Recently my mom came to visit and taught me how to make this dish that was special to both of us. I wanted to be sure that not only my memory of this recipe is preserved but also hers.
I remember as a child visiting my mom’s parents (my Mamaw and Papaw) and enjoying wonderful breakfasts. I was little so of course I would always get up really early and be in the kitchen to watch my Mamaw cooking. They lived way out in the country and often cooked what they caught. Squirrel season was one of our favorite times, because it meant eggs, grits, biscuits, and squirrel gravy! I know that isn’t a typical meat option, but it is delicious and in many areas in the south was a staple meat supply during hard times. Many of my ancestors lived by the rule of eating what you can catch or grow, and squirrel is no different than eating beef, pork, quail, or doves.
They are a darker meat animal with very little meat. For this reason, most people only use them for seasoning a rich gravy to top biscuits with. The process of browning the meat then braising it with a roux and water mixture allows the natural flavors to slowly cook into the pan creating a rich meat flavored gravy.
It is best served over crisp biscuits, but any biscuit is better than none. I use my Mamaw’s recipe, but space them out more. This keeps them from rising high and allows the edges to crisp up. My Papaw died while I was still really young and before I could do much if any hunting, so most of my memories are in the kitchen with my Mamaw cooking. I asked my mom to share her favorite memory tied to this recipe. These are her words:
“Crisp cool air, fall leaves, and squirrels barking always reminds me of early morning squirrel hunts with my dad in rural Mississippi. When I was born he had desperately wanted a son, and much to his credit, didn’t allow his disappointment at my gender stop him from passing on many life skills, including hunting and fishing.
As soon as I was able to walk quietly behind him, stepping only where he had first stepped to avoid any extra noise, and could resist talking, he began taking me hunting with him. I quickly learned to follow his lead -step softly, do not speak, listen and watch for squirrels, shoot, and then remain still a few more seconds because the noise would cause more to scurry, giving you another opportunity to fill your game bag. Then came a priceless lesson. He once approached a slight hill, stopped, and set his gun down, and then laid down beside it. I whispered, “What are we doing?” He replied “Squirrel huntin’, to which I replied “Looks a lot like taking a nap to me.” “No,” he said, “This is an important part of huntin’” It was at that point that I deeply understood his love of the outdoors. Sitting quietly in the woods, listening, and absorbing all the sights and sounds there is absolutely healing to the soul. As I grew and was able to hunt independently, I used all the knowledge and skills he had passed on, including taking time to just stop, rest a few minutes, and enjoy this beautiful world.”
- 3-4 squirrels
- ¼ to ½ cup Vegetable oil
- ¼-2 tsp. Salt
- ¼-2 tsp. Pepper
- ½-2 cups Self-rising flour
- 1-2 cups Water
- Freshly skin and clean your squirrels. Cut into small pieces so when cooking it is easier to move around. Rinse meat under running water to remove any stray hairs. (Optional- If desired, place your squirrels in a brine or airtight container 4-5 days in the fridge. This will help tenderize the meat, which is especially helpful if the squirrels are older and tend to be tougher.) Place the cut pieces on a pan or plate and season with salt and pepper then allow to sit while heating a thin layer of oil in a heavy cast iron pan. When oil is hot dip each piece of squirrel in flour then place each piece into the hot oil. Brown the meat evenly on all sides then set aside on a plate lined with paper towels. Do not clean out the pan. Instead add a little more of the oil and two to three tablespoons of flour to create a roux. Cook the flour and oil stirring continuously until it becomes a light brown color. Then whisk in water creating your gravy. Add the browned squirrel meat back into the gravy and set on a low simmer. Cover and allow the meat to continue cooking, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. When the squirrels have cooked through thoroughly the gravy is done. If the gravy gets too thick while the meat cooks, simply whisk in a little more water to thin. Serve over hot biscuits and Enjoy!