The squirrels in the garden have eaten a good chunk of our garden this year, and they’re attacking our maple trees as I write this, so I’m trying to decide if I should eat squirrels in my garden – again.
Last year, just before the pandemic started, a few friends and I caught squirrels in my Denver neighborhood and made them a meal.
I realize it’s a lot easier to pick up a chicken in Safeway, but listen to me on that. By eating squirrel, you get the added benefit of imagining all the tomatoes, peaches, apples, cherries, maple trees, and other things that you keep from being eaten by rodents. Even my home, which has suffered severe squirrel destruction over the years, is safer with every squirrel eaten. And they might taste great too.
You are allowed to kill “noxious” squirrels in Colorado, if they “cause damage” to your property, so I figured I was legally okay with eating them when they died. What worried me, however, was whether they were toxic.
Are urban squirrels poisonous?
It wasn’t exactly comparable, but Denver’s program to control the goose population was inspiring and somewhat reassuring. A few years ago the city killed thousands of geese and fed them to people in need of food. You would think these geese could have been poisonous too, but it appears they weren’t.
I searched online and found squirrel disease warnings or their meat containing chemicals from rodent poisons and garbage.
I consulted a squirrel enthusiast who warned against consuming urban squirrels like those in our garden, especially in winter, when there is less food without waste, it is precisely to that was when we planned our squirrel hunt and our culinary delight. Just recently, my resident squirrels had bitten my plastic compost bin and were feasting on table scraps. So it was good.
Regarding disease waste, my friend told me that you would probably see squirrels acting very strangely around your house if the disease spread through the population. We once saw mangy squirrels with all the tail hair, but that was a long time ago.
So I thought if they were poisoned they would either be dead or look sick.
Someone suggested catching the squirrels and then feeding and observing them for a few days before eating them to make sure they were healthy specimens. But we didn’t.
I had also briefly considered cutting off their heads and having them tested for disease-carrying prions, as is done with deer and elk in Colorado, but neither did I.
It just didn’t seem worth it.
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Will urban squirrels taste good?
Along with whether the squirrels were downright poisonous, we wondered if they would taste good, having survived an urban diet.
A squirrel eater has raved online about eating squirrels that had feasted on acorns in the woods near his house, claiming the meat tasted nutty. In the fall, when animals eat pine cones, the meat turns bitter, he writes.
We weren’t going to have nut-fed squirrels for sure, but most descriptions of squirrel meat I found were positive, although the waste-eating effect was not taken. into account.
My cousin sent me a recipe from her Uncle Charlie’s diary, known as “Uncle Chunk” (a great man), which claimed they fried better than chicken – unless the squirrels were old. . You can tell by the “worn, brown teeth,” he wrote.
Most of the recipes online were variations of stew or fries. Or cooked on a stick over a fire. There was a recipe for the jerk squirrel – obviously a proper preparation – but a less spicy option seemed preferable in order to get the authentic, pure flavor of the squirrel.
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Who wants to eat squirrel?
Years ago, I told my hunter friend Michael about eating urban squirrels, and he was excited to give it a try.
And I thought my many friends who hate squirrels the most would jump at the chance to eat them.
A longtime friend is a vegetarian who caught hundreds of squirrels in his backyard and released them to distant parks. I knelt down and begged him to give up vegetarianism for a night and try a bite of squirrel. Even her student son, who is also a vegetarian, told her to give up for a day. No way, he said.
Another friend regularly traps and drowns squirrels. She didn’t seem very excited at my invitation to eat them and said they would be out of town anyway.
I asked if she would donate a squirrel to our culinary cause, and she volunteered to bait her trap, which I was able to verify while she was away.
My wife said she didn’t want to eat them at all. She had heard of a man who died after eating squirrel in Pennsylvania. He had organ failure, she said.
Michael’s wife also seemed puzzled at the idea of eating squirrels. They have so little meat, she said. His plan to snowboard had been scuttled by the Squirrel Project.
She said to Michael, “I’m going to try not to let that take away your sex appeal. She later obtained a photo of Michael eating the squirrel, which she described as a “sensual photo eating a squirrel.”
