It's no wonder the Pilgrims scheduled their feast of Thanksgiving for autumn.
That's the time of year when Mother Nature is most generous with her bounty.
For generations of Carroll County farm families, fall always has meant such appetite-pleasers as homemade apple dumplings, fresh-baked pumpkin pies and -- perhaps best of all -- kettles simmering with squirrel pot pie or spicy squirrel stew.
If you were not fortunate enough to grow up in such a family, you've missed out on one of the tastiest wild game dishes ever concocted. Squirrel meat is firm in texture and mild in flavor and resembles the dark meat of poultry.
Gray squirrels are extremely bountiful this year. Even in such areas as downtown Westminster or Hampstead you will spot them scampering through traffic or performing their aerial stunts across the utility wires.
If your property contains hickory trees or any of the other vegetation that provides provender, you are probably seeing squirrels in record numbers.
Squirrels were one of the first game animals pursued by early Maryland settlers; today they still provide an excellent chance to hone hunting skills.
The squirrel season traditionally has been a time for hunters to scout out the territory in which they will later hunt for deer and turkey. Thanks to spring rains that provided a plentiful harvest of nuts and berries, they will find a bountiful supply of squirrels throughout the area this year.
Hickory groves are a favorite habitat for these animals. Fence rows with a few black walnut trees also will attract them. If your property contains black gum trees, it is almost certain you will have an active squirrel population.
In fact, there are very few wild nuts or berries that squirrels refuse to eat; tulip poplar seeds, apples, the fruit of the sumacs, dogwood berries and the green acorns of white oak trees are some of the alternative foods they will devour.
Squirrel season runs from Oct. 5 to Jan. 31 with a six-per-day bag limit on gray, black and Eastern fox squirrels and a limit of 12 in possession.
For red or piney squirrels there is no bag limit and no limit on number in possession.
For cooking, squirrels should be skinned, then thoroughly cleaned and washed under cold running water. It is important to remove the two small glands found in the small of the back and under each foreleg, between the ribs and the shoulder.
Separate the front and hind legs and halve the back sections. If the meat is to be frozen, it should be dried thoroughly with paper towels, then wrapped in heavy duty plastic wrap and placed in freezer bags.
There are a number of ways to prepare squirrel. The two following recipes are among those Carroll County cooks have used to please their families for generations.
The Squirrel Pot Pie has its origins in the Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine.
The Southern Squirrel Stew is a spicier dish and can be made even hotter with the addition of chili peppers or mustard.
Squirrel Pot Pie with Dumplings
2-3 squirrels, cleaned and cut into pieces
1 medium onion, diced
3 medium potatoes, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 tsp. salt
tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
3 quarts cold water
1 cups flour
tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. shortening
4-5 tbsp. cold water
Simmer squirrel, onion, potatoes, celery and seasonings in cold water until squirrel is tender when tested with a fork.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening to make a coarse meal. Add enough water to hold dough together in a ball.
Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into two inch squares. Drop a few at a time into the liquid surrounding the squirrel. Continue simmering for 10 minutes.
Southern Squirrel Stew
2 squirrels, cleaned and cut up
1 lb. fresh pork, diced
cup chopped onions
2 cups tomatoes, skinned, quartered and seeded
3 cups fresh lima beans
1 cup boiling water
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 cups corn, cut from cob
1 tsp. salt
tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Melt shortening in a Dutch kettle and saute squirrel sections and diced pork until lightly browned. Remove meat and add chopped onions. Saute lightly. Return meat to kettle, add tomatoes, lima beans and water. When meat is nearly tender, add corn and seasonings. Taste to check seasonings.
Continue simmering until meat tests done with a fork.
* NOTE TO READERS: Does your family boast any special recipes for preparing wild game dishes? Send them along and we'll use them in future columns.
Address recipes to: Carroll Outdoors Column, The Carroll County Sun, 15 E. Main St., Westminster Md. 21157.
SOURCE: Marie V. Forbes