Squirrel meat now not such a big secret
IT'S a story that left me all shook up – Elvis Presley loved to eat squirrels.
And now, people all over England are said to be tucking into squirrel meat like there's no tomorrow.
It's low in fat, low in food miles and completely free range – so why not?
The grey squirrel – the American cousin of Britain's endangered red variety – is said to be flying off the shelves of game butchers' shops quicker than hunters can shoot them, particularly in the North East, where the red squirrel is especially fast-disappearing (apparently, grey squirrels carry a pox virus which does them no harm, but which kills red squirrels).
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To a lesser extent, it's catching on in the South West. For some reason, it's becoming more popular in Cornwall than in Devon… perhaps there are just more grey squirrels in Cornwall.
But I can't see squirrel becoming commonplace in the supermarket meat sections – it's hard enough to find rabbits in the shops these days.
Even though some people regard grey squirrels as tree rats, hairy rodents – some even say vermin – most people would put squirrels in the same category as dogs, cats, horses i.e. just too lovable to eat.
Though some people could not be happier than to see the back of the grey squirrel, which was introduced into this country in 1876. They say grey squirrels devour birds' eggs, steal bird food, eat bulbs in our gardens, ruin lawns, damage trees and so on.
I can't remember ever seeing a red squirrel – and I certainly haven't (knowingly) tucked into grey squirrel, though I'd probably give it a try if I found it on sale.
I'm told squirrel tastes like a cross between chicken and rabbit, but David Simpson, who runs Kingsley Village shopping centre in Fraddon, Cornwall, reckons it tastes like wild boar.
He started selling squirrel in the summer and says: "We put it on the shelf and it sells. It can be a dozen squirrels a day – and they all go. People like the fact it is wild meat, low in fat and local – so no food miles."
Still in Cornwall, restaurateur Kevin Viner, who now runs Viners bar and restaurant at Summercourt, says squirrel should be served fresh and not left to hang like other game.
"It looks a lot like rabbit, though it is a drier meat and slightly firmer. Most of the meat comes off the rear leg. The loins are so thin they need much shorter cooking time."
He says a large squirrel would be enough for one-and-a-half portions. And how does he cook it? "Southern fried squirrel is good. And tandoori-style works. It is especially tasty fricasseed with Cornish cream and walnuts. But the one everyone seems to like is the Cornish squirrel pasty."
But he says one drawback is that squirrels are difficult to skin: "It's not like a rabbit where it slips off like a sock – you really have to use the blade and pull the skin back."
He adds: "Meat is meat and in the rest of Europe, people eat squirrels all the time."
I'll reserve judgment on eating squirrel until I've tried it.
In the meantime, I had to smile at this online advice on the best way to prepare squirrel: "Put it on a wooden board, place it in the oven, roast for ten hours (at a high temperature), throw away the squirrel and eat the board."
CROQUE monsieur, Dutch tosti, pizza, Welsh rarebit.
They sound so mouthwatering, but they're all basically that wonderful snack loved the world over, cheese on toast.
There is little more satisfying than a chunk of toasted bread with melted and bubbling cheese oozing over the edges. There are all sorts of things that can be added, but the basic ingredients cheese and bread are all you need for a great meal.
Almost any bread and cheese can be used, but what's the best?
I prefer a crusty bread, cut to about half an inch thick. Even ordinary sliced bread does a good job, especially the thin-cut as you get more cheese and less bread.
I've never understood the trend for using baguettes for cheese on toast for a start, there's too much bread in relation to the cheese, and if you make it yourself, how do you keep the baguette from rolling over in the grill pan? Some people swear that sourdough bread is best for cheese on toast. Each to his/her own.
And so to the all-important cheese... The Italians, of course, love their mozzarella and the French use Emmental or Gruyere. But here, cheddar is king for cheese on toast (and most other cheese dishes). The great all-rounder that originated in the West Country is by far the top seller with, perhaps surprisingly, mozzarella in second place.
But one of cheddar's biggest rivals is Lancashire cheese, which many people, especially in Lancashire, insist is the best l for cheese on toast.