In the end, Michael and I found a few other people who wanted to try the Town Squirrel, so we set a date for dinner. A friend of ours said that his brother ate thousands of forest squirrels. He was eager to try it.
Capture and processing
I caught a squirrel the night before the party and two in the morning. My brother and my vegetarian squirrel trapper friend contributed two more, so we had six live squirrels in Have-a-Heart traps, as Michael and I – along with another friend – prepared to slaughter them.
A squirrel managed to escape the trap as we were carrying it across the lawn. The locking panels must have opened and off we go, along the fence and towards a tree in our neighbor’s yard. I felt pretty happy for it, I admit, and then I wondered if I would see him afterward eating a bite of my peaches or snacking on my house.
After shooting the squirrels with a high powered pellet gun, we hung them from an easel. The image of them hanging in my garden, as if we were hunter-gatherers, was satisfying, without a doubt. We were helping to reduce a destructive and uncontrollable population of rodents insufficiently culled by predators, just like the uncontrollable geese of Denver.
Fortunately, our neighbors did not see the squirrels, hanging by their bushy tails. I realized then that people might panic at the sight of our dinner.
We cut the squirrels out of a plywood board. It wasn’t as disgusting as I thought it would be – kind of like cleaning a fish, which I had done a number of times, except you have to take care of the skin. But with proper prep cuts, he came off quite easily.
A squirrel seemed to smell of musk, so we threw it in the trash.
Towards the end of the process, I stabbed myself lightly at the base of my left index finger and was bleeding a lot.
I washed the wound very well but wondered if a virus could infect me. If I had a bad infection, would I immediately tell the doctor that I was slaughtering a squirrel? I should. He was bleeding a lot, which was good.
We had decided to cook the squirrels under pressure for reasons of time and so the meat would fall off the bones. We browned them in a cast iron skillet, then placed them on top of carrots, onions, garlic, and about three cups of homemade chicken broth. The stew cooks for an hour in a magic pot.
While it’s true that squirrel meat takes on the flavor of what squirrels eat, our (possibly) garbage-fed squirrel could easily have tasted horrible. So, as a backup, we made pasta with spicy chicken sausages, kale, lemon zest, garlic and red pepper, served with a dandelion leaf salad. We had Girl Scout cookies for dessert.
At the dinner table
Everyone at the table finally tried the squirrel meat. My mom and another guest stopped in for a bite to eat.
It was much better than expected, dark meat, neither hard nor fatty. It tasted a bit like it had an oily coating on it, even though it was skinny. I wouldn’t call the flavor gamey but maybe slightly. It also tasted slightly sour. Which doesn’t mean it was very good, but the risk and low expectations probably made us taste better.
There are a bunch of curry squirrel recipes online, and after you’ve eaten it, you can see why. The texture was good, and maybe the strong flavor of the meat could be cut with a curry, without completely hiding the flavor.
One guest didn’t like all the little bones, and some recipes call for the bones to be removed before serving, which might be a good idea. The worst thing would be for the meat to stick to the bones. As it is, with the meat falling off the bones, you could easily eat around them, if they didn’t bother you.
I didn’t have much of a second serving, but one of the guests loved it, took more and had a big pile of bones on his plate.
In the end, with seven people eating all four squirrels, we had some leftovers, which we split between me and two of our guests. I took a small bite the next day, to try and remember the flavor and figure out what it looked like most. We never finished the small plate of squirrel meat that was in the fridge.
Would I really eat them again, even if I was very angry with the squirrels?
Yes, but probably not urban. I’m not a hunter at all, never even shot a gun, but I want to hunt wild squirrel, try the meat. So there is a chance that I will get into small game hunting.
But the flavor of these squirrels wasn’t good enough for a repeat, even though I am facing PTSD after a summer watching them decimate my garden. The idea of eating squirrels in the fall, after they’ve fed on good things like seeds, nuts, and fresh, ripe garden produce, is intriguing but not convincing.
I will continue to trap them and drop them elsewhere – to keep them from eating my peaches and apples.
But I personally think the chicken is hard to beat and the grocery store is four blocks from my house.