Thursday, February 5, 2009

Brits are wrong by not serving squirrel with most important meal of the day
by Larry Wilkerson
Georgia Online News Service

Our distant British cousins, out to protect their environment and their native red squirrels against threats posed by an immense population of gray ones introduced long ago, are barking up the right tree: They've begun to eat the invaders like crazy.

Reporting from London for The New York Times early this month, Marlena Spieler wrote that "squirrel is selling as fast as gamekeepers and hunters can bring it in."

As a native Kentuckian who since childhood has loved him some squirrel legs, I of course devoured this news, till I was plumb full -- of envy, topped with a dollop of dismay.

No squirrel meat is to be found alongside the chicken and pork in my grocer's meat counter. Oh, no. Not even the Chinese exporters of chemically enhanced frozen rabbit and frog legs provide it. And none is to be had at any suburban Atlanta restaurant or sports bar. To put squirrel on my plate, I'd have to get a hunting license, find a landowner who'd let me onto his property, buy shells for my shotgun and go sit quietly in the chilly woods until, if I was lucky, killed one. Then I'd have to skin it.

But any bloke in England (or, it would figure, Scotland or Wales) can have squirrel for his next meal – at home, in a nice restaurant, even in his favorite pub. Not even a driver's license is required. He doesn't have to make the acquaintance of an accommodating landowner. He needn't know a No. 6 pellet from a soccer ball. And he wouldn't have to skin his entrée, either -- just order it up, lucky Brit bastard.

That's the envy part.

The dismay?

Well, it seems that across the pond they're serving up squirrel for every meal except breakfast!

True, squirrel is a delicacy to be enjoyed at any time – gray squirrel (Scirius carolinensis), that is. I don't know whether the red English native (Scirius vulgaris – hmmm) is fit to eat. But we whose Southern mamas are expert in the preparation of wild game know squirrel is meant to be eaten for breakfast, succulently fried to a medium brown and served with biscuits and gravy.

Ms. Spieler's squirrel tale is flavored with references to dinner parties and pate, and hazelnuts and terrine. She quotes a London restaurateur as saying he prepares his squirrels so as "to recreate the bosky woods they come from" and presents them with wilted watercress "to evoke the treetops."

I say, old chef!

But the piece doesn't include the words breakfast, fried, biscuits or gravy. Obviously, the writer's sources gave her nothing to recount in this regard – not one allusion to the meal touted as the most important, the one from which you need to rise from the table bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to take on the day.

This is especially remarkable in light of what Brits do eat for breakfast – eggs and sausage, yes, but alongside baked beans and black pudding and half a tomato and sometimes bubble and squeak (leftover veggies with potato, named for the sounds they make while frying).

As one who would gladly pay twice as much per pound for squirrel as what pork or chicken costs me, I implore the fortunate Brit, who can go to a butcher shop and bring home squirrel meat, to enjoy it first thing in the morning.

Recipes for squirrel abound on the Internet, but here's how my mama says to fix 'em: Soak the dressed squirrel (all four legs and a couple of pieces of back) in salted water in the refrigerator overnight. In a big iron skillet, heat up about an inch and a half of lard (yes, you can use corn oil or olive oil, but forgoing fat will cost you flavor) and carefully put the meat in it. Cook it slowly, checking for tenderness by poking it with a fork after several minutes (my mama doesn't use numbers in her recipes). When the lower side is a nice brown, turn it over and cook it another little while, till that side's also an even brown. Be careful not to overcook, she cautions, lest you toughen it. After you remove the meat, make your gravy by adding flour and milk to the grease till you achieve the right texture and appearance. Biscuit recipes are all over the Internet too, or you can even bake canned ones – any biscuit tastes great with squirrel and gravy.

That's how they were prepared when I was growing up in Kentucky, where the gray squirrel has always been the state's most popular game animal, and since 1968 has been its official state wild animal.

We weren't big on recreating the bosky woods or evoking the treetops (or eating tomatoes and baked beans for breakfast).

