Lena Busam: The Hasenpfeffer Huntress Of Elmwood Place

The idea of a woman hunter was so unusual in 1915 that The Cincinnati Post [11 December 1915] was positively breathless in its description.

Portrait of Lena Busam
Portrait of Lena Busam

From the Cincinnati Post, 11 December 1915; extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

“There are many Cincinnati girls, no doubt, who can prepare that German gastronomic joy known as ‘hasenpfeffer,’ but there are few of these who can go afield with a gun and secure the chief ingredient of the dish – rabbit.”

The huntress in question was Miss Lena Busam, 31, who shared a home with her family at 304 Oak Street in Elmwood Place, just a few doors from the railroad tracks. Lena lived with her widowed mother and two younger brothers: Joseph Junior, who worked as a switchman for the railroads, and Albert, who worked in a coal yard as clerk and wagon driver. Her brothers hunted, and Lena did, too.

The Cincinnati Post reported that Lena had recently returned from a hunting trip to Indiana with her brothers and eight male cousins. Lena bagged 29 rabbits the first day and ended up bringing home more rabbits than any of the men on the expedition. There were few sporting goods stores around Cincinnati who catered to female hunters, so Lena sewed her own hunting outfit of dark brown corduroy. It featured a divided skirt, the better to climb fences.

On returning to town from Indiana, Lena changed into kitchen attire and began cooking her famous hasenpfeffer. The Post did not report on any of her brothers or cousins assisting with the cooking (that would have been a true curiosity), so we may surmise that they saved their energy for eating Lena’s cuisine.

Lena told The Post how she became a hunter:

“‘I used to be afraid of a gun, but one day I shot a gray squirrel that a dog had treed and I became a convert,’ said Miss Busam. “It is very exciting and the tramping thru the open air is fine for the health. I use an old double-barrel shotgun that belonged to my father.”

Lena’s father, Joseph, had died just two years prior from pneumonia. Until his death, Joseph Busam managed the same coal yard where Lena’s brother worked.

Here is Lena Busam’s century-old and traditional recipe for hasenpfeffer, as reported by the Post:

“Allow two rabbits for five people, wash and clean and soak overnight in a pan of water and vinegar in which one onion, two tablespoonfuls of allspice, salt and pepper, four bay leaves, one carrot, celery and a few slices of bacon have been placed. Boil for several hours, then strain off the vegetables and make a rich gravy of browned flour. Pour the gravy over the rabbit and serve with dumplings.”

This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities

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