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"That Delicate Little Animal": Catching frogs for sale in Holland Landing

Here at the library, we hope you got together with family and friends and ate things like turkey, chicken, and other delicious foods. This week’s local history post is food themed for that reason! In the 19th and early 20th century, Holland Landing used to be a prime location for finding and eating an unconventional type of food – the humble frog! Are you surprised? This was a fascinating revelation for the author here at the library!


Humans have been eating frogs for thousands of years: remnants of their bones have been found in archeological digs in England, France, Switzerland, and Germany. Written records indicate that they were eaten in southern China around the first century CE, and were also considered a delicacy by the Aztec people. We also know that during the Middle Ages, frog’s legs were eaten in the 12th century by monks living in the Lorraine region of France; the reason for this is that frogs were not classified as meat and thus could be eaten during the Christian feast time of Lent. The famous 19th century French chef and author Grimod de La Reynière (1758 – 1837) stated that frogs were more commonly known as Alouettes de Carême, or “Lenten larks”.



Figure 1: Watercolor painting of a bull frog from Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina (London, 1754), plate 72. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica.


Since the area surrounding Holland Landing was home to both cedar and tamarack swamp, which is a perfect environment in which to hunt frogs as they tend to live in damp and marshy swampland. In Volume 22 of a publication of a business journal known as the British Trade Journal and Export World, noted that a new Canadian industry had sprung up in Holland Landing to take advantage of new American tastes in gastronomy. It reported that boys would go into the marsh to hunt frogs, and then would be sent to Barrie where “the legs are cut off, and the animals skinned and sent across the United States boundary to Detroit, Chicago, and other large American cities, where there is a great demand for them.” (1884, Page 499).[1] These frog legs were destined for high-end restaurants and hotels in the US. The frog season would begin in the summer and last until the onset of winter. On June 3rd, the Newmarket Era reported that “The frog season has commenced and they are being sent down to the city by the wholesale every day”.[2]


In 1902 it was stated that a frog farm in Ontario produced 5,000 pounds of dressed legs and 7,000 pounds of frogs used for scientific purposes, and in the marshy swamp of the Holland River area “three or four hundred dollars worth of frogs’ legs are captured yearly, so it is said.”[3] Ten years later, a writer for Maclean’s magazine affirmed that eating frogs was a money-making export food, especially into the United States. The price of frogs for purchase varied, with the price of dressed legs being “12 to 50 cents a pound, and live frogs from 5 cents to $4 a dozen.”[4] The Maclean's article also notes that the three popular varieties of edible frog are the Bull Frog (rana catesbeiana), the green frog (rana clamata) and the Spring frog (Rana virescens). This industry likely declined in the 1940's and 50's when the Holland Marsh was drained and converted into agricultural farmland, rather than remaining a swamp.


Given its popularity as a food item, there are many recipes for cooking frogs' legs; as an example of how a frog might be cooked, here is a recipe from an 1893 cookbook focused on French cuisine for American households, called “Grenouilles frittes” or “fried frogs”. It comes from a cookbook entitled “La cuisine française: French cooking for every home, adapted to American requirements”[5], written by Francoise Tanty and digitized by the Michigan State University Library.


"PROPORTIONS: for five persons.

Frogs – 3 dozen,

Milk – 3 glasses full,

Flour – 3 tablespoons full,

Lemon – 1.

Butter – Enough to fry with.

Time: ½ hour.


PREPARATION: 1st, Have ready skinned frogs or do as follows: skin the frogs, keep only the hind legs and the quarters, and let them stand in fresh water for one hour to whiten the flesh. 2d, dip them in milk, roll in flour and then fry in butter until well colored. Serve with a lemon cut in four."


Do you have any memories of hunting for frogs in Holland Landing, or any frog recipes your family has handed down to you? Let us know in the comments below!

[1] https://bit.ly/3aC909h [2] https://news.ourontario.ca/newmarket/2406665/page/1220301?q=frogs+OR+legs+OR+Holland+OR+Landing [3] https://news.ourontario.ca/newmarket/2425094/page/1241021?q=frogs+OR+legs+OR+Holland+OR+Landing [4] Sibley, C. Lintern, (1912, September 1). “The Frog in Canadian Diet”. Maclean’s Magazine. Retrieved from https://archive.macleans.ca/article/1912/9/1/the-frog-in-canadian-diet [5] https://d.lib.msu.edu/fa/31#page/58/mode/2up


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