The Agouti or cayman rabbit was one of the dishes that was traditionally cooked for Sunday dinner.
Historically, the Agouti or what Caymanians refer to as Cayman rabbit, was the meat source in the 1950s along with pond fowl, crab and chickens.
“In fact there were so many rabbits running loose on the Island the government was shelling out big bucks – three shillings and bullets for every head brought in,” said one-time hunter Olson Levy.
“When the fellows found out they could make good money from hunting, a sport which they enjoyed, they came up with a way to weasel a few more shillings out of Government’s pocket,” chortled Olson remembering the scenario.
“In order to get more money the guys would split the rabbit heads in two and leave the carcasses sitting in a bag for a few days before they took it in. Can you imagine the stench when they went to collect the money, This forced Governments’s paymasters to pinch their noses as they quickly handed out he money, refusing to even look, much less check on the number of heads as they told the men to find someplace to bury the stinking lot,” he said.
Introduced to the Islands by early settlers as a source of food, rabbits were hunted in the backlands of Cayman. Today, these once shy rodents can be seen in gardens and backyards as their habitat is slowly being replaced by infrastructure.
Food was scare in those days, the older folks will say, whatever was found on the land that could be eaten they ate. If they thought the Cayman rabbit was a part of the rodent family, it was not spoken about. All I knew was my father would not eat it.
As a child I remember my brother Olson hunting rabbit for Sunday dinner. Late in the evening when the men went hunting, residents could hear the far off pop of a rifle, which signalled that someone would be having rabbit dinner that Sunday.
Bagging a rabbit takes patience with a rifle or a snare. I remember Olsen spending many hours perched in the crook of a mango tree waiting for a rabbit to come along and feed.
The women’s preparation of the cuts of seasoned rabbit was an art in itself with recipes lovingly handed from their forefathers.
The ladies even chose which district to get their rabbits because of the tenderness of the meat. “I never wanted the tough stringy rabbits Uncle Che Che brought from East End,” said Bodden Town resident Corine Rankine. They were the skinniest rabbits I ever did see and took forever to cook. “I have not gotten a good rabbit or pond fowl to cook in years.”
Corine misses the late Dougmore Robinson for his hunting skills in bagging a good rabbit and making sure it was well cleaned of hairs, which she bought at $8-$10 Saturday evening for Sunday’s dinner.
“I love rabbit stew when it’s well seasoned and properly cooked, it is very tasty but rabbits are not hunted as frequent as they were in those days. Most of the older folks who hunted rabbits have all died off and the younger generation say they look too much like rats.”
The men who hunted rabbit for their families usually get together over beer to tell rabbit jokes. Olson shared one recently. He said after trapping a rabbit he decided to give it to a couple of friends – Crosby, Max and Amond. When they came to pick up the rabbit he said it escaped as the three friends who were quite tipsy at the time they tried to coral the rabbit. It bit one on the hand, ran up Amond’s pants leg and out through the waist and shot off for the bushes in a flash never to be seen again by either man.
To clean rabbit, dip it in hot water and scrape the fur.
“The best thing to cook rabbit with is coconut oil,” said Corine.
Cut rabbit up in pieces like you do chicken and wash with vinegar and warm water.
Season rabbit with Scotch bonnet, season and bell peppers, onions, season salt and black pepper.
Add oil to skillet and brown rabbit parts. When rabbit is brown, add enough water to cover the rabbit and let simmer for one and a half hours.
“If the rabbit is a tender one it should not take no longer than that to cook,” said Corine.