A tradition that has been handed down in my family for generations is living off the land. In this day and time it's very easy to go out and buy all your foodstuffs and prepare by all the fanciful recipes, but I still find the homegrown varieties of foods the best. When I was younger the options were not that simple. We had a large family and we depended on a lot of our foods to come straight from the land. This included both domestic items from the garden, chicken house or fields and wild items that were found freely on the land.
Squirrel stew is still one of my favorite memories. It was quite simple to make:
The first thing one needs in making squirrel stew is a freshly killed squirrel. This requires a gun. So, in order to have a perfect stew one must first have a gun. Shooting is for the menfolk, so get a gun, teach them how to use it and then send them into the woods. After two or three days, go out there yourself with your own gun, kill the squirrel and then fire three shots into the air so your man knows it's over and he can come home. Sidebar - please, please, please- use a .22 Rifle. Shotguns are more accurate and the men will BEG to be allowed to use them, but those pellets can't all be located regardless of how finely you chop the meat. This, of course, means you will definitely have to kill the squirrel yourself.
"Dressing" the squirrel on our farm was also the man's duty. There's an art to this as well which I won't go into as I understand today's generation finds it "gross" to read about. In my day, the tails were saved and strung out as trophies. He with the most tails was the most awesome hunter!
O.K. Ladies - we have our squirrel dressed and ready for the stew. Squirrels spend their days running back and forth in trees. Therefore, the meat can be tough. You must first "parboil" the meat to tenderize it. After a few hours, when you can easily debone the meat, remove the bones and proceed with the stew.
Making the real stew is where the fun part comes you. Cut up whatever vegetables you have and toss in pretty much anything you have in the cabinets. As far as seasoning, just start tossing things in there like...salt and pepper ...the godmother and godfather of all seasonings. You can use some hot peppers and other items from the garden as well to add some flavor. My grandmother used to profess a little "fatback" but they warn us these days that stuff like "fatback" can kill you, so we will forego the awesome flavor that leaves in just about ANYTHING.
I think in today's world, we greatly overcomplicate things for our children. I believe cooking is included in that. We had three pans - a skillet, a dutch oven and a big ole stewpot. If you couldn't make it in one of those pans, it was sort of waste of time to try. I see cooking sets advertised now that must have dozens of different pans. Yes, I drool sometimes when I see the latest advertisements for what these pans can do and then I realize that I will soon need one of the grandiose kitchens as well were I to add all those pans to my collection!
Let the stew simmer for several hours. Sometimes it's even better the second and third day. Make some fresh cornbread in that skillet you have and serve the stew with the cornbread and perhaps a little bit of milk or sweet tea. That's really all there is to it!
Squirrel stew goes best with neighbors and friends. My oldest brother used to have "squirrel" day in his dorm room at Tennessee Tech University - it was a huge hit! To this day, we invite those less fortunate neighbors who have never tried it over for our suprise stew. After they have tasted it, we introduce them to what they are eating avoiding topics like favorite Walt Disney cartoon characters. It's amazing how few of our children have been introduced to this delicious entre.
When I drive through the parks and see people feeding those sweet plump creatures, they see sweet pump creatures...I see....dinner! I often wonder if those park squirrels would be all tender and juicy like those cattle raised on those crowded ranches. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl.
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