Boiled Squirrel and Moonshine

My husband, Stinger, told me the other day that an internationally renowned chef had predicted squirrel meat would become all the rage this year. I responded, a bit dryly, that a close acquaintance of ours (who shall remain anonymous) has been shooting and eating squirrel for decades, along with deer, wild turkey, etc. L, as I shall refer to him, grew up in what is popularly referred to as “the back woods.” His family was “dirt poor” and he didn’t learn to read until he was an adult, when his wife patiently taught him how to. He’s one of the most interesting individuals I’ve ever met, open, straightforward, honest, curious as a child and endlessly excited about what he loves doing most, hunting. When he and his wife were over for dinner one evening, I asked him how he liked to cook squirrel. He seemed a little surprised by the question, as though it was obvious there was only one way to cook the little critters. He told me that he skins and cleans them, then puts them all in one big pot filled with salted water. He brings the water to a boil, lowers the heat and simmers the squirrels all day long, until the meat is almost falling off the bones. “Do you put any other seasonings in the pot?” I asked, and he looked at me as though I’d suddenly grown two heads. “No, just salt,” he replied, and I realized of course what else would you need when you have fresh wild game and some Moonshine to wash it down with?

Which brings me to the subject of this post. L was kind enough to give us his father’s infamous Moonshine recipe, handed down through generations. It was considered the finest Moonshine in their neck of the woods. I recorded the conversation with my iPod:

L: “Well, when we was kids back home, my dad showed me how to make the Moonshine, so we went down into the woods, and you have to have water running into it for cooling it, okay? So we had these big barrels and we had rye. We filled a barrel half full of rye and got hot water, but we made sure it was good spring water, we had to haul spring water into it.”

Me: “Yeah, I’ve read about this part.”

L: “Uh-huh. So we had to have good clean water, and you got it hot and we mixed it and stirred it up, and then he puts sugar in there. He’ll put maybe three bags of sugar in it, seventy-five pound bags of sugar in a barrel, in one barrel.”

Me: “Three seventy-five pound bags?”

L: “Cakes… you buy these cakes, put ’em in there, throw ’em in real good, cover it over. We did every barrel that way, I mean, we had ten barrels or more. We used to cover ’em up, and then he’ll go down, oh, in maybe four or five days, he’ll go down and he’ll go look at them, and whatever foams up from the working, he’ll get that out of there, and he’ll put more sugar in, a couple more cakes, not very much, and he’ll throw that in, and when that’s done he’ll go down and if he sees it foaming up, he’ll know it’s ready to go. So then what he would do is… we use gas… propane gas, and he would take a barrel and a kettle, like the kind you have your firewood in, that kind of kettle, he had these big copper kettles, and he’ll set that on this fireplace, it’ll sit right on the fireplace. And then he took another barrel, he made a wood thing that lays over the top of it that a had a hole in it about that big around in the middle. So then he’ll take some rye (and) he’ll take some water, he’ll mix rye together, to get it kind of-”

Me: “Rye what?”

L: “Rye, just plain old rye, ah, you can buy rye, it’s just a grain. So anyhow, he mixes that up, makes it sticky-like and he puts it at the bottom of that there barrel, and he set that on top of it, that stops the steam from coming out around. Well, the barrel is empty up here but before he put that on, he’ll put that barrel full of rye… into that kettle, okay? He sets that thing on top of it and puts the barrel on top of that, and he has a coil that comes up through and comes out of here, and when that baby starts cooking, that steam