Big trouble for Moose and Squirrel

January 7, 2009 · 1 comment

“We make big trouble for Moose and Squirrel.” — Natasha Fatale, Rocky & Bullwinkle

I’m not sure what it is about my timing, but it seems to be pretty good lately. For one thing, I opened up the New York Times yesterday to find a Bittman article all about pantry-filling. It’s a little bit coy in that snarky Bittman-like way, but it’s very good. I like Mark, a lot. Still, intimating to the broad masses that they can keep their parmigiana for a year will result in a lot of literal-minded Ma and Pa Kettles doing the same thing with their supermarket jarlsberg and then winding up a heck of a lot thinner after eating it than before. Not to be gross, but there it is.

Anyway, this whole recession thing is going to force people to either get very creative (all for it on this blog) or to eat cheap fast food on a thrice-daily basis (entirely against it on this blog). One of the ways of doing the former is to to eat local. 

Really, really local. 

Some years back, when my cousins lived in suburban New York, they had some gorgeous Asian-style backyard landscaping done, and all was right with the world. The only problem? Squirrels. Lots and lots of squirrels.  Taking matters into his own hands, my cousin’s husband loaded up a pellet gun, and picked off the squirrels, one by one. (PETA, don’t yell at me for this. It wasn’t me, honest.) Gloating about his method of vermin control to a colleague, he was promptly begged by said colleague to SAVE THE SQUIRRELS he bagged. Why?

“Because they’re delicious!”

I recounted this story for my mother-in-law a while back, and she (at 90, born and raised on a farm in northern Connecticut) looked at me like I was out of my mind.

“Of COURSE they’re delicious! You food people don’t know what’s good. Only what’s fancy.”

She had a point.

It seems that squirrel is tender, sweet, delicate, low in fat, and if I can ever manage to forget feeding them by hand at Point Lobo in California in 1970, I might actually try one. But growing up in the city, where a crazed gray squirrel once flung an acorn at me in disgust as I was trying to cross upper Lexington Avenue,  I’d probably go to England to do it (which I guess wouldn’t make it cheap anymore). 

According to the New York Times, our friends across the pond are chowing down on gray squirrel (like the ones you see in Central Park, only without the rabies) with some frequency, in favor of red squirrels (which frequent English children’s literature, like Beatrix Potter). The latter apparently possess spectacular ear-wings (you’ll know them when you see them) and a certain appeal to those Brits who tend towards extreme anthropomorphic feelings for creatures of the forest they grew up believing dressed in dirndyls and wore pince nez.

British chef extraordinaire, Fergus Henderson of London’s St. John restaurant, takes his love of gray squirrel to another culinary level entirely, according to the same New York Times article: 

Mr. Henderson…sometimes prepares his squirrels to ‘recreate the bosky woods they come from, braising them with bacon, pig’s trotters, porcini and whole peeled shallots to recreate the forest floor. He serves it with wilted watercress to evoke the treetops.’

Okay then. 

So what to make of this trend? A prediction that locally procured ingredients (roadkill? hunting?) formerly considered taboo (or just plain quirky) will start showing up on menus or in our upscale home kitchens, alongside quail and foie gras. Even moose, the favorite target of gun-toting Sarah Palin, has garnered notoriety as an exotic meat-of-the-moment. 

The downside to all this? These things, staples for years in the kitchens of the most economy-minded among us, will go the way of fresh rabbit: 

$12.00 a pound in my local supermarket. 

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