My mother-in-law has 2 apple trees that the squirrels LOVE to raid. Last year, despite having a bumper crop of green apples, she didn't end up with a single one because the squirrels carried them all off. Squirrel control was obviously needed.
Killing squirrels led my mind immediately to the question of what to do with them once you'd killed them. You can't just waste them! Any other time we've killed an animal, it's for food.
Once the topic of squirrel was raised, I found out talking to friends and family over the winter holidays that - somewhat to my surprise - pretty much everybody I know over the age of 40 has eaten squirrel at some point.
Squirrel? Eat squirrel?? I'll be honest, my first thought was 'Ewww...'
After talking to a few people who all assured me that squirrel could be pretty delicious I decided to give it a try. I might like it, I might not, but at least I'd be basing it on how it actually tastes. A neighbor invited me over for a squirrel lunch one day this spring and I closed my eyes, held my breath, and took a bite.
It tasted like... turkey. I am not kidding. It didn't even taste KIND OF LIKE turkey. If I didn't know that turkey doesn't have such tiny drumsticks I would be convinced I was eating turkey. I think this might be because turkey is the only dark meat I'm really familiar with, and squirrel is all dark meat. I know most people have a strong preference in this department, and I happen to like dark meat.... and apparently squirrel.
OK! Live and learn!
Well... and then I found out that my husband's grandparents really likes canned meat. What the heck? I was talking to them about it and they brought up a good point - meat cooked under pressure is super tender, and that's how you can meat - with a pressure canner. Not only is canned meat tender and delicious, but they then told me how convenient it is for them when they doesn't know what to make for dinner to pull a jar of meat and serve it over mashed potatoes or whatever's handy.
Convenience! Tasty, tasty convenience.
That is what lead me to save up in the freezer the squirrels my mother-in-law has been trapping so I can try canning squirrel meat. I pulled them all out this morning and saw I had 9 squirrels. Surely that's enough to warrant canning them!
Amazingly, the Ball Blue Book has instructions for how to can wild game, including squirrel. The instructions say for hot pack to cook the squirrels about 2/3 of the way, shredded the meat off the bone, and pressure can. That sounds pretty easy!
I took the frozen squirrels and brined them for an hour, which also thawed them. Next I rinsed them off and popped them in my crock pot to cook 2/3 of the way. Then I took the first one out of the crock pot and let it cool, and then shredded the meat off the bones.
Or at least.... I TRIED to take the meat off the bones. Nope. Not coming off at all. Not even a little bit.
Ok. Maybe they aren't cooked 2/3 of the way yet? I put them back in the crock pot for another 30 minutes.
This time with considerable effort I could pull the meat off the bones. Since the meat hasn't cooked all the way yet, the attachments at the joints haven't really weakened at all. That means it is SO, SO hard to pull this meat off.
So I stand there at my kitchen counter and s-l-o-w-l-y debone these 9 squirrels. It takes forever. The whole time my dogs are sitting at my feet staring up at me, clearly thinking 'Hey, there's a lot of meat up there! Surely some of that is for us! We would definitely like some of that meat! Meat! Yes, that meat! GIVE IT TO US!'
The nice thing is that once I had boned the meat the rest was super easy. I popped the shredded meat into pint jars and poured hot water over the meat. Then I just pressure canned the meat for an hour and 15 minutes. I got 3 pints of meat from these 9 squirrels.
Once we try the first jar of squirrel meat, I'll let you know what we think!
UPDATE [11.14.13] I used a can of the squirrel to make Jack some fried rice one night when all other meat options would have required lengthy defrosting. I tasted some out of the jar, and it just tasted like meat. I made the fried rice and handed it to him without saying anything to see if he's notice anything was different - nope! I think if I had told him it was chicken he would have believed me. So in other words - the canned squirrel turned out pretty darn well!