Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Some Truly Interesting Squirrel Facts

I realize that I have been somewhat obsessed with the f*@#ing squirrels lately, as they have been somewhat obsessed with me, and frankly I am even starting to scare myself with my blood-thirsty daydreams. It would seem to me that if these creatures were to die in some gruesome manner, and I am not for a minute suggesting that anyone out there engages in squirrel-a-cide, the most ecological and environmental thing to do would be to make use of all parts of the animal. It is reminiscent of the ethical eating in which our First Nations people always engaged. All parts of the creature were used for something-food, clothing, shelter, weaponry, etc. Now, I am not the quintessential carnivore. I can barely tolerate red meat at the best of times and chicken must be served to me off of the bone, otherwise I find myself the victim of some extreme nausea. (That gnawing sound really turns me off!) But I do believe in ethical eating, so it was with some evil sense of amusement that Twin Son's Better Half located the following recipes in some very old, but very mainstream cookbooks. I absolutely swear that these are legitimate. Believe me! Even my twisted brain couldn't have concocted this stuff.

In 1931, Irma S. Rombauer a widow from St. Louis Missouri, needed to find some sort of an income to support herself and her children following her husband's suicide. She compiled a bunch of family recipes and, using illustrations by her daughter Marion and her own money, she self-published the first 3,000 copies of The Joy Of Cooking. Given that it was the Great Depression, Rombauer included many recipes that we today might find slightly on the obscure side, but if it fed an American family during the "Dirty Thirties", it found a home in Rombauer's tome. So I shouldn't have been too shocked to find the following excerpt on pages 453 and 454 of the great American cookbook. (The accompanying illustration is straight from the book as well!)

About Squirrel

Gray squirrels are the preferred ones; red squirrels are small and quite gamey in flavour. There are, proverbially, many ways to skin a squirrel, but some hunters claim the following one is the quickest and cleanest. It needs a sharp knife.

To skin, cut the tail bone through from beneath, but take care not to cut through the skin of the tail. Hold the tail as shown on the left and then cut the skin the width of the back, as shown in the dotted lines. Turn the squirrel over on its back and step on the base of the tail. (I love this part!!) Hold the hind legs in one hand and pull steadily and slowly, as shown in the centre sketch, until the skin has worked itself over the front legs and heat. While holding the squirrel in the same position, pull the remaining skin from the hind legs. Proceed as for Rabbit, page 452, cutting off the head and the feet and removing the internal organs, plus two small glands found in the small of the back and under each foreleg, between the ribs and the shoulders.

Stuff and roast squirrels as for Pigeons, page 475, barding them, or use them in Brunswick Stew or prepare as for braised Chicken. (I always knew that squirrel tasted like chicken!!) Season the gravy with walnut catsup and (here is comes--the best!!) serve with POLENTA!!!

Don't you just love the diagram of the foot on the tail. I think that this is priceless.

As if that wasn't grand enough, we stumbled upon this gem of a book printed way back in 1960.
The Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter of Herter's Waseca, Minnesota (you can't make this stuff up!) was compiled as an ode to the lumber camp and pioneer days of the northern middle states. These cooks learned from each other and old world cooks, and the Herters decided to codify these recipes. On page 39-40 we find a recipe for Belgian Squirrel. (Frankly, all I could think of were squirrels dressed like Agatha Christie's famed detective Hercule Poirot, complete with tiny little waxed moustaches.)

Belgian Squirrel

There are very few people that I have talked to that know something about eating that do not rate squirrel at the top of the list when it comes to eating wild animals. Squirrel meat is light coloured, fine textured, with a mild delicate flavour. Squirrel meat is far superior to venison or moose (Insert moose/squirrel joke here!) and you do not tire of it as easily as you do such meats when you have it for a mor or less steady diet.

I have eaten fried squirrel, roasted squirrel and stewed squirrel in the central, southern and eastern states and I just love them in any of these styles.

If I get to eating too much squirrel, (TOO MUCH SQUIRREL!!) I make sure to have it Belgian style as I never tire of it that way. Be sure to try it this way. I know you will enjoy it a great deal.

The recipe continues on in great detail about cutting the animals into serving pieces, browning them in copious amounts of butter, placing them, browned onions, a lot more butter, water, vinegar, thyme, salt and (wait for it!!) 1 1/2 dozen PRUNES into a deep cooking pot and baking the whole mess in the oven at 325 for 45 minutes. Thickening the sauce after cooking with some flour makes for a nice gravy to go alongside the rodent. Never let it be said that squirrel cooking shouldn't also aid in regularity!

Please understand that I DO NOT advocate the catching, killing or cooking of squirrel, but it is interesting to note that some very fine home cooks adamantly disagree with me. I am not enough of a foodie to even contemplate consuming the beasts. The only squirrel that I want anywhere near me is this one:

He goes well with chocolate MOOSE!

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