By ALBERT FENECH
My family name is FENECH and over scores of years it was associated with FENEK, the Maltese word for rabbits – the implications being that those of Fenech descent were rabbit breeders and the family coat of arms was concocted over this.
This has now been discounted and the current understanding is that Fenech came from the word Fenici meaning of Phoenician descent.
Well, whatever – that gets us from nowhere to nowhere.
However, I was brought up with rabbits – as were most Maltese children of my age at the time and this was not for loving and petting reasons but as an easy and handy food supply. In those days there were few apartments and almost all had their own roofs and backyards. Rabbit hatches and cages were common throughout and a dish of fried rabbit was a Sunday lunch speciality or reserved for special occasions.
Every week dozens were slaughtered for the table and in reprospect today, I feel this with intense regrets. Was this human cruelty or as a delicacy for a population mostly trying to survive and overcome poverty? After all, chickens, pigs, beef and fish suffered the same fate …for edible and nutritional purposes.
Switch the scene to Market Rasen in Lincolnshire (above) when and where my father was stationed at the then RAF Faldingworth as an RAF Flt. Lieutenant and responsible for the transport of nuclear armaments in the area.
Then aged 13, for the time we lived there, whatever the weather, I was always an early riser and went for early walks in the countryside. I never ceased to be thrilled by the abundance of wild rabbits crossing my path, running around fields etc.
I made plans to capture one and present it to my dad to “prepare a Malta style fried rabbit galore.”
“No, no, no” he replied sternly, “In no way touch these rabbits. These are not like our own Malta home-grown rabbits but they suffer a disease myxomatosis (as above) which was introduced to kill them off as rabbits were and are causing harm to agricultural production.” This is widely used in Australia and the US as well as in South America and was introduced to retain as “a remedy”.
Many years later as I strode through woods and fields in Horsted Keynes in Sussex, rabbits were abundant but to be killed and left there. They did not tempt me even though I was hankering for a plate of my favourite choice!
Over the years I became inured to the reactions of my British friends whenever I mentioned that fried rabbit was my favourite meal.
Altogether I stayed at Plumpton and Horsted Keynes (often with my wife) with the Genin family for many, many weeks when all put together and naturally, I made many friends.
The beautiful fields of Horsted Keynes
Each time I mentioned our loving of fried rabbit. The reaction was invariably one of aghast dismay.
“You mean you fry and eat cuddly rabbits!? How could you? That’s so cruel.”
On other occasions it was just a simple, disgusted “Yuk!”
Sussex is well-known and famed for its food preparations including Selsey Cockles, and The Chichester Lobster, as well as Sussex Pond Pudding, among many others.
Now, my great Sussex buddy and colleague Lyn Funnell, after much research, has informed me of two Sussex recipes in which fried rabbit is included and prepared and they came to me as a great surprise.
Sadly, she has been informed by a gamekeeper friend that field rabbits have almost totally disappeared. In the past myxomatosis was a great scourge and according to hubby John the increasing presence today of so many birds of prey such as buzzards and sparrow hawks are ensuring to almost obliterate the presence of free-roaming rabbits.
These are the two Sussex recipes:
Stuff your rabbit and truss it, put it in a baking dish with milk and cook slowly for three hours and keep well basted.
Cut up a nice young rabbit in joints, and after soaking well in salted water, put in a saucepan with two or three sliced onions, a little butter and a flat teaspoonful of curry. Stir continuously until well mixed and when simmering well, leave on the side for some time, occasionally stirring.
Then, add a pint of warm milk and water, continue to simmer on a low flame and an hour before eating add pieces of sliced bacon. Total time should take three hours.
Served with boiled rice cooked separately otherwise it will absorb the gravy.
However, before studying these and comparing, I have to affirm that cooked rabbit Maltese style has to be my top dish! Call me uncivilised or unethical but I love eating with my hands and ignoring provided utensils – except a sharp knife!
A further point, if I had restaurant in Malta for the Maltese and offered these Sussex recipes I would be chased OUT of my restaurant at gun point!
Our Maltese cooking includes loads and loads of fresh garlic, friend onions, small bacon pieces and many different herbs and spices and generous pepper sprinkling.
Cut as follows (see above) after washing off all traces of blood: halve the forelegs and back legs; halve the head; separate the interns i.e. liver, heart etc; slice off the flesh on both sides that enfold the carcass and cut into one inch squares and with these mix a couple of bacon rashers sliced in inch squares; cut the remaining ribs of the carcass in two inch pieces.
Douse all the pieces in white wine, a little lemon juice, a little water to have all the pieces properly doused. Sprinkle with oil and pepper and leave to marinate for an hour.
In a dish suitable to hold all the pieces, sprinkle oil carefully to cover the dish bottom and heat on a medium flame. Spread the interns with the sliced pieces and bacon and the two pieces of sliced head and allow to fry gently, turning over frequently. Spread a load of fresh-sliced garlic.
When all these begin to slightly brown, spread the rabbit pieces equally on the dish and continue to cook on medium heat for about ten minutes.
After that, continue to fry on high heat until these brown and begin to sizzle and then voila, serve with chips/roast potatoes and your choice of vegetables. Some like to add tomato puree and then let the whole simmer – not my preference!