JOHN HOLYOKE

Reader trades squirrel recipe for smoked alewife tips

Posted April 15, 2011, at 8:54 p.m.
Last modified April 19, 2011, at 4:21 p.m.
A gray squirrel eyes a stranger at the St. Francis Wildlife Center in Fairfield in 2007.
A gray squirrel eyes a stranger at the St. Francis Wildlife Center in Fairfield in 2007.

BDN readers are a resourceful bunch. Armed with the MaineGuy-ver essentials — duct tape, paper clips and a supply of wild roadkill — I’d guess that many could survive for weeks. Some of  ’em would probably even enjoy the experience.

One thing BDN readers know, however, is this: If they can’t muddle their way through a problem and find a suitable solution, their fellow Mainers will help. The most difficult part, at times, is deciding which of your fellow Mainers are really trying to help, and which ones are trying to find out if you’re actually foolish enough to blindly follow directions that could well blow up your own outhouse (while ridding it of pesky houseflies). But that’s another story.

This morning, I’ve got a double-feature special for you. Reader Erick Hutchins of Old Town is looking for your help, you see. In trade for the information he seeks, Hutchins will give you something I’m pretty sure you’ve never received. Not even on Fathers Day when your kids have given up on buying you ugly ties you never wear.

He’ll give you … well … I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s just say that if you’re bold, and you’re willing to follow his instructions to the letter, and if you’re willing to try to eat most anything (once), you may never look at a squirrel the same way again.

First, however, Hutchins needs your help. Here’s what he wrote in a letter I received earlier this week:

“I have a question you just might be able to help me with: Making smoked, brined alewives, a.k.a. ‘bloaters.’ The entire fish,” Hutchins wrote. “Way back they used to be a sort of cottage industry in coastal areas of Maine, [they] were pretty cheap, and I liked ‘em. But I guess government restrictions and mandates got too much and everyone quit [making them available for sale]. Last one I saw (and bought) was at Paradis IGA on North Main in Brewer, and must have been 20 years ago; 15 anyway.

“I wonder if you know some old-timer who actually did this, and remembers specifics: Scaled or not? Brined — how strong and how long? Smoked? How hot, how long, with what wood?” Hutchins wrote.

Hutchins is in a bit of a time pinch: He pointed out that the alewives will be running in a month or so, and he’s eager to give the brining and smoking a try.

In the meantime, here’s an advance payment for any information you can pass along to Hutchins (and your fellow BDN readers).

“Enclosed, for your edification, is a recipe most might find a bit comical, but is dead serious fact, and a favorite,” Hutchins wrote. Here, therefore, are step-by-step instructions for a dish he calls “Sciurus Carolinensis a la Oak Hall, a.k.a. Plain ol’ Boiled Squirrel.”

“[I] stumbled into this ‘recipe’ in desperation, October, 1967, Oak Hall, University of Maine at Orono,” Hutchins wrote. “[I had] no refrigeration or cooking facilities available and I have a ‘thing’ about hunting then wasting the meat. Still do. But I had a (highly illegal) ‘hot pot,’ a sort of 1½-quart pot with a built-in immersion heater element, and no lid.”

The instructions:

“Take one gray squirrel, appropriately skun, gutted and dismantled (the guy in the next room was from Massachusetts and almost barfed when he saw me gutting it out in the dorm bathroom. But he got over it).

1 bouillon cube, either beef or chicken.

Pepper and salt to taste.

Water enough to cover. Add more as needed.

Boil (or simmer, preferably), until tender. Around 40-80 minutes, depending on squirrel.

“A couple of the more courageous residents tried a little and found it startlingly good,” Hutchins wrote. Future modifications to his recipe involved adding ¼-teaspoon of peppercorns instead of ground pepper, adding a bay leaf, and using a real cooking pot that was generally placed on a wood stove’s “simmering corner.” Optional, he said, is the addition of a small diced onion or potato.

“People claim I’ll pick up road-kills if they’re fresh and not too stove-up,” Hutchins wrote in a perfect Mainer conclusion. “I won’t comment.”

If you’d like to comment, or pass along your alewife know-how, you can do so via email at jholyoke@bangordailynews.com or send correspondence to my attention, Bangor Daily News, PO Box 1329, Bangor, 04402-1329. If we receive an answer for Hutchins, I’ll share it in a future column.

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