anything I prepared from the wilds!)
I checked with him for this article to see if he remembered eating frog legs, and he reported that indeed he did and recalled them as being top-notch. (Hey, maybe I blew a career on television with shows like “Chopped” and “The Iron Chef.”)
These amphibian beasts are pure carnivores; they will eat anything that moves and fits in their cavernous mouth. The actual list is much longer, but here are some notable meals these ambush predators devour: fish, snakes, ducklings, turtles, crayfish, mice and other frogs. Impressive.
If a bullfrog underestimates the size of its prey, they use strong front legs to actually push it into their mouths, where sharp vomerine teeth and its tongue help to subdue the prey. They also contract their bulging eyes down into the roof of their mouths to help them swallow! It looks like they are blinking.
Bullfrogs are best known for the male’s “jug-a-rum” vocalization, their jumping ability and their huge body size of up to 8 inches in length. In some states, great competition occurs when pet bullfrogs are the king kahunas used in frog-jumping contests. The record for a triple jump (no running start) is 21 feet, 5 3/4 inches! Go ahead. Try that from a standing start.
Another of my frog hunting experiences comes to mind when the bass fishing was so poor that my cohort, fellow teacher Joe Bottiggi, and I turned a sour fishing day into a productive croaker outing. Again, we had seen a number of frogs while plugging the lake’s edge, so we rigged up our spinning rods for bull-frogging by cutting my multipurpose red hanky into small patches that we could impale on bass plugs.
By dangling those makeshift lures with our spinning rods in front of a hungry frog, we completely duped the aggressive amphibians. I don’t recall how many we brought home, but it certainly surpassed the number of bass we boated.
On another outing, we hunted for bullfrogs after dark. Once more, while tossing plugs for bass, we spotted ample croakers on lily pads and along the shoreline. Keeping that in mind for our next bass trip, we went prepared with flashlights and tridents, those three-pronged spears that are put on poles. (Think Neptune, Roman God of the Sea) The process is called gigging in a frog hunter’s dictionary.
I had read that hunting bullfrogs was much easier after dark because a flashlight would freeze them in place so a frog hunter could get close with a canoe or boat.
As darkness approached, we listened for the jug-o-rums, or g-r-o-o-o-n-ks, to lead us in the right direction. It was another lemonade frog hunt, but this time employing Neptunian tridents under the cover of darkness.
Earlier that summer, I had frozen some frog legs thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could sell them at restaurants. After the last frog safari, I had enough to sell, so my entrepreneurial spirit took me to a well-known restaurant in Stowe, Vermont, where I knew frog legs were offered as a meal for patrons.
Alas, it turned out that this restaurant bought all their frog legs from Japan. This wasn’t sounding very promising. But, after I told the chef that my frog legs were of premium quality coming from well-known, clean Vermont waters and brooks, he decided to buy them. I was as pleased as punch.
How much did I make selling frog legs? I thought you might ask. Let’s just say that I didn’t quit my teaching job. Jug-o-rum.