When the poor get hungry, what do they do? They go hunt squirrels. Well, that's what we did last week. After Governor Walker's budget cuts went through, we lost 40% of our grocery budget each month. We're now trying to stretch every dollar, every meal, every THING we can.
We are not a vegetarian family, even though we do eat plenty of vegetarian food. Choosing to be ominvores, we must accept the burden meat can place on our food budget. Let's face it, meat is expensive. Even good old ground beef, the least gormet meat available, is over $3.50 a pound unless you either find it on sale or buy it in such large quantities that you're afraid to open the freezer, lest a block of ground beef falls out and lands on your foot. I'll be honest. I'm not great at remembering to thaw meat enough ahead of time to get it into the recipe I plan on cooking that night anyhow, so stuffing my freezer is not the best answer.
My husband's family hunts. They hunt regularly, but not fanatically. He grew up hunting for small game and deer. Hunting hadn't been an activity he'd participated in for several years, but last year, when we moved closer to his family, he decided to get back into it. He brought in a doe and after the family effort to butcher and pack the meat, we had a freezer full of venison. We've steadily worked our way through the meat and are almost out, just in time for fall hunting to begin.
Now, I know that many of you are not meat eaters, nor fans of hunting, specifically, but in defense of our actions, I have to say the following. If I'm going to eat meat, I want the animal to live a natural, content life and I want its death to be quick. In my mind, no hunter whose main aim is to provide food for his family, is going to do anything to prolong the death of his prey. The point is to go out there, shoot dinner, and get home early enough to put it on the table before it spoils. Wild game, be it large or small, is a fine way to obtain meat in a way that allows the animal a clean life and a clean death. You may have a different opinion. I encourage you to have your own opinion, but this happens to be mine.
A few weeks ago, when the tightening of the budget became a reality, my husband approached me about getting his small game liscense. Yes, it would cost us money. No, he wouldn't invest in it unless I approved. Could we afford the fees if it meant meat on the table? Would it be cheaper than buying meat? Could I convince my family to eat small game? We had a lot of questions, but in the end, we decided that we would try it this year.
On Sunday, the hunter went out and returned home victorious. We had 3 squirrels to process! Mind you, I had agreed to this little experiment and would go about doing the work to support my half of the adventure, but I still had some trepidation. Squirrel? For dinner? I knew my great-grandmother loved squirrel, so it probably wouldn't hurt me, but would I like it? Could I get the kids to eat it?
We did let the children see the squirrels. We try to make a gentle point to them that meat comes from animals and if you are going to eat it, you have to understand and accept the sacrifice of the animal's life. All food costs something its life and we want them to accept this and make good choices regarding how they eat. We have no intention of making our children eat the squirrels, the deer, the rabbit, if they object to it. So far, they have accepted what meat is and where it comes from, even after seeing it and petting it's fur. I think they would have issues if the animal were to arrive alive, though, but I have no intention of having them face that situation quite yet.
I managed to clean the meat, cut it up, and prepare it. I was still feeling very awkward about it, though. It wasn't until I had slow-cooked it long enough to remove all bones, and thus all identifying characteristics, that I thought I might be able to go through with it. Once cooked, it really resembled pulled pork, stewed dark-meat chicken, and all of the other more generic meats that go into the stew pot. Okay, I could do this.
Dinner came and out came the bowls and spoons. Four hungry faces peered into their bowls. Four noses twiched at the smell of bacon and cabbage, potatoes and carrots. Yes, bacon was my secret weapon. Who can resist bacon? The stew smelled like bacon and bean soup. After adding salt, worchestershire, and tabasco, we all took our first bites. Amazingly, no one objected to the taste. There was no gaminess. There was no flavor to tell us that this was not, in fact, pork stew. Our eldest liked it enough that she tipped the bowl back and drank the broth. I liked it enough to actually fill up on it, rather than just eat enough to feel like I'd had a meal.
Next time, though, I plan on choosing a more adventurous recipe. The one I had chosen was mild and bland and really not that exciting. Is anyone up for barbequed squirrel sandwiches?