The other red meat

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.
 

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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48 Responses to The other red meat

  1. Megan says:

    bahahaha, this is perfect! :) I must admit, I had the same thought about the “save a red, eat a gray” being inspired by you, Father. And your comment about offing squirrels helping everyone caused me to burst into much-needed laughter. Thanks for the hilarious post :)

  2. Kradcliffe says:

    Father, while you were saying Mass the other day, I was telling some people in the chat room about another clergyman who was plagued by squirrels. The rector of an Episcopal church in my hometown was really having a tough time keeping the squirrels at bay. They were an utter menace. He tried just about every legal, humane means he could, to no avail. It was awful.

    Then, he got an idea: he rounded up all the squirrels and baptized them as Episcopalians. Now, he only sees them at Christmas and Easter.

  3. cuaguy says:

    Since this is about squirrels, here is an article about albino squirrels:
    http://inside.cua.edu/story2.cfm

  4. Martin says:

    “Save a red, eat a gray!”

    Like it.

    But you’d have to be something special to shoot a squirrel in the head.

  5. joanofarcfan says:

    That’s what they get for introducing the English sparrow here:)

    http://www.50birds.com/BPEnglishSparrow.htm

    Father, you need a “Stop-A-Squirrel” bird feeder. But watch it closely because when the squirrels can’t get at the food, they can wreck the feeder. It must be solidly anchored.

    http://www.squirrelproof-birdfeeders.com/squirrel-proof-bird-feeder-super-stop-a-squirrel.aspx

  6. joe says:

    I’m of two minds.

    1- Squirrels (at least grey ones) are quite tasty. (Really!) A certain orthodox Jesuit acquaintance of mine makes a mean squirrel gumbo. Even hyper-chef Gordon Ramsay’s gotten on board:

    http://www.unitednathanproductions.com/blog/2007/09/squirrels-for-food-gordon-ramsays-f.html

    2- If hatred for squirrels is severe, I’d advocate crucifying them all along the Via Appia.

    -J.

  7. Aelric says:

    Your position will gain my vote. Squirrels are cute at a distance, but when it comes to defending bird feeders against them, they are the pawns of the devil. I concede, however, a begrudging, though illogical,* admiration for the perfection of their skills of pilferage.

    Your previous caption put it perfectly: The Enemy.

    *c.f. Mr. Spock’s surprise in the original series that Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty could admire yet be opposed to Khan.

  8. Charles Sommer says:

    Fr. Z,

    My grandfather of blessed memory used to “take care” of the squirrels in his backyard…though without the culinary usage. I think he would love this post.

  9. Phil (NL) says:

    Father, now I wonder: what’s your opinion on Scrat ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrat ) ? On the one hand there’s no kind of abuse he doesn’t suffer, so that should warm a squirrel-hater’s heart, yet on the other hand he never bites the dust permanently.

  10. mao now says:

    eating squirrels is part of the culinary landscape here in good ol Louisiana! Nothing new here. The season opens in October and runs until January. My Uncle used to make A mean Sauce piquant out of the meat! and i have seen the heads battered and deep fried, then cracked open to extract the brains (does NOT taste like chicken)…So the Brits are just now discovering this delicacy?…A mad race, the English…:)

  11. Phil: I am highly in favor of Scrat, and all fictional squirrels!

  12. joe says:

    mao now,

    Not only squirrel, our British cousins are also discovering crawfish.

    (I have a link somewhere…)

  13. So, will we be expecting the following on your wishlist soon?

    http://www.internet-grocer.net/squirrel2.htm

  14. BobP says:

    Say what you want but they’re still creatures of God. Frankly I like
    to have them visit in my backyard along with their rabbit and bird friends.

    St. Francis of Assisi, please pray for us.

  15. Subvet says:

    If God didn’t want us to eat squirrels He wouldn’t have made them out of meat.

