Out of Bounds

Any Meat

Tasty or not, and despite my willingness to try just about any food, I can’t imagine enjoying opossum

By Rob Breeding

A friend woke up to a clamor in the yard this morning. There was an opossum in her garbage can.

She posted a photo of the beast on social media, sharing along with the image a video she took when I surprised her with an opossum coffee mug a while back. I’d learned she was fond of the critters, and she solves problems for me at work, so I wanted to get her something.

We all have online personas, a forward-facing slice of ourselves we hope creates a favorable impression. My online persona is mostly a smart-alecky wise guy, so my comment asked if she “ate it.”

My Fixer is far less juvenile than I. But she also likes opossums, so I supposed her maturity is balanced out by her quirkiness.

Opossums are just plain weird. They passed for the local wildlife in the city during my California days. You’d see them late at night, wandering the neighborhood, looking for garbage cans to rummage through. Maybe I didn’t miss them much, but once I moved to Montana I never noticed they weren’t around. That absence held as I moved about the Northern Rockies. Instead, there were raccoons, everywhere.

But opossums are out here on the Great Plains, though I don’t often encounter them. A few years back I noticed one hissing at me from the top of a fence post as I tried to keep pace with my English setter Doll out hunting ahead. And last season I watched my latest setter, Jade, get birdy then go on point. When I made my way to her, I saw she’d locked up on a curled opossum lying in the grass, playing dead.

My “joke” about eating the opossum isn’t so far-fetched. In addition to the recent eat-all-meat movement that has manifested itself in the revisiting of wild proteins we haven’t consumed since the pioneer era, apparently there is a tradition of opossum feasts. Especially opossum with sweet potatoes.

Other than the eating-opossum aspect, that pairing kind of makes culinary sense. Opossums are marsupials, and marsupials generally prefer warmer, more southern climates than much of the United States. In fact, U.S. opossums range farther north than any other marsupial. They drifted north from South America, where giant marsupials once dominated the continent.

Sweet potatoes are also a southern species, as I learned in my Montana gardening phase. I never tried growing them since they are planted from starts and the seed companies won’t ship them to folks who live in Zone 4.

Anyway, the pairing was popular when opossums were regularly hunted for food. President Taft even attended a Possum and Taters banquet in 1909 held in his honor. But by the time I was dodging opossums on the streets of Southern California in the 1980s, they had fallen from culinary favor.

Not surprisingly, the meat is said to taste like chicken. In the Caribbean, opossum is often smoked, then stewed, a combination of cooking techniques that often suggests the chef is covering for something.

Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if opossum isn’t as inedible as its scruffy, rodent-like appearance suggests. They’re omnivorous foragers, and probably eat their fair share of tasty things, like game bird eggs. 

Also, the Virginia opossum — the species found in the U.S. — is immune to snake venom and will hunt and eat vipers, so they are good for that at least.

Tasty or not, and despite my willingness to try just about any food, I can’t imagine enjoying opossum. Part of the joy of eating isn’t the taste alone, but instead the aesthetics of eating. I can get excited about wild quail or venison. But opossum? Through the entire cooking process, all I’d see is that pointy face, with its maw of 50 sharp teeth.

So the Fixer was right again. If you start them young enough, opossums apparently make decent pets.