For all of you that look forward to going out to the country to do a little hunting for wild game, I have some good news for you: the hunting season for the Sciurus Carolinensis or the common squirrel opens TODAY! According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, squirrel season begins on August 15th and ends February 29th. Each hunter is limited to 12 squirrels per day.
When I was about 10 years old, my family moved from a suburb of Boston to rural North Georgia. And, I do mean rural. Our closest neighbor was a mile away as the crow flies and the nearest grocery store (I use that term loosely) was at least 15 miles away. As a result, we participated in the local custom of bartering and sharing any produce that we raised on our 30-acre farm with neighbors and friends. Initially this practice seemed harmless enough and I was exposed to new types of food such as butter beans, collard greens, and scuppernongs.
It wasn’t until hunting season when the pick-up trucks started pulling into the driveway with hunters beeping their horns that we started to question the wisdom of honoring this local custom. On any given Saturday, my father would answer the sound of a blaring horn by gazing admiringly (on certain occasions he deserved an Academy Award for his enthusiasm) over the “prizes” that were being offered. They would bring venison, quail, and dove. With each delivery, the hunter would share his “recipe” for how to prepare the delivery. They also brought rabbits, raccoons and turtles. Once someone delivered an opossum and was so proud of their offering that Dad couldn’t refuse. As soon as the truck pulled out of the driveway, Dad buried it in a ditch saying, “anything that smells that bad, cannot be edible.” However, the most memorable delivery was a burlap sack full of squirrels.
Now I have heard many Southerners espouse the virtues of fried squirrel or a squirrel sauté, however, my culinary experience with squirrel could hardly be considered as virtuous. My father meticulously cleaned each animal, and then turned the lot of them over to my mother who, being raised in up-state New York, never mastered the art the Southern cooking. Her biscuits resemble rocks and her white gravy resembles lumpy library paste. But to her credit, Mom bravely pulled out her trusty copy of “the Joy” (of Cooking) and set to cooking the squirrel as you might a nice juicy pot roast.
Later that evening we gingerly sat down to our meal of stewed squirrel served over rice. Never have I experienced such a hush over a dinner table. Finally, my Dad broke the silence by saying, “Bony little critters, aren’t they?” This was the understatement of the decade. Have you ever noticed that squirrels are constantly burying their finds or storing food in their cheeks, but have you ever actually seen them swallow? I personally am not convinced that any of that food ever makes it to their bellies. I was not only stunned by the lack of meat on the bones, but by the sheer number of the bones. Southerners, who enjoy eating squirrel, liken the taste to dove or the dark meat of chicken, but how would they know? There is nothing to taste! ~Denise