Oh, those amphibious legs! Delicious fried frog legs! They taste somewhat like the other white meats such as fish or chicken. Frog legs have an epicurean experience of their own. If you have ever been around Missouri fishermen or outdoor game men and women that know the rivers like the back of their hands, well you will appreciate how those frog legs got onto your plate, a real river-to-plate story.
The Franklin County family farm was a weekend getaway place for some city folks. It had a few outbuildings with tractors and equipment as well as a big 2-room cabin built above the Bourbeuse River. Uncle Floyd and Grandpa George furnished the cabin with white kitchen cabinets, a long dining table and chairs, metal military-like bunk beds, pull-out couches with roll-out beds on the screened porch. Summer family sleepovers could include 8 adults and at least that many kids. With all the family together, sleep was not guaranteed those nights. If it wasn’t the family, it was the Baby Ben wind-up clock’s irregular rhythm tick, tick, tick, tock, tick, tick, tock, tock, tock, tock … that would keep an eye open throughout the night.
Aunt Emma always said, “if you want to marry into this family, you have to catch a bullfrog with your bare hand.” The tradition carried through many generations since the 1940’s. Cousin Karen and your fiancée Manny set aside a summer Saturday night with her father, my Uncle Floyd to go frogging on the Bourbeuse River. That weekend the July humidity and clouds built up keeping everything soupy. The hot summer day finally cooled down 5 degrees with sundown. Those clouds may let loose rain anytime that night.
On the front porch Uncle Floyd and Uncle Bernie gathered hip waders, flashlights, and carbide lights. Outside near the water pump, the empty gunny sacks awaited the bull frogs that were to be caught that night. Karen and Manny finished their last gulp of well water from the communal enamelware cup when her dad and uncle came off the porch and handed them each a flashlight and a carbide light to put on their heads. Each gathered a gunny sack and headed down the trail to the river. That night the moon hid behind the clouds, so those flashlights were handy getting down the rocky trail. Two canoes sat on the sandy bank waiting for the four froggers.
Karen climbed into one canoe with her dad, and Manny went with Uncle Bernie. Down the river they quietly paddled. With their carbide lights on their heads, the four froggers’ eyes were peeled for those frogs. They could hear those critters croak. They banked in a cove where “bloop, bloop” sounds kept up. The bullfrogs were jumping into the river to avoid the visitors. Tall Uncle Floyd led the way into the river, kept the river water below his hip waders while looking for those peepers. Short Uncle Bernie forgets, and one big “bloop” drops down until the river waters are just below his eyes and carbide light. Yes, he is about a foot shorter than Uncle Floyd. Karen and Manny make note and keep closer to the riverbank while wading the Bourbeuse.
Uncle Floyd catches the first bullfrog that night. “Splat”, his big hand flattens over the bullfrog on the overhanging tree branch and swoops the amphibian into his gunny sack. Uncle Bernie catches his first soon after. He’s got to keep up. Manny finally catches his first ever bullfrog for family initiation. Excited, he repeats his strategy to catch another 5 bullfrogs for a dinner. A half dozen bullfrogs makes a dozen fried frog legs. That would make one meal. Karen had been out frogging with her family before, so she let Manny keep his good luck going. Later that night she caught a few bullfrogs, too.
After about a dozen bullfrogs hopping inside each gunny sack, the clouds opened wide. Heavy raindrops turned into a gush of a storm after a loud clap of thunder. All four froggers jumped into their canoes, the three men were paddling as fast as they could. All Karen could think was to cover her head with her gunny sack of frogs as the raindrops hurt coming down as her father was paddling at a fast pace. Lightning and thunder only heightened the urgency to get up that slippery hill and into the cabin. Karen realized as she got onto the front porch that her hair and clothes smelled like river water and frogs. A fragrance only country folks don’t mind, this city girl wished she was home.
After the storm blew over, the four froggers went out to the fillet board hung between two tree trunks. Seasoned after many fishing and frogging seasons at the river, knife cuts decorated the board. Uncle Floyd and Uncle Bernie had hung the gunny sacks with ropes, and had Karen and Manny swing the gunny sack of frogs into the tree trunks to stun the bullfrogs. Uncle Bernie pulled the first bullfrog out, laid him on the fillet board, and with one whack of a sharp knife, the bullfrog was beheaded. The bullfrog’s eyes blinked, mouth opened to croak, but no sound. Uncle Floyd finished filleting the bullfrog, and the legs were put into an enamelware bowl of salted water sitting on the board.
Another night of frogging provided enough frog legs for the big fry. The ladies of the family got the fixings together while the men dipped the frog legs in a cornmeal batter and fried them up crispy in cast-iron skillets filled with hot oil. Frog legs, corn-on-the-cob, potato salad, gelatin salad, skillet cornbread, green beans cooked in bacon and onions, and of course, a choice of pies and brownies delighted the palates of at least sixteen hungry town and country folks that hot July weekend. What an experience, all for a fresh frog leg dinner in the middle of summer at the family cabin up the hill from the Bourbeuse River. Unforgettable.