28 November 2012

My Squirrel Rant

This morning my inbox was stuffed with copies of the Washington Post article entitled, Squirrel: It’s What’s for Dinner in Romney,W.Va.    The article is a rather thoughtful look at an annual squirrel dinner organized in the area.  Not everyone who sent it to me meant it to be received in such a thoughtful manner.  So you must bear with me while I rant a bit, both here and at my other blog…

I’ve eaten squirrel since I was a child.  My first encounter with squirrel came when I was about 4 years old.  My great aunt was very excited that she was going to make squirrel dumplings.  My four-year-old self herd squirldumplin’s run together with Aunt Ruth’s Southern accent and thought it sounded magical.    After being cautioned by the adults at the table, Aunt Ruth gave me a little spoon full of fluffy dumpling, thick cream and flecks of dark, rich meat.   Then she gave another little spoon full and I wanted more.  The third time she dipped her silver spoon into the bowl she went deep and as the gravy flowed off the spoon it reveal something unusual.  With a big smile on her face Aunt Ruth said, “Look, Baby, you got the teeth.”She proceeded to set a perfect set of tiny dentures on the edge of my plate.  At that moment, I realized that dinner was Squirrel Dumplings.  Two distinct and less than magical ingredients.    As an aside, I will confess that I was nearly 13 before I realized that Astaire was Fred’s last name.  I thought Fredastaire was like Liberace or Madonna, but I digress...


My friend, Ann, was coming out for Thanksgiving and given the traffic and afore mentioned Ruby Slippers, I had no idea when she might arrive.  I thought a nice ragu could simmer for hours and be ready at anytime, so it became my Wednesday night menu item.  I went to Kroger’s, the large grocery chain, intent on buying some stew meat for the ragu.   I picked up a small package of stew meat and it was $12.  It was stew meat!  Not strip, not rib eye -- stew meat.  I finally found a package just north of $7 that contained 8 cubes of meat.  
The American Farm Bureau Federation released figures stating that a 2012 Thanksgiving Dinner for 10 people would run the average family $49.48.  I would like to know where they shop. 

Which brings us back to squirrel.   I have spent my life around hunters.  Hunting is one of those topics one should not discuss in polite company.   While there is a fringe of rich old white guys who pay a lot of money to shot fish-in–a-barrel, most people actually hunt to feed their family.  I won’t lie to you, there is ritual and sport in the whole endeavor, but in the end, the animals killed are eaten.  Thankfully, I don’t have to try to feed 10 people for $50.  Thankfully, I can afford $7 stew meat.  There are far more people than one could possibly imagine who can’t feed their family.


As might be expected, the few comments about the West Virginia Squirrel Fest, were of the why-eat-those-little-garden-creatures-hunting-is-so-bad-yuch-nasty vein, with the exception of the people from WV.  While there haven’t been a lot of comments on this story per se, they are the kind of reactions one always gets from these stories.

The same people who are happy to call poor white Southerners eating squirrel "nasty" would never in a million years think of making disparaging remarks about African- Americans eating watermelon, or Hispanic being beaner.  They would be appalled; shocked and appalled. Yet, it seems to be perfectly fine to demean Appalachian Southerners. Ask yourself if Honey Boo Boo would be on television if the child was black.

On Thanksgiving Day, I butchered a deer.  While there may be sport in hunting, actually butchering an animal is hard work; messy, and tough, and at times, disgusting.   You actually look into the eyes of the animal that gave up its life so you could eat.  


 I can honestly say that I am glad I was not at the first Thanksgiving.   While my friends decided that they would definitely want to be in my group during the zombie apocalypse, I am sure we would starve, the same way we would have starved at the first Thanksgiving.  

Which brings us back to Per Se.  If Thomas Keller put squirrel on the menu at Per Se, all the food blogger would be so enamored of the idea.  We would see squirrel recipes on all the food blogs and it would be the “it” thing to eat in Food & Wine and the foodie hipsters would be so excited and telling their buddies that they were the first ones to eat  Keller's Squirrel Dumplings. 



I am a committed carnivore.  I also know where my food comes from.  The next time you eat meat, think about that animal that gave its life for your ragu.

The next time you blog about the $225 tasting menu at José Andrés’ Minibar, remember that there are untold families who don’t have $225 to spend on food for the month.

Next time you go into Whole Foods for $7 of stew meat,  add a bag of groceries to the food bank basket.

And the next time you want to make fun of someone, make fun of yourself…
...seriously, I really thought his name was like  --  Fredastaire Smith. 



2 comments:

  1. Squirrel is fine eating. Slow cooked in soy sauce and ginger, pulled off the bone to make Pulled Squirrel Sliders and Pulled Squirrel Pizza makes a wonderful meal. Serving Frenched Bone in Squirrel Chops as an amuse, can shock people but once they taste it, they want more.

    Great site, now I have five books headed my way to add to my current ~500 cookbook collection, and another ~20 books added to my wish list.

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  2. Bravo! My "backyard" has squirrel, possum, armadillo, raccoon, fox, deer, feral pigs, coyote, and things that go bump in the night. I see them but I don't eat them ---but many have been sacrificed on the asphalt altar of "progress".

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