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Squirrels “From Nuts to Soup”

August 25, 2016
By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II , Ohio Valley Outdoors

You just got to love the English language. It's full of colorful expressions employed every day that we just assume people are familiar with. Being a rather curious individual and having instant access to almost unlimited information via my smartphone, I regularly find myself looking up the origin and meaning of many of these fascinating common phrases.

Take for instance, the interesting idiom, "from soup to nuts". Wikipedia, the online fountain of knowledge, defines it as implying "from beginning to end" or "completely". The phrase originated from formal multi-course meals in Victoria-era England, which traditionally commenced with the serving of soup and eventually concluded with feasting on nuts, somewhat of a post-dessert dessert. Since English is our native language, we instinctively interpret meaning from the spoken words "from soup to nuts", but it's not hard to see why foreign languages may struggle to properly translate many English phrases we often take for granted.

When it comes to hunting, squirrels were definitely where it all started for me, my beginning. I can still remember the first gray squirrel my dad harvested from atop the last fencepost next to the woods at my aunt Barb's place when I was just 5 years old. The tails from the three squirrels he shot that day and the spent .22 LR casings became some of my most prized possessions. It was a different era in 1968, since I was able to proudly take my squirrel tails and empty cartridge cases to kindergarten for show-and-tell the next week.

Article Photos

The author offers one of his favorite recipes for Hearty Simple Squirrel Soup. “It’s easy to prepare and a family favorite when it comes time to enjoy your harvested squirrels.” Photo by Grey D. Berrier II

I couldn't wait for the fall of 1975 to arrive when I had reached 12 years of age and finally was able to participate as a junior hunter. Armed with the knowledge from my recently completed hunter safety course, the outdoor wisdom imparted by my dad and grandfather, and my new Model 500 Mossberg 20 gauge shotgun, I was blessed to harvest a gray squirrel on opening day of small game season. I learned right from the start that anything I took the life from was to be treated with great respect and properly cared for to ensure the transition from wild game, to the field pouch, to the freezer, to the dinner table was suitably made.

Over the years, I have read a lot and written a good bit about squirrel hunting. While the quarry may be gray squirrels, fox squirrels, the black-phased gray squirrels that are prevalent in many parts of our area, or even red squirrels; the point is they are all challenging and fun to hunt. Various weapons can be employed to take squirrels and while rimfire rifles and shotguns are the most common, a few stalwart individuals head afield with rimfire handguns or archery equipment to pursue bushytails, and in some states, even slingshots can be legally employed while chasing squirrels.

Squirrels lend themselves to a wide variety of hunting tactics, both in the woods and near standing corn (which they eagerly consume). I have bagged squirrels by stand hunting, still hunting, spot-and-stalk hunting, hunting with a dog, as an incidental harvest when out for pheasant, rabbits, or grouse, and even when floating in a canoe through prime bushytail habitat. Squirrels are usually associated with oaks and acorns, but they can be found consuming hickory nuts, beech nuts, walnuts, corn, and many other types of fruits and berries, including those from poison ivy.

Fact Box

You can enjoy time afield and share the memories over a bowl of Hearty Simple Squirrel Soup when you are together.

While most narratives on squirrel hunting focus on where to find them and the various methods you can employ to harvest bushytails, I would like to turn our attention to after the shot and cover "from soup to nuts" on what I would like to call "from nuts to soup" on squirrels. Knowing chances are fairly high you initially located the squirrel close to its food source and took the shot, that will be our nexus, "the nuts".

As an ethical hunter, I'm sure you went for a humane and lethal head or heart/lung shot to immediately down your quarry. Regardless, if your squirrel was on the ground or fell to the ground from off a tree trunk or out of the branches, it is vital to visually mark where it fell in relation to the trees, bushes, rocks, or other features to aid in finding it. It is amazing how a gray squirrel's coat, and especially a fox squirrel's, can blend in with the fallen leaves and make them almost disappear until you are right on top of them. Mentally marking the spot becomes extremely critical if you are attempting to wait out an additional squirrel or several squirrels for subsequent shots before going over to retrieve your initial harvest.

Before reaching down to pick up your downed squirrel, it is prudent to insure it has expired. Like all game animals, wide open eyes that you can poke with a stick without any sign of wincing or reaction are a sure sign your quarry is dead. After picking up your squirrel, take a moment to admire its beautiful fur, its sharp claws for climbing and descending trees, its long tail used deftly for balance, and their long, sharp teeth ideally suited for chewing through nut shells. Squirrels are perfectly adapted for their tree-dwelling lifestyles and now is the time to snap a few candid photographs of your prized harvest.

