Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Oct. 8
Rabbit for Breakfast?
Thought I was going to get me a free rabbit breakfast this morning. Went out into the fields of Suzie's Farm, the organic vegetable outfit with fields near Ream Field, east of Imperial Beach. I turned up around 6.30 looking for them with Andrea Ashbaugh, and Aidan.
Aidan is her Harris’ hawk. Andrea hunts rabbits with him and her Jack Russell terrier Gossip and her whippet Sunny. They’re supposed to flush out the rabbits, so Aidan can swoop and catch them.
We started hunting the edges of the fields where the trees and undergrowth are.
Every time she thought she saw a rabbit, Andrea would call out “Ho Ho!” and the dogs would fly into the undergrowth and Aidan would take off from the treetop he was sitting in, nearby, but not close.
Aidan, keeping an eye on us from a nearby tree
Aidan (it means "Rascal" in Gaelic) flew behind us from treetop to treetop. We smelled a skunk, and flushed out a bobtail rabbit, but Aidan didn’t swoop down in time.
“He caught one yesterday,” Andrea says. “He’s just not that hungry today.”
“Yeah? Is he thinking about us?” I say.
But honestly, just the feeling of hunting with a hawk, like the medieval knights did back in the day, was worth staying hungry for. Aidan drove the crows mad, of course. Dozens of them circled round like a crazy chorus wherever he flew.
The reason Andrea comes (about three times a week) is to let the rabbits know Aidan’s there. That they need to stay out of the crop-producing fields.
“Just being here with Aidan keeps the rabbits wary," Andrea says. "They’re more cautious about coming out. Fewer actually do.”
Aidan certainly earns his keep. He catches enough rabbits that Andrea hasn't been inside a supermarket's meat department for three years.
Yesterday’s rabbit? Rabbit pie today.
"It tastes like chicken and it chews like turkey," she says.
And to people who tell her she's being cruel, she has an answer. "At least we’re engaging with nature. People who buy meat at supermarkets believe they’re not killing anything. Wrong. They’re just letting other people do their dirty work for them."
And don't get her going about regular slaughterhouses.
“You’ve never seen such suffering as in there,” she says. “Here, we help make it possible for Suzie’s Farm to grow crops and not use poisons and eradication programs. The average female rabbit has about 14 bunnies every year. We may catch one from each family.”
When they do catch one, Andrea quickly breaks its neck. “At least I take responsibility for what I eat,” she says. She starts waving the lure. Aidan flies onto her gloved right hand. She offers him a piece of meat.
“Yesterday’s rabbit,” she says.
The parts she doesn’t leave for Aidan?
That rabbit pie.
“It’s so simple,” she says. “Slow-cook the rabbit meat in chicken broth for six hours, then put it over a layer of veggies and under a layer of potatoes and bake. The meat is all white. No fat in the muscle. No marbling. I don’t know why more people don’t eat rabbit.”
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