January 30, 2016
This lithograph by A.B Frost is from the New York Public Library collection – and it stopped me cold. This depiction of the game stall at the Fulton Street Market in 1878 is proof that New Yorkers once ate just about everything that moved. Look closely and you can see a small bear hanging from the rafters, as well as a bird that looks a lot like a crane.
The truth is that hunters slaughtered so many animals that by the end of the nineteenth century wild species populations were starting to collapse. (It’s estimated that when Columbus arrived on this continent there were thirty million deer; by 1900 the population was down to 350,000.) In response to the crisis the commercial sale of wild game was banned.
Black bears are once more rampant, and although they’re hunted in the fall, they’re more likely to turn into trophy rugs than dinner. (Should you catch one and decide to eat it, be sure to cook it well; bear meat harbors trichinosis.)
What do bears taste like? According to The Market Assistant, an 1867 digest of “every article of human food sold in the public markets” of New York, Philadelphia and Boston, it’s “rather luscious but savory eating.”
Unlikely to pick up a bow and arrow and head for the woods? You might want to console yourself by reading Paul Freedman’s account of his trip to Slovenia ; he’d been hoping to try dormice, but had to console himself with a small bear.
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