Southerners in general are a proud lot. Sandlappers in particular are accused of being excessively so. Charlestonians claim so many cultural “firsts” in America that chauvinism here is endemic. Much to the chagrin of Kentuckians, we even claim the first jockey club and racetrack; some swear the julep is ours as well. I’ve never heard the burgoo claimed in Charleston, but both Brunswick County, Virginia, and Brunswick, Georgia, claim it under their own name. Squirrel is traditional in both the Kentucky and Brunswick versions, yet many recipes omit it.

I love the taste of squirrel, as long as it doesn’t live in pines, which give the meat a resinous taste. Farmers with pecan groves often let young hunters practice their marksmanship with. 22 rifles among the nut trees; pecan grove squirrels are the most succulent. They are delicious when pan-fried like chicken or quail, but my father puts squirrels in the freezer as he kills them in the fall, then makes a big pot of burgoo with the first vegetables of the summer. Traditional recipes call for 1 or 2 squirrels to feed 6 to 8 people. At my father’s house it’s a squirrel per person. Once you’ve got the squirrels, the recipe is utter simplicity.

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Ingredients

  • 1 gallon water
  • 4 squirrels, cleaned and quartered, or 4 squabs, 2 rabbits, or 8 quail unbleached (all-purpose) flour for dusting
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons ( cup) bacon grease
  • 1 bouquet garni: several parsley and thyme sprigs tied with a bay leaf to a celery rib
  • 2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen Sieva beans, butter beans, or baby limas
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 4 cups peeled ripe tomatoes with their juice
  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels

Method

Bring the water to a boil in a stockpot. Dust the squirrel pieces in the flour seasoned with the salt, pepper, and cayenne. Brown the pieces in the bacon fat in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, then slowly add the boiling water to the pot, stirring constantly. Do not let the water return to a boil. Add the bouquet garni, onions, beans, and potatoes, cover the pot, and simmer slowly for about 1½ hours. Add the tomatoes and corn and simmer, covered, for another hour. Serve hot with corn bread.

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