When my Dad was growing up in the woods of Northern Ontario he learned a great deal about those things that were edible in his environment and those that were not. Much of that knowledge was passed down to him from his parents although he did confess that whenever my Grandma Landry pointed out something that was poisonous and warned him away from it when he was a boy, he usually ended up taking a bite of it as soon as her back was turned. He was always careful not to swallow but his curiosity demanded that he see for himself what it tasted like.
Once my younger brother, Tom, and I were old enough to tag along on hikes through the woods with Dad, he would point out the things he’d learned as a boy. We tried what he called winterberries and thought they tasted a little like minty toothpaste. We learned to recognize and enjoy eating the leaves of a plant he named sour grass. He declared that he and his brothers and sisters had grown up chewing spruce gum instead of the gumballs we were so fond of so we tried that as well. I can’t say it tempted me to make a habit of it. It was chewy all right but it tasted like medicine of the most unpleasant sort.
Our favorite part of any day in the woods with my Dad was when we stopped for lunch. After our experimental nibbles on the plants Dad showed us, the food we’d brought from home looked awfully tempting. He would set us to gathering sticks to make a fire so he could put water on to boil. He had an old tomato juice can rigged with a wire handle that he could set on a stone near the flames with a couple of tea bags tossed in. It was perfect for making bush tea if you didn’t mind a few bits of ash floating in the brew. He would cut and sharpen some sticks so we could toast our bologna sandwiches and nothing ever tasted better.
We were looking forward to our usual lunch on one of our many fishing trips with Dad so when the sun stood directly overhead we began looking for a good spot to pull the canoe out of the water. The lake we were on was a small one and the spot we chose had a rocky point where we could cast in our lines and fish from the shore for a while before we headed back out. We were just getting ready to start the fire when one of us asked Dad if he’d ever tasted frog legs.
“Sure,” he replied with a shrug. “They taste like chicken.”
Tom and I looked at each other and it was plain that our thoughts were racing along in tandem.
I leaned a little closer. “How did you cook them…the frogs?”
“You find me a nice big bullfrog and I’ll show you.”
“Can we take the canoe?” Tom asked.
Dad waved his hand in the general direction of the lake and we jumped to our feet and scrambled to launch the boat. There was a little bay choked with cattails and tall grass that looked like a perfect haven for frogs and we lost no time heading in that direction.
There was an old saying that helped when it came to identifying a frog by the sound it made. Small frogs could be heard to pipe out with a shrill “Too deep! Too deep!” where a bullfrog would croak out with a deep bass “Go round! Go round!” That “Go round!” was what we were listening for as we eased the canoe through the lily pads and reeds close to shore.
We did find the bullfrog we wanted but grabbing it without tipping ourselves into the water was next to impossible. We just couldn’t get near enough. It took several attempts at a stealthy approach before Tom, losing patience, suddenly swung his paddle in a whistling overhead arc, giving the frog a whack on the head that was surely lethal. It left him floating belly up and within our reach at last. It was a simple matter to retrieve our prize and head back across the lake to where Dad was waiting.
We were nearly there when Tom shouted a warning and I twisted around to see that the corpse in the bottom of the canoe was starting to twitch and then struggling to right itself. For a few moments chaos reigned while we tried to reach the frog without capsizing the boat. Bullfrogs are slippery and this one was particularly frantic. Perhaps he had an inkling of our murderous intent because he put the very legs that we’d been hoping to taste to excellent use and leaped right out of the canoe to disappear in the waters below.
We never did get to taste frog legs on that day or any other. It was back to bologna sandwiches for us.