Updated: Apr 20, 2022
Sensuality is the key to life, and we use a considerable portion of our lives in search of tastes that satisfy our desires. If you are looking for new ways to stimulate your love for life, you most likely did not miss Stanley Tucci’s ‘Searching for Italy.’ The first episode, ‘Naples and the Amalfi Coast,’ was aired in February 2021. One prominent culinary fixture during the show was ‘Coniglio alla cacciatora,’ hunter’s rabbit, a popular staple food throughout Europe since wild hares are abundant. (1) All twenty Italian regions have their own version of cooking rabbit cacciatore, and we are not counting the various provincial variations! It has become a masterpiece on Italian tables, and if you grow up there, chances are that you have eaten it at one time or another.
If you grow up in the USA, your encounter with rabbits is far from what children experience in Italy. My children loved growing up in a two-family house on Carroll Street, Watertown. They went up and down the stairs and through the basement as if it was one home, thinking it was their everlasting kingdom. And about the backyard? In the twenties, it was an apple orchard, and Bostonians traveled there to pick apples. For my children growing up in the seventies, it was their private playground: swings, a portable pool, a vegetable garden, and, one day, a rabbit pen. My father built it for two rabbits, but for reasons that don’t need to be explained, he had to expand it. As a result, my children, Graziella and Antonio, had their own pet rabbits to play with. What else would you want as a child?
As it was customary on Carroll Street, every Sunday, at lunch, we united all members of the family in eating lunch around a large table in the basement playroom. There were no Sundays lunches without ‘Pasta e Pomodoro’ and a cyclical variety of specially prepared meats: braciole, cotolette, polpettine. My mother enjoyed having everyone together and overdid herself to please all of us.
On a particular Sunday between Spring and Summer, but being New England, it must have been June since it was warmer, my father pointed to Graziella and Antonio with his usual dry sense of humor and blustered, “Do you know what you just ate?” My dumbfounded children looked at him mesmerized. Finally, not getting an answer, my father put on a big sly smile and concluded, “You just ate your pet rabbit!”
I don’t know what my children felt in their hearts. Shame? Dismay? Horror? They thought they were eating chicken, but they were eating their pet rabbit. How could my mother be so complicit with my father and allow this culinary event?
It was a mismatched conspiracy. My mother told my dad to pick a rabbit to be cooked for lunch, and my mother did not know that my father had picked Graziella and Antonio’s favorite rabbit. (3)
Still, today I wonder. Were my children traumatized? How did Graziella and Antonio manage to deal with their unexpected ordeal? Did they ever recover from the moment they heard that they ate their pet rabbit?
There is a 5 x 5 painting of a rabbit hanging in my bedroom. It is the first conceptual connection, my son, Antonio Adriano Puleo made with his art. It is titled, “When I Was A Kid, Me and My Sister Graziella Ate Our pet Rabbit.” (4) Every time the painted rabbit and I connect, I sense that it is vibrantly proud to be alive in the present.
On the morning of Easter of Anno Domini 2022, while rearranging trash barrels in my backyard, I noticed a tiny baby rabbit hiding, crawling up and shaking behind them. It must have gotten lost from its burrow and trying to keep warm. I carefully placed it in a small container adaptable for pets and kept it warm in the garage, ensuring it could find its way back to its safe burrow, keeping the garage door open. The following day, I got up to see what fate might have taken place. It was nice to see that the baby rabbit was gone. Did it find its way home? I keep my fingers crossed.
My daughter, Graziella Letizia Puleo, loves to keep pets alive: turtles, geckos and anything that moves her heart. My son, Antonio Adriano Puleo, is a vegetarian.
1. In ‘Tucci’s ‘Naples and Amalfi Coast,’ the hunter’s rabbit focused specifically on ‘Coniglio all”Ischitana,’ a specific wild rabbit found only in the heights of the hills on the island of Ischia.
2. Younger rabbits are healthier and tastier than older rabbits.
3. The rabbits kept on multiplying and to keep the population under control in the pen, my parents regularly, at least for a while, cooked a rabbit.
4. The painting was my son, Antonio Adriano Puleo, first conceptual/familial connection in 1998.