Larry Wilkerson of Buford is a retired columnist and former copy desk chief and associate op-ed editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia! I've had a few questions from folks – media and civic and political leaders – asking me to explain the Georgia Online News Service (GONSO). Without being too grandiose, our purpose is to preserve quality journalism in Georgia at a time when news organizations are shrinking.

We were founded by concerned journalists, business leaders and educators, and after months of planning, we launched two weeks ago. Our "inventory" is a roster of about 30 of the most talented journalists in the state. We're providing GONSO content free for a few weeks – but we're a business, and our goal is to become the source of premium content to newspapers and broadcasters in the state.

The menu of the Georgia Online News Service (GONSO) today is topped with squirrel meat. No kidding. Larry Wilkerson writes about how this meat, popular in many corners of the South, is catching on among our distant cousins in Jolly Old England.

On a more serious note, Tom Baxter, one of the most authoritative political writers in Georgia, examines the communications – or lack thereof – between Georgia officials and the Obama administration. And, in the second of two articles about consumer legislation pending in the Georgia General Assembly, Maggie Lee takes a look at bills that would do everything from cracking down on "foreclosure rescue" scams to making sure that lawyers who advertise on TV must play themselves and not use actors.

Finally, in today's Soapbox, W. Todd Groce, CEO of the Georgia Historical Society, warns that Gov. Sonny Perdue's plan to eliminate state funding for the group will mean "a citizenry less educated, less informed about its past, less prepared for the future."

As always, send your comments and suggestions to john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org or call 800-891-3459.

-- John F. Sugg, Executive Editor


Today's GONSO

There's little conversation between Georgia and Obama administration

by Tom Baxter
How do Georgia and the Obama administration talk to each other? In a roundabout fashion, you might say, but with a keen sense of urgency on both sides.

The complicated business of how state and federal officials establish lines of communication is always an important matter after a change of administrations, but never more so than this year, with the Obama administration desperate to get economic stimulus money out to the nerve ends of the economy, and states frozen on the edge of a deepening chasm of debt.

Full Story

Lenders and lawyers among those targeted by consumer legislation

by Maggie Lee
Allison Wall, executive director of the Georgia Watch, often has a tough job battling for consumers issues at Georgia Capitol. But she's looking forward to a bill this year that gives some relief to homeowners, renters and municipalities, one that may help "clean up the mortgage broker industry here in Georgia."

Senate Bill 57 would throw a lifeline to homeowners mixed up in so-called foreclosure rescue scams. These are short-term, often predatory loans, made against a property deed. The law would treat these loans as mortgages, giving homeowners more rights to maintain possession of a home.

Full Story

Brits are wrong by not serving squirrel with most important meal of the day

by Larry Wilkerson
Our distant British cousins, out to protect their environment and their native red squirrels against threats posed by an immense population of gray ones introduced long ago, are barking up the right tree: They've begun to eat the invaders like crazy.

Reporting from London for The New York Times early this month, Marlena Spieler wrote that "squirrel is selling as fast as gamekeepers and hunters can bring it in."

Full Story

SOAPBOX

Sonny Perdue's message to Georgia Historical Society: Drop dead

by Todd Groce
The Georgia Historical Society's state funding has been deeply slashed. We've been hit by the Secretary of State's office with an immediate elimination of nearly $75,000 of funding needed this fiscal year to operate our library and archives in Savannah, effectively ending a relationship that began in 1966. We have also absorbed a 10 percent reduction in funding for the historical markers program. But the worst is yet to come. Gov. Sonny Perdue has recommended the elimination of our entire state appropriation, $327,275, representing 15 percent of our current operating budget - in the fiscal year 2010 budget.

What do these cuts mean for you? In the short term, they mean limited access to history: no more historical markers will be erected, thus ending a program that started in 1954; severely curtailed library and archives research hours; the end of any hope Georgia had to participate in the national 150th anniversary of the Civil War; the loss of billions of tourist dollars which might have helped to improve our economy and to create jobs.

Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Nuke Financing Passes Committee, Goes to Full Senate
by Maggie Lee
Eight months in a cloud of dust and paperwork lead to GSU's very first football players
by Wendy Parker
Capitol Debts to Pay
by Hollis Gillespie
Vouchers are the way schools can improve themselves
by Senator Eric Johnson

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