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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Squirrel & dumplings

When I was growing up, I was fortunate to get to spend a lot of time with my great-grandparents. As a result I was introduced to a wide array of country cooking. The Great Depression did not end in Arkansas until the 1950s, and people's cuisine reflected this. As I have argued previously, "poor people food" forms the core of most modern cuisines, if you dig back a little.

Consider the resources my great-grandparents had at hand on an ongoing basis: Always some chickens, hence eggs; a cow, for milk or meat; a garden; a smokehouse out back, by the rainwater cistern. (I was forbidden to draw the water bucket up unless there was an adult close at hand. It was a long drop to the bottom of the well.)

And wild game. By the time my childhood ended (if it did), I had dined upon venison, duck, quail, rabbit, raccoon, wild turkey, bullfrog legs (my dad shot 'em and I waded out to retrieve), and most prolifically, squirrel.

The squirrel is a misunderstood creature because it wears so many hats. It does not in general fall into the same category as the barnyard animal slash pet whose ultimate destiny whether you knew it or not as a kid was lunch. I remember Suzy the pig. Nor does the squirrel fall into that narrow zone of animals that ought to be wild but get reined in anyway and have to pretend to be pets until they get a chance to knock out a screen and head back to the Wild Wood. I had a raccoon named Buster like that.

The thing is, when you have kids to feed and it's suppertime, squirrels are the way to go. That and noodling for catfish, though you lose less fingers with the squirrels. I have been on many many squirrel hunting expeditions down the hill from where we lived in Onia. Woods all around.

I hunted with my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my dad. And on my own when I was a teenager. It's been a long time now.

But squirrel and dumplings sure are good stuff, so I'm including a recipe you might find helpful:

Squirrel & Dumplings

3 squirrels, cut up (clean thoroughly; watch for lead shot.)

1 egg

2 cups plain flour

1 cup broth

1 tsp salt or to taste

1 big pinch pepper or to taste

Boil squirrels in four quarts of water. Check until it is tender. Remove the squirrels from the broth, let them cool, then remove the meat from bones. Set it aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, egg and one teaspoon of salt with 3/4 cup of the broth and work it all together into a big lump.

Strain the broth to remove any stray lead shot -- haha only serious -- then get it boiling again. Return the meat to the boiling broth.

On a floured cutting board, use a rolling pin to roll the dough really thin. Here's the thing with dumplings. You can just roll it out, cut them into strips, and toss them into the broth. But if you like your dumplings firmer, fold the dough over and roll it a couple more times before you cut them up. Your call. Stir as you go so the dumplings don't stick.

Quick note about the salt. Too much of anything is bad, but if you don't add enough, the dumplings will be boring. So do the dumplings a few at a time and test them as you go.

The Missouri Department of Conservation offers a web site covering everything from how to skin a squirrel to recipes for everything from frying squirrel (highly recommended) to Squirrel Pot Pie, which I have not yet encountered. To check that out, go to

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