  16. Eric says:

    Being from SE Kentucky I have enjoyed squirrel quite often. They are not as hard to clean as this article would have you think. (rabits are easier but not much)

    Also, I heard the slogan “save a red, eat a gray” barely beat out “squirrel, the other yellow meat” :-)

  17. Squirrel recipes are common in British air rifle magazines. Sure wish I hadn’t wasted all of that time relocating >220 from my back yard.
    Hearing about their legendary skill at returning from great distances, I chose a Methodist Cemetery across the river and sprayed them any florescent color I could find for good measure. It barely made a dent. All greys with the exception of one melanistic black (a phenomenon much more common in Westchester County.)

  18. I have eaten squirrel soup before, and it was mighty good. My brother doesn’t like the squirrels much either, and he has filled the freezer. I’ve even taken some back with me to school. They aren’t kidding when they say that squirrel meat is a conversation starter!

  19. Alan says:

    Squirrels are just Tree Rats with Good PR.

  20. Gloria says:

    My yard in Grass Valley sees ground squirrels and gray squirrels. I feed both along with the myriad ground feeding birds (along with my hanging feeder visitors). However, I’m in possession of my Grandmother’s 22 Winchester rifle, hex barrel, pump action, 1898, with which she dispatched squirrels and rabbits for the table. Visiting Missouri back in ’46, I was treated (?) to a dinner featuring squirrels that my uncle had just brought in from the fields that day. He indeed cracked the head open for the brains. EWWW! But the rest of the meat was really good, I have to say. I have a deer hunting daughter, but I keep my shooting to target practice, just in case.

  21. tim mccarthy says:

    Dear Father Z.,
    Being one-half Zenese ( Genovese ) here’s my Ma’s recipe for scoiattolo cacciatore; Skin and clean the critters. In a dutch oven with half butter and half olive oil brown them thoroughly. Season them with rosemary, garlic, basil, salt and pepper, remove from dutch oven and put on a plate. Brown porcini mushrooms and remove them from the heat. Return the critters to the dutch oven add the mushrooms on top, then add some good dry white wine, flame and when it subsides, cover and lower heat to continue the cooking for twenty to thirty minutes. Serve with polenta split in the middle and gruyere cheese. Cut the polenta in half through with a string and place the cheese in the middle returning the top piece of polenta.
    I’ve never done squirrel but it cant be tougher than rabbit, or you can cook for forty minutes if still tough.

  22. Allison says:

    Oh Father, my kids were becoming such fans of your Don Camillo podcasts! If I tell them this, they’ll turn on you. :)

    They would rather feed the squirrels than the birds.

  23. michael szunyogh says:

    Hey I used to be a squirrel lovin’ pacifist until we moved into a place with an attic overrun by grey squirrels. Doing a little research I understood two things PETA won’t tell you 1) these little bastards have two breeding seasons a year and 2) if you try to relocate them, they’ll invariably find themselves in another squirrel’s territory and be torn to shreds. You can’t live and let live because they chew your roof to bits, fight viciously, nest in your insulation and chew the electrical wires which risks turning your domicile into an ash heap. The ONLY humane solution is contained in five simple words: Crosman pump action air rifle. I terminated thirteen squirrels in two weeks and finally got some peace in this place. And this from someone who always gently coaxed ants and spiders on a little piece of paper and relocated them safely out of the house. Save humanity! Eat a squirrel!

  24. Clinton says:

    Growing up in East Texas, there was never a shortage of squirrel. They are lovely in a slow braise with dijon mustard
    and cream, perhaps some caramelized onion on top… especially good if they’ve been fattened up on pecans or acorns.
    You’ll want plenty of bread to catch the sauce, and a simple salad of bitter greens, and a frosty cold beer and you’re set!

  25. Laura says:

    oh c’mon squirrels are cute.. in their own mouse-like qualities but still :) tell me you don’t love those lil faces.. don’t be mean, don’t eat a squirrel!!

  26. Laura says:

    subvet: ur made of meat, have u tought about that? just kidding :) but BobP is right… animals are our little brothers…

  27. frvidrine says:

    As one who comes from of a part of our nation that loves eating squirrels and has nothing to do with British culture, I thought you might be interested in reading this article which names my home town appropriately, Squirrel Town USA: http://www.fieldandstream.com/article/Hunting/Squirrel-Town,-U.S.A. You’re missing out, Fr. Z!

