It will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed WDTPRS for a while that I am no great lover of squirrels.
Yes… I know this might lose me some votes in the 2008 Weblog Awards election… (VOTE FOR ME!) … but I do admit it.
I don’t like them.
So I was quite amused when a reader sent me a link to this article in
Hell’s Bible… er um… the New York Times.
January 7, 2009
Saving a Squirrel by Eating One
By MARLENA SPIELER
RARE roast beef splashed with meaty jus, pork enrobed in luscious crackling fat, perhaps a juicy, plump chicken … [so far so good] these are feasts that come to mind when one thinks of quintessential British food. Lately, however, a new meat is gracing the British table: squirrel.
Though squirrel has appeared occasionally in British cookery, history doesn’t deem it a dining favorite. Even during World War II and the period of austerity that followed, the Ministry of Food valiantly promoted the joys of squirrel soup and pie. British carnivores replied, “No, thank you.” [No!]
These days, however, in farmers’ markets, butcher shops, village pubs and elegant restaurants, squirrel is selling as fast as gamekeepers and hunters can bring it in. [I am on board so far.]
“Part of the interest is curiosity and novelty,” said Barry Shaw of Shaw Meats, who sells squirrel meat at the Wirral Farmers Market near Liverpool. “It’s a great conversation starter for dinner parties.” [Yes… I suspect it is.]
While some have difficulty with the cuteness versus deliciousness ratio — that adorable little face, those itty-bitty claws [blech] — many feel that eating squirrel is a way to do something good for the environment while enjoying a unique gastronomical experience. [Yes! Offing a squirrel helps everyone!]
With literally millions of squirrels rampaging throughout England, Scotland and Wales at any given time, squirrels need to be controlled by culls. [euphemism] This means that hunters, gamekeepers, trappers and the Forestry Commission (the British equivalent of forest rangers) provide a regular supply of the meat to British butchers, restaurants, pâté [!] and pasty makers and so forth.
The situation is more than simply a matter of having too many squirrels. [a relative concept] In fact, there is a war raging in Squirreltown: invading interlopers (gray squirrels introduced from North America over the past century or more) are crowding out a British icon, the indigenous red squirrel immortalized by Beatrix Potter and cherished by generations since. The grays take over the reds’ habitat, eat voraciously and harbor a virus named squirrel parapox (harmless to humans) that does not harm grays but can devastate reds. (Reports indicate, though, that the reds are developing resistance.) [Death to them, say!]
“When the grays show up, it puts the reds out of business,” said Rufus Carter, managing director of the Patchwork Traditional Food Company, a company based in Wales that plans to offer squirrel and hazelnut pâté [hmmm] on its British Web site, patchwork-pate.co.uk.
Enter the “Save Our Squirrels” campaign begun in 2006 to rescue Britain’s red squirrels by piquing the nation’s appetite for their marauding North American cousins. [good idea!] With a rallying motto of “Save a red, eat a gray!” the campaign created a market for culled squirrel meat. [I wonder if this… could it have been inspired by "Say the Black…" … no… ]
British bon vivants suddenly couldn’t get enough squirrel. Television chefs [I wonder about internet streaming priests who cook!] were preparing it, cookbooks were extolling it, farmers’ markets were selling out of it and restaurants in many places were offering it on the menu.
Meanwhile gamekeepers, hunters and trappers were happy to know that the meat was being eaten, not wasted. “My lads don’t like to kill an animal if it’s not going to be eaten,” [well…] Mr. Shaw said of the hunters who bring him game.
Many enjoy squirrel, however, simply because they like its taste. Mr. Carter said he didn’t know what he was eating when he tried it. But, he said, “at first bite, I thought it delicious.” Patchwork will send squirrel pâté, by the way, in return for a donation to “Save Our Squirrels” — but only within Britain.
If you want to grab your shotgun, make sure you have very good aim — squirrels must be shot in the head; a body shot renders them impossible to skin or eat. (You want to get rid of the head in any event, as squirrel brains have been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad cow disease.)
Skinning a squirrel is “difficult and unpleasant,” the food writer Leslie Mackley said, adding, “You have to fight to rip the skin from the flesh.”
There is more, and you can go find the article. This the essence.