Heather Smith tells us that Hmong immigrant oriental hunters in the Midwest and locavore foodies looking for new thrills are converging on a new interest in squirrel hunting and eating.
Until recent decades, Americans ate squirrel meat because it was cheap, plentiful, and there, according to Hank Shaw, author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. Domesticated animals may have been easier to catch, but, in the days before the industrialization of farming, they were expensive to raise and feed. â€œWhen Herbert Hoover promised a chicken in every pot, that was a big deal,â€ Shaw adds. The first edition of The Joy of Cooking, published in 1931, was heavy on the squirrel. As it moved into later and later editions, Hooverâ€™s promise was fulfilled (by other politicians, if not Hoover himself) and chicken gradually replaced squirrel.
Shaw shot his first squirrel when he was working as a reporter for a daily paper in Minnesota. Heâ€™d made it through an underpaid stint as a cub reporter in Long Island by catching and eating his own fish. When he arrived in Minnesota, though, he could not help but take note of the squirrels. The state has such a vibrant squirrel scene that a cottage industry has grown up around trapping and removing ones that have moved into peopleâ€™s homes. Shaw bought a few books about squirrel hunting off the internet, applied for a license to hunt them, and got to it.
In doing so, he placed himself on the vanguard of the re-squirreling of the American diet. Squirrel-eating has been trendy in Great Britain for half a decade now â€” spurred by a nationalistic fervor to kill as many as possible of the invasive American gray squirrel, which is outcompeting the domestic red squirrel (the latter had the good fortune to star in a Beatrix Potter book, one of the best ways to cement your status as charismatic megafauna). …
Itâ€™s hard to imagine more sustainable local game â€” squirrels are abundant, far from endangered, and donâ€™t even require refrigeration the way that big game does. The standard rule of thumb is that one squirrel = enough meat for one dinner for one person. The squirrel is road food â€” the kind of prey that fed cross-country hikers, in the days before MRE and freeze-dried lentils. Squirrel is like the drive-through cheeseburger of the forest â€” albeit a cheeseburger that needs to be gutted first.
Theyâ€™re also delicious, mostly because they eat nuts. â€œRabbits â€” theyâ€™re grass eaters. The flavor is milder. Squirrels taste like something,â€ says Shaw. â€œItâ€™s gamey in a good way.â€
I shot squirrels as a boy whenever I had the opportunity, but my parents had no interest whatsoever in cooking them. I always gave away my squirrels to my grandparents or neighbors, who always assured me that squirrels were delicious.
I do not believe that Pennsylvania methods of squirrel preparation had the slightest resemblance to what we see in the video below. I know that people where I lived skinned their squirrels and removed the head.
Hat tip to Zack Beauchamp.