  28. Paul says:

    Dear Father Z,

    Poor little squirrels!! In Ireland squirrels are quite rare compared to the US (I was amazed living in the US at the number of little furry creatures you guys have running around the place). The native red squirrel is a very cute little animal and causes no problems at all, living as they do in forests. The much bigger non-native grey squirrel, an American import (!), is a bit of an issue for their red cousins, but even then I am struggling to think of the last time I saw one here. Be grateful that you have so much untouched nature on the other side of the pond!

    Best wishes from Ireland,

    Paul

  29. Grovetucky Ann says:

    I call the fox squirrels “two meal squirrels.” I pan-sear mine, braise in stock, do a reduction, serve with sourdough bread and orange or tangerine slices. Squirrel meat is delicious, around here they eat white oak acorns and hickory nuts. I don’t use a lot of spices. Rosemary works well. If you don’t want any wild taste at all in your meat throw in a couple of juniper berries.

    Shoot them with a .22 though to preserve the meat. A lever action Henry with a 4x scope does well at 30-50 yards for a neat head shot.

    I’m still trying to get the one that ate the cover off my treestand seat. I suppose he will taste all plasticky though.

  30. Grovetucky Ann says:

    By the way, before trying to relocate any animal, check with your state division of wildlife to make sure it’s legal (in Ohio it’s illegal to live trap and relocate raccoons for example). They will also tell you whether it will work or not and give other advice about dealing with a wildlife situation. And tagging wild animals with any sort of identification of your own should be checked also.

  31. Renee says:

    Not only are they menace to birdfeeders, but we had one that chewed halfway through a wood support beam on our deck. Forget eating them, just shoot ‘em.

  32. A Random Friar says:

    I’m just sad that they never offered squirrel on the original or the USA versions of Iron Chef. “Today’s secret ingredient is: SQUIRREL! Allez cuisine!”

  33. Ed says:

    There isn’t much squirrel on a squirrel, like quail, so little there it hardly seems worth the trouble, unless one is prepared to slaughter whole bunches of them.

    God thinks squirrels are important enough to include in His intentions in His Creation, but we build our “towers” in an exclusive way, [HUH? Did you just compare eating squirrels to the quintessential symbol of mankind's lack of unity?] and then wonder that we seem to be at cross-purposes with so many other parts of His exquisite design.

    The squirrel, eventually, will lie down with the priest, but we have to be patient.

  34. Oleg-Michael says:

    Well, I’m now playing Fallout 3, about the world after an atomic war, and Squirrel on a Stick is one of the most popular meals there. See where the world is going?

  35. Grovetucky Ann says:

    Actually there is a lot of “squirrel on a squirrel,” Ed, you have probably never seen a fox squirrel, which live in hardwood lots.

  36. Lurker says:

    The British can also try cajun squirrel crisps (chips) for a short time too.

    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/18/20090109/tuk-britain-nuts-over-squirrel-flavour-c-a7ad41d.html

  37. Carolyn says:

    I’ve never been able to figure out of this video is a joke or not. Now I think perhaps it’s not a joke, after reading the above article.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RlK0Xd4c2c

  38. Ed says:

    Thanks, Grovetucky Ann,

    for clarifying; we don’t have fox squirrels out here, but we do get jackalopes once in a while, which might be new to some folks. Hard to find, harder to catch, but man, goooood eatin’.

    God bless us all (little ones, too).

  39. Grovetucky Ann says:

    Yes, jackalopes. ha.

  40. Mike D. says:

    Well, when I was a kid growing up, my mother always fried the squirrels my brother and uncle brought back. Others may disagree, but I thought they DID taste like chicken! I remember them as being very delicious.

  41. Ed says:

    Fr.Z,

    [HUH? Did you just compare eating squirrels to the quintessential symbol of mankind’s lack of unity?]

