Beatrice Potter’s book, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit “, has been exhibited on my coffee table, along with a basket of colorful eggs, as part of my Easter decorations for many years. Last week my daughter and granddaughters were here for a visit and late one evening as we all were clad in our p.j.’s sitting around the living room enjoying each other’s company and chit chatting about everything under the sun, my granddaughter Reagan picked up the book and handed it to her mother to read. “ Yes, please read it,” I said. “ It’s been a long time since I have heard the story.” My daughter is a pre-school teacher and has an excellent reading voice with all of the ooh’s and ahh’s as well as exciting dramatizations naturally thrown in, so it was a delight when she opened the Golden Book and began to read . “ Once upon a time there were four little rabbits and their names were—” I had heard the story a hundred times and knew what was coming up, but I did not realize that on page two the mother rabbit warned the children NOT to go near Mr. McGregor’s garden because their father had an accident there and was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor. “Hold on.” I stopped my daughter. “ You are kidding, right?” Now it wasn’t that I couldn’t believe that a troublesome rabbit could lose his life messing around in someone’s garden( my grandfather lived on a farm, and I am sure we had eaten quite a few,) but I hadn’t remembered that they had written this in the book. My daughter shook her head yes, that indeed that was what it said, and my granddaughters didn’t seem a bit surprised, so she proceeded to read us the rest of the story.
Life has always been about surviving and man taking care of his family and providing meat for the table. Hunting seasons each year rewarded my family with deer, rabbit, and pheasant for the table, as well as the freezer, and no one in our family ever hunted just for the “sport” of it. The men hunted the meat, the women cleaned and cooked it and it then became a huge contribution to the delicious meals my family enjoyed.
One spring I can recall I had the most beautiful row of lettuce at the edge of my garden that you might ever see. Brilliantly green and lush, I almost hated to cut from it , spoiling the appearance it contributed to the garden. However, that is why it was planted, to produce food for our table. One morning before work, with coffee in hand, I took a little walk outside to the garden. As I came closer it was quite obvious that something else had enjoyed that bright green bounty as well, for every few feet a large clump of the lettuce had been chewed on completely to the root. I was distraught ( actually it would be safe to say I was mad) and if I had had a gun handy and could find the little critter, the rabbit family might once again have been in immediate danger..! Fortunately, if the roots are still intact, lettuce does grow back and yields to the gardener right up until the hot weather arrives.
Although I have never made a rabbit pie like Mrs. McGregor, I am sharing with you a recipe today for what many call “Shepherd’s Pie.” Actually according to the culinary books, it is called cottage pie because we are using ground beef. The original shepherd’s pie was made with lamb.
Shepherd’s Pie ( feeds 3-4)
1 pound ground beef
½ medium size onion
2 large carrots, cut in coin size bites
1 cup frozen peas
4 large potatoes
8 oz. can of mushrooms ( optional)
1 Tablespoon Tomato Sauce ( I have used just ketchup)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon flour
½ cup beef broth ( or 1 bouillon cube diluted in hot water)
½ cup heavy cream
Sautee ground beef with the onion, salt and pepper. Drain off grease. Add tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, flour, and 2 Tablespoons of butter and simmer for few minutes . Add the beef broth and heavy cream and simmer while stirring until mixture becomes thickened. In separate skillet sauté the diced carrots in 2 Tablespoons of butter until softened. Add peas. Boil your potatoes and make mashed potatoes the usual way.
In a casserole dish layer the meat mixture first, then the vegetables, and top with the mashed potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. If you want the mashed potatoes to be browner on top finish for just a few seconds under the broiler.