Sunday, November 13, 2011

Caldo Ba (Gopher Stew), or Wilderness Foraging LARP

Propoundeth Ein Spawn:

Coincidental with hunting mechanics overtaking my focus in the last couple of days (please check out Talysman's stuff on hunting, gathering and malnutrition/starvation mechanics ... and encourage him to continue with his Liber Zero and Liber Blanc projects, wherein all of this great stuff may be compiled in two awesome places), I was trying to find some images for my disseration and ran across a sequence of photos of me cooking gopher stew in camp in Belize. Just to show that I'm not against capturing and cooking small game here's a little photo essay. The dish is call caldo ba in Spanish/Mopan Maya. One of the project members was paying folks to bring her ba heads for a study, and I eventually told her we should be getting the whole animal (duh, stupid gringos). So a Maya friend of our set some traps and snagged us Mr. Ba.  

Here is his head with hair (part of the study) and the rest of the gutted carcass with the hair singed and scraped off. Fresh ba meat smells a lot like rabbit meat, slightly sweet.

Here's the prep counter/pantry. On the left you see a wa'a leaf with a bunch of fresh culantro that was gathered by another Maya friend. It smells a lot like cilantro (coriander leaf for our UK readers), but is stronger and sharper. Good for caldo! Also the obligatory Belikin stout. 

Here I am prepping the ba and vegetables (I imagine this the sort of prep that The Happy Whisk is always talking about). Ba was cut into 6 pieces so everyone could have a taste, and here is sitting in a bunch of garlic, salt and pepper. Also going in: literal Maya onions, bell peppers and tomatoes.
Now for a bit of browning the ba, onions and garlic. In a crappy aluminum pot! Yay! Why did I not change out of my field clothes, you ask? I probably wasn't digging that day, and had a beer shower (whereby drinking a few stouts makes you feel less dirty than you are).
You gotta problem with that?

Now adding the rest of the veggies.
Cooking gopher stew is a lonely business, my friends. That's the dinner table in the background that slopes violent to the right, and has delightfully warped and splinter-causing benches. Obligatory One Barrel Rum calendar in the background. 
Here's the finished product with the achiote soup stock and culantro added. 
And a portion of caldo ba along with the usual dinner items: rice and salsa, corn tortillas and unidentified breaded object, perhaps a piece of chicken. Overall, quite tasty. There's not a hell of a lot of meat on a gopher, but since these ones eat a lot of fresh corn and so forth, they have a not-so-gamey flavor. I recommend giving it a shot. Bon appetit!


  1. One thing I thought about mentioning was how a small game animal could sustain one person or be added to a stew for 2-3 people (with foraged ingredients or supplies,) which could provide a morale boost. But although I would allow that in my game, I decided it wasn't worth explaining in fiddly detail.

  2. Absolutely. The morale angle had occurred to me and then I lost track of the idea. Meat tastes good and makes people happy. That's a limitation of just looking at everything in terms of caloric returns in OFT models: energy is not necessarily the only currency by which people will rank resources. And sharing meat is an important social behavior, so if you cut in your retainers with equal shares during a time of hardship then they'll tend to be more loyal. I seem to recall that was part of Shackleton's success.

  3. I want to see Giada DeLaurentis cooking gopher, smiling at the camera with her giant head full of chalk teeth, as she chops its head off.

  4. I'll trade ya some of that there food for a few grilled cheeses. Never ate gopher before but now that I'm not a VegHead anymore, I'm eating all kinds of things.

    Made pretty good steaks last night at home.

    Back from prep today. Was a great Sunday. Now I'm off to my own lab to make some kind of home-ground chicken dish with veg and mash on top.

    Happy Cooking.

  5. @Christian: Her vast forehead confuses to the point where I can never follow her recipes.

    @Whisk: Thanks for the Grilled Cheese, I'm sending you a whole gopher all to yourself. I've got a big old pot roast goingin the crock pot this evening. I will gorge myself later.

  6. Very cool post. With deer season starting here in Ohio, I'm looking forward to some similar work in the kitchen.

  7. I love these photo essays from the field! It's like "real-life" D&D (as you suggest in your LARP reference). More please!

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