The sky is just starting to brighten as I tend my rabbits in the morning. They eagerly await my visit, leaping to snatch the apples, carrot peels and squash from my hand. Top the grain, check the hay, and fill the water bottles. Temperatures are still quite mild for December, and there is grass sprouting beneath the hutches.
We’ve been raising rabbits for almost 15 years. It all started with Blossom, an orphaned, white California doe with chewed up ears. Blossom’s first home a wire cage perched over the bathtub, complete with ramp. She roamed about the kitchen freely, much to the delight of the kids. After munching on too many cords, Flip built her an outdoor hutch. Outside, she seemed to know the boundaries of the yard, and was good company in the garden.
After Blossom, I became more serious in rabbit breeding, and invested in a buck and 2 does. We had litters in the summer, and kept the parents in hutches through the winter. Rabbits are hardy creatures, and easy to keep. They eat roots, apples, and table scraps, and their manure yields wonderful compost.
When we moved to the island, we loaded up a trailer with garden tools and rabbit hutches, determined to live off the land. Slowly, we’ve been beating back the forest, and filling in the granite ditches with “black gold”, the compost from our rabbits.
This past summer, my buck, Buddy, a sweet, golden colored crème D’argent, fathered over 40 rabbits with three does. We had pens of juveniles fertilizing the field of chips, that next year will become more gardens. There is plenty of rabbit in the freezer, it’s a regular menu item.
In France, many families keep rabbits in their backyard, and enjoy the meat quite frequently. We find it to be mild in flavor, and low in fat…tastes like chicken.
Buddy and four does will be with us through the winter. This spring, I’ll continue working on developing a breed of rabbits with specific characteristics. I like rabbits that have good dispositions, keep clean pens, are good mothers and raise large litters that mature to slaughter weight in 15 weeks, and have beautiful pelts.
Rabbits are part of a wonderful circle of creation…they eat our roots and scraps, provide nourishment for the soil, which grows more crops, provides us with food, we raise more rabbits, and start the cycle over again.
BRAISED CHICKEN LEGS WITH LEEKS AND MUSHROOMS
Braising is a cooking method where the food is first browned in a small amount of fat, then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid. I like to use this preparation for any meat still on the bone, chicken legs or thighs, even rabbit legs!
4 – four ounce chicken legs, bone in, skin removed
1 cup chopped leeks *
8 ounces coarsely chopped mushrooms *
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup defatted low sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 garlic clove, finely chopped, about 1 teaspoon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a heavy oven-proof casserole, heat the olive oil on top of the stove. (If you don’t own an oven, stove-top casserole, use a sauté pan and transfer to an oven dish). Remove the skin from the chicken legs and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh pepper. Brown the chicken legs in the hot olive oil. Remove the legs and set aside. Brown the leeks and the chopped garlic in the oil. If they start to stick, deglaze the pan with a little chicken stock. Add the mushrooms and cook them until they start to give up their water. Sprinkle with the dried thyme and sage. Add the remaining chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the chicken legs, put the lid on the casserole (or transfer the mixture to the casserole dish) and bake in the oven until the meat falls off the bone and is tender, about 50 – 60 minutes. Makes four servings.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 231 calories, 26 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fat, 223 mg. sodium, 1 gram fiber.
Meal suggestion: Serve with roasted white and sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli and Tolman Sweet or Liberty applesauce for dessert.
* Don’t have leeks? Use chopped onion instead. Mushrooms like portabellas, shiitakes or oyster will give the dish a more robust flavor, although white button mushrooms may also be used.