No one eats pine squirrels, and it isn’t hard to tell why. They are plentiful but they are tiny, the meat is tough, and it has a very strong flavor to it. They are often referred to as being akin to eating a furry pinecone. But that’s what I brought home. There are lots of them out there, they’re fun to hunt, and now we’re going to see how they do in a Brunswick stew.
When I was a child, Brunswick stew was something that I ate once a year, when my class took a field trip to the Virginia State Fair. For some reason Brunswick stew and soybean doughnuts were always on the menu there. One on of these trips someone told me that traditionally Brunswick stew was made squirrel meat. As a child that grossed me out–I was not raised in a family of hunters. But as an adult, with a changed mindset and palate, I’ve been very curious.
Now this certainly isn’t a 100% authentic Brunswick stew–for that I’d need to head out east and hunt the fat grey and fox squirrels that populate those forests. In our recipe we’ll be using the locally abundant pine squirrel.
But aside from the species, this is a pretty authentic recipe. It’s pulled from an old LL Bean game cookbook, with only some minor changes on my end. Typically I take a little more liberty with old recipes, but with this one I wanted to taste the classic.
I was skeptical of this recipe–when is the last time you made a soup or stew that called for water rather than stock? That’s always an easy way to punch up a recipe. But this really didn’t need it. The stew was thick and flavorful–maybe those strong flavored pine squirrels are good for something after all.
That said, my roommate was not a fan of the squirrels themselves. I wouldn’t say these tasted like pine cones; to me it was more like liver. Fortunately I enjoy liver. And even though he wasn’t a fan of the squirrel itself, my roommate loved the flavor in the stew. Additionally, in the leftover stew that sat in the fridge for a day the liver flavor was completely gone from the squirrel.
1-2 large squirrels or 3-4 small squirrels cut into small pieces
Salt + Pepper
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp thyme
¼ tsp cayenne
2 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh corn
3-4 red potatoes, cut to large chunks
2 onions, sliced
1 can lima beans
1 can diced tomatoes
Begin by dredging the squirrel in flour, salt, and pepper and frying in butter. When golden brown, remove squirrel.
Add all other ingredients except the tomatoes. Brown the vegetables for two minutes, stirring occasionally, then add 6-8 cups of water and return the squirrel to the pot. Cover and simmer for 1.5-2 hours.
Add the tomatoes and simmer another hour. Salt as necessary. If the stew is too watery, remove the lid for the last hour of simmering to reduce.
Serve with cornbread.