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Fried Squirrel and Dandelion Salad - Main Street Meltdown
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Main Street Meltdown

Fried Squirrel and Dandelion Salad

 I have noticed an odd trend in the media lately.  I have seen articles and some television programs which highlight some of the "edibles" you can find in your own backyard, even if you happen to live in a large metropolitan area like New York City.  These include fishing in ponds, preparing squirrel or making salads from dandelion greens.  One of the episodes of the short-lived NBC series "The Chopping Block" featured would-be restaurant owners touring Central Park, learning about edible plants that could be harvested right from the park and made into gourmet dishes.  The show was cancelled after three episodes due to low ratings.  I'm not sure if that was due to the questionable practice of eating something that was growing in Central Park.

Has it really come to this?  Have people been driven to the point of frugality that they are willing to eat something that I pay the landscaping guy $30 a month to come out and spray my lawn to kill?  

When I was growing up, my dad was an avid sport fisher and hunter.  He does have some mounted birds and deer heads around his home, and I'm pretty sure he's responsible for drastically reducing the whitetail deer population in South Dakota.  He didn't hunt or fish just because he liked it.  He did it to help put food on the table.  I grew up eating wild fish like Northern Pike, walleye, perch and catfish, as well as deer, antelope, quail, pheasant, duck and goose.  People pay big bucks to eat stuff like that at fancy restaurants these days.  To us, it was just a way of avoiding Hamburger Helper night.  

My wife and I live in a suburb of a larger city, but we still manage to plant and grow some of our own food in our backyard and in large buckets.  My wife has an herb garden, and I usually take a stab at growing some tomatoes.  Besides tasting better, the herbs alone save us plenty of money over buying fresh at the supermarket.  However, I have to draw the line at pulling dandelions from my front lawn and making some kind of salad out of them. We have a name for those things where I live:  weeds.

 Adventurous eaters might enjoy a fine squab at a four-star French restaurant in New York City, but would they feel the same way if that pigeon was harvested from a nearby park bench?  I'm thinking...probably not.  

I'm sure the current state of the economy has spawned this recent rash of "alternative food source" articles and TV show topics, but I'm not sure we've been driven to the point of living off the land in Cleveland or Detroit yet.  Despite my bit of "window box" gardening, I still get the majority of my groceries from the wilds of Aisle Number 7 at the grocery store and Wal-Mart.  

 The squirrels are safe in my neighborhood, at least for now.

 

Published Apr 26 2009, 11:53 PM by SavvyFrugality
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Comments

 

cheap_yankee said:

We were very poor growing up and pops did quite a bit of fishing and hunting.  The fish was always yummy, the deer not too bad if cooked properly, the waterfowl very gamey unless marinated or disguised in some sort of stew.  However, when it wasn't hunting season, he would hunt small birds, squirrels, snakes and opossum "for the cats to eat."  I'm positive the mysterious "chicken stew" (or in the case of snake, "fish chowder") we frequently ate (the one with verrrrrry dark meat and a gamey taste) was shotgun-du-jour.  

We also ate fiddleheads and would forage for miles during the various berry seasons (blueberries, cranberries, beach plums, blackberries, raspberries, etc.) and make jams out of them (and still do!)  You can eat the small hard apples and pears from abandoned or spontaneous-growth fruit trees ... just cut around the imperfections, cut out any worm tunnels, then slice them up to make applesauce/pear butter or make yourself a nice yummy cobbler.  You can can or freeze this as well.

I hope to not ever have to go back to the days of mystery stews, but if the economy tanks so bad it's a choice between feeding my hungry little ones or shooting Squirrel Nutkin, I'm glad I know how to survive.  I think everyone should at least read up on this skill and maybe take a gun safety class so they know how to handle a firearm "just in case."

BTW - the dandelions that grow on your lawn are not the dandelions gourmet chefs eat ... they're very bitter.  Salad dandelions are bigger and have much broader leaves.  Be careful foraging by the side of the road or people's lawns ... lawn chemicals, stormwater runoff, and carbon monoxide from tailpipes can make them poisonous.  Always go at least 30 feet "off road" to forage.  "Edible" dandelion leaves have much bigger leaves and the root can be dried and ground into "coffee" substitute.

April 27, 2009 1:17 PM
 

Laundry Goddess said:

I forage all the time. I've never died from it. Why buy onions when they are growing on my back property? I only forage in cattle fields or hunting leases.

April 29, 2009 4:51 PM
 

Pat said:

"Has it really come to this?" What?? That people will eat food that's free for the gathering that is more nutritious (not to mention fresh!) than the tired produce from the grocery store?

I agree with Laundry Goddess, why buy anything when it's free for the taking? As long as you're foraging in safe areas (not on your lawn if you actually pay someone to poison it), the food is much better than you could ever buy.

May 1, 2009 2:51 PM
 

Pat said:

To cheap_yankee: The dandelions that chefs use start the same way as the ones in your lawn. Isolate a few plants, water and feed them, protect them from the lawn mower and poisons and they'll be just as good. Dandelion greens will all be bitter after they flower, so keeping a fresh crop growing is the key.

May 1, 2009 2:53 PM
 

SavvyFrugality said:

@Cheap_Yankee:  thanks for passing along those tips!  I'm sure many readers will find that useful.

@Laundry Goddess and Pat:  I suppose it's a matter of taste.  I'm an adventurous eater, so I've actually had squirrel (squirrel jerky, to be exact).  Would I eat stuff growing in the wild out in a rural area?  Depends on what it is.  Would I eat something growing wild in a city like New York or Chicago?  Umm...no.  You don't know where that stuff has been or what else is present in that park or empty lot (chemicals, etc.).

As always, never eat anything you can't identify with 100 percent certainty.  This especially goes for berries and mushrooms, which can be highly toxic!

May 3, 2009 4:05 PM
 

Cheryl said:

This is an interesting article but I found the comments more to my viewpoint.

I grew up in poverty in Arkansas, and have eaten squirrel and rabbit that my stepdad provided for us. He held down a job, but it just wasn't enough, and living in the country things got very hard at times. Far from being one to question what other people eat, I'm actually proud of my upbringing, and the foods that I was exposed to.  Today I live in more comfort, thanks to my hard working husband, and we no longer eat squirrel, but I sure would if I had to. My stepdad also taught me how to dress rabbits and squirrels (that means skin and remove the insides for those who are above eating squirrel.. grin).  They have a good flavor, like chicken (ya I know, the old joke) but a little more gamey.

I've had dandelion greens and another green called lambs quarters, and also poke salat! My mom would take us kids out picking along highways, ya i know.. road exhaust, but we didnt think about that back then, and we'd pick what she called boysenberries. I'd go to school with scratches all over, but those cobblers were heaven, and she'd sell the extras that we picked for spending money. And if we picked enough, she'd splurge after we were done and we'd go to the store and each of us kids would get our own can of shasta brand soda from the machine, and to this day, shasta orange soda, ice cold, brings back memories of those days.

I also learned from a young age how to make a week or so's worth of meals from such staples as a sack of beans, flour, can of shortening and rice and cornmeal.

To this day one of my favorite meals on earth is pinto beans, cooked about 6 hours until the juice is really thick, and chill the leftovers in a loaf pan, chill and then slice and eat on bread like a  sandwich.. oh man, that's good eatin. Problem is, pintos dont last that long around here. haha

May 6, 2009 10:19 PM

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