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Squirrel Meat on the Menu

The New York Times has a wonderful article about the rise of the squirrel meat market in England. Squirrel meat is a "win win" solution, since gray squirrels are an invasive species, which has been gradually displacing the native English red squirrel. The gray squirrel was introduced to England in the late 1800s and early 1900s. No one really knows why the Victorians brought the gray squirrel (a native of North America) to England, although the Essex Wildlife Trust speculates that "acclimatisation of species, as they called it, fitted in with the Victorians' view that man's task was to reshape the world in all its aspects and it became the fashionable thing to do." Many people consider gray squirrels to be a plague upon the land. They destroy feeders, rummage through trash bins spreading garbage across city parks, displace native squirrel species, eat the eggs of vulnerable native birds, and generally cause a ruckus. Local hunters in England's rural areas have been culling gray squirrels through hunting and trapping, and in 2006 the "Save Our Squirrels" campaign began marketing the resulting meat as a gourmet delicacy. Like all other "wild meats," the quality and taste of gray squirrel meat is dependent upon the time of year, and the squirrel's diet. However, the squirrel seems particularly variable in comparison to, say, venison. A chef interviewed for the New York Times article said that "the quality and amount of fat varied from no visible fat to about 30 percent." Although squirrels are easily obtainable, the variable quality presents a challenge to the intrepid chef. So too does the task of skinning the squirrel. As the article's author says, "it takes a lot of work to get the meat off even the plumpest squirrel." Skill and experience are definitely required! Squirrel hunting and squirrel meat has, shall we say, a "diminished reputation" here in the United States. However, squirrels are a plentiful game species and reproduce quickly, unlike many other North American game species. The environmental and species impact of hunting squirrels is far less than that of, say, elk hunting. Squirrels are a challenging hunt as well - a head shot is required if you intend to eat your catch. If you would like to try your hand at cooking squirrel meat, there are a number of recipes available online. Squirrel meat can be treated just as you would rabbit meat - most recipes call for the meat to be stewed or braised, to help make it more tender and juicy. This recipe at Jerry's Bait and Tackle recommends the use of female squirrels exclusively, as the meat of male squirrels is "tough." Urban dwellers should think twice about harvesting squirrels. Although gray squirrels are plentiful in most cities, most sources warn that city squirrels harbor rabies and other diseases which are transmissible to humans. If you do not wish to hunt down your own squirrels, you can also order squirrel meat from several suppliers. If your local butcher does not offer squirrel meat, this online store is selling dehydrated squirrel meat, in either a gallon or quart can.