    Indeed. Aside from having a bit of fun with the thread, my response is prompted by something I read last evening, from one of our time’s great teachers, Pope Benedict XVI.

    He describes, (again in the Good Samaritan passages in “Jesus of Nazareth”,) that we are all alienated. It’s really not a stretch to see that our alienation, our lack of unity, applies to all our relationships, to God first, then to each other, and necessarily to Creation, which includes the animals. When God says that what He has made is good, that is a far-reaching Truth, that includes parts of His design we don’t understand and are alienated from.

    Our relationship to the Creation is a fallen one, though there have been people in history, Francis of Assisi is probably the most notable example, whose connection to the natural world was more conscious and gracefilled than most folks’.

    This has little or nothing to do with the fact that, for now, squirrels can wreak real, costly havoc on our systems, our “towers” that aren’t designed to work in harmony with a Creation we can no longer understand on God’s terms. The analogy is exact.

    We do what we can, pray that His Kingdom will come, daily. For now, people have to eat, and squirrel is, a people have noted, a viable food, one that some people appreciate and enjoy.

  42. puella says:

    Mmmmm, never eaten squirrel. If I do I’ll make sure it’s a grey one. Red squirrels ftw!!

  43. Allena says:

    first of all: You can use a shotgun to kill squirrels, much like pheasant, but you gotta pick out the shot, and use bird shot.

    Second of all: You can shoot them in the head, it isn’t hard, a good 22 makes it easy. Usually you’re only about 20 feet away.

    Thirdly: It’s not a bird feeder Father, think of it more like ….a bait station.

    Fourthly: Squirrel is easy to skin, but don’t leave it laying around in it for long or it won’t separate easily.

    Fifthly: Cut it up, much like a chicken, dip it in 1 egg beaten into 1 cup milk and roll it in cornflake crumbs. Fry lightly in oil(better with a bit of bacon grease) until done and serve with your white sauce of choice….Wine? No, beer! Well, maybe a dry rose or something…

    Around here, (SW Missouri! I’m a dumb hick ok?) white gravy, fried potatoes and biscuits would be the way to eat it. Corn on the cob or green beans, just to please Mom…They taste about like rabbit…

    Lastly, if God didn’t want us to eat squirrels, I’m sure he woulda mentioned it. They just have tasty written all over those cute little faces. Also, they look much cuter holding up the sauce so jauntily…mmmm.
    Just sayin.

  44. MissJean says:

    How strange. I was lamenting that coyotes seem to have eaten many of our black squirrels. They are a dark-furred version of the Eastern gray squirrel, much cuter but evidentally they don’t blend in well.

    I don’t like squirrels that have been used to hand-outs. At least around here, the squirrels dont’ get into attics unless the attics are open at the eaves.

    Red squirrels are the bad ones. In college we called them “demon rats” because they’d wake us with their attic rampages. It always sounded like they were chewing through the ceiling, which is why my roomie soon regretted choosing the top bunk.

  45. Fabian Ortega says:

    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscripti catapultas habebunt.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ti2LtyelUr4

  46. Catholic Guy says:

    A friend of mine always used to note that squirrels are really just rats with fluffy tails.

    They certainly have ‘cute’ attributes…the way they bounce across the ground and perk up on their hind legs, but they can certainly make a nuisance of themselves.

    I also heard they are notorious for forgetting where they bury their food. Uh…what’s up with that?

    Thanks for the levity Father!

  47. Hugo says:

    I thought this thread was a joke when I first read.

    They were such a nuisance around here but I’m not a hunter. So I caught 12 in a Hav-a-Hart trap and determined that they wouldn’t swim well inside those things (submerged). The family has now tried 2 of the recipes above (although only a few actually know what they ate.

    It’s been they best cuisine we’ve had in years.

  48. Elizabeth says:

    Squirrels are evil. I hate them. But they sure do taste good!

    I attended North Greenville University. The campus was really overrun by squirrels…so every year at Thanksgiving Break, the Maintenance men would come hunt the squirrels and eat them. After Thanksgiving, the pest would be quite thinned out for a few months…til they bred again…