Today we return to the list of the top ten forgotten British foods, as decided by a competition run in 2006 by the Guild of Fine Food Retailers. There are still a few left for us to consider: here is the list so far, with links to the stories.
4. Grey Squirrel Casserole
5. Rook Pie
6. Rabbit with Prunes
7. Fife Brooth
9. 16th C Pancakes
10. A Grand Sallet
Today it is the turn of No. 4, ‘Grey Squirrel Casserole.’
The native squirrel in Britain is the red squirrel, and pretty it may be, but tasty it is not. The grey squirrel from North America was introduced to Britain and Europe sometime during the nineteenth century, for reasons which to me are not clear, but are not directly related to its apparently improved culinary value over its red cousin. Suffice it to say, the good idea went environmentally bad, and by the 1940’s the grey squirrel was officially declared a pest. This coincided with serious World War II meat rationing in England, which gave impetus to its use for the pot.
Even before the war, there were brave souls prepared to hunt down and eat the appealing little American immigrant. I give you some tips, and a recipe for a squirrel casserole, from The Sportsman's Cookery Book: Containing More Than 200 Choice Alternatives to the Everlasting Joint, (1926) by Hugh Pollard. He comments initially on the ‘strong resinous flavour’ of the native British red squirrel, and notes that it requires marinading before cooking. He then goes on to give a recipe for the very tasty introduced pest.
The grey squirrel, since put down in Regent’s Park, has spread through the Home Counties and is doing a good deal of damage. He is fairly edible, and was always a popular dish with the early American settlers.
Quarter four squirrels and put them into a casserole with onions, carrot, juniper berries, garlic, and a glass of vinegar or a bottle of wine. Add water enough to cover, and let them stand thus for forty-eight hours.
Cover the casserole and simmer for two hours, add suet dumplings, and cook for half an hour, squeeze in half an orange, and serve without telling your guests what they are eating.
Alternatively the squirrels may be taken out after half an hour’s cooking and finished with the dumpling by baking in the oven in a brown dish.
Quotation for the Day.
Always take a good look at what you're about to eat. It's not so important to know what it is, but it's critical to know what it was.