Like all wild game I'm blessed to take, I prefer to eviscerate my quarry as soon as practical to permit body heat to dissipate. I typically make one incision from the vent to the sternum and carefully remove all the entrails. Inexperienced hunters will occasionally forget to take out the diaphragm, but this needs to be done to properly remove the heart, lungs, esophagus, and wind pipe. Game pouches make for easier transport and plastic bags help avoid a mess, but both help retain body heat in the carcass. Because of this fact, I only keep squirrels in there when I am moving about or heading back to the house or my vehicle. If I'm going to take another stand or remain stationary for more than 10 minutes, I'll take any squirrels I have out of my game pouch to continue the cooling process. Some hunters prefer to take off the entire hide, head, feet, and tail at the same time they eviscerate their squirrels and this definitely works, if you have a means of keeping the carcass clean in transport.

Whenever I hunt, I always take a cooler along with a few plastic milk jugs frozen with ice. If I'm deer or bear hunting, I can put the one-gallon plastic jugs of ice directly inside the carcass and then discard them later. With small game, the frozen milk jugs help to rapidly cool any carcasses placed inside the cooler for the trip home. Remember, your squirrels are destined for the table and all your efforts must be geared towards keeping the meat as fresh, safe, and palatable as possible.

After arriving home, I complete the skinning process with the aid of a sharp knife, cutting pliers (to snip the bones at the wrists, ankles, neck, and base of the tail), and my large fish/game cutting board. I prefer to conduct my small game processing by the laundry sink in our basement, so I can intermittently rinse the carcass under cold water to help remove blood and unwanted hairs, and to pick off any excess fat or remaining offal still attached. I like to soak my squirrel carcasses in a large stock pot filled with cold water and a teaspoon of table salt for three hours to help draw out any remaining blood, shot, and hairs. At the end of the soaking, each squirrel carcass is patted dry, given a final inspection to remove anything I would not feel comfortable eating, and then placed in freezer bags labeled "squirrels" and the date of harvest. Once the squirrels go into the freezer for safe food storage, the work is over until it is time to turn them into tablefare.

Here is one of my favorite recipes for Hearty Simple Squirrel Soup that is easy to prepare and a family favorite when it comes time to enjoy your harvested squirrels.

Hearty Simple Squirrel Soup

This recipe makes about 16 bowlfuls, so there is plenty for a family of five, plus company, and there will still be abundant leftovers. (I use a large six-quart crockpot, so you can halve this recipe, if you have a smaller crockpot.)

Ingredients:

(3) large fox squirrels or (4) gray squirrels (depending upon your harvest)

(1) one lb. box of farfalle (bow tie) noodles

(1) one lb. bag of baby carrots

(1) one can of whole kernel sweet corn (15.25 oz.)

(1) bottle of Italian dressing (16 oz.)

(6 cups) of chicken bouillon broth

Non-stick cooking spray

Instructions:

Step 1 The day prior, take your frozen squirrels out of the freezer to defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

Step 2 Spray the inside of the crock pot with non-stick cooking spray. Lay the squirrels in the crockpot and cover with half the bottle of Italian dressing (8 oz.). Cover with lid and allow squirrels to cook on low for six hours.

Step 3 Allow the squirrels to cool until they are safe to touch. Remove from the crockpot and completely bone out each individual squirrel carcass by hand. Tear the meat into bit-sized pieces and carefully remove all bones and any excess fat, hairs, shot, or anything else you don't want to eat. While the squirrels are cooling, cook the farfalle noodles according to the directions on the box, and slice the baby carrots into 1/2" pieces.

Step 4 Leave the liquid from cooking the squirrels in the crockpot. It consists of meat juices and the Italian dressing. Look it over closely to remove any remaining hairs or other components that you do not wish to have in your final soup.

Step 5 Combine the boned out squirrel meat, cooked farfalle noodles, sliced carrots, entire can of corn with its juice, and the 6 cups of chicken bouillon broth in the crockpot with the cooking juices. Pour the remaining 8 oz. of Italian dressing over top and stir all ingredients thoroughly. Allow to cook for three hours on low to insure the carrot slices are tender.

Step 6 Serve in a bowl. Allow individuals to add spices as they desire: salt & pepper, cajun seasoning, garlic, vinegar, etc. Enjoy!

NOTE: This same recipe also works well with cottontail rabbit or pheasant.

There you have it, "from nuts to soup" when it comes to caring for and processing your squirrels from the forest to the table this fall. Why not dedicate some time this season to go back to your hunting roots by harvesting a few squirrels? While you are at it, why not take along a mentored youth, junior hunter, or mentored adult who is just learning to hunt or a senior hunter who doesn't get out much anymore? You'll all enjoy the time afield and it will be great to share the memories over a bowl of Hearty Simple Squirrel Soup when you are together.

 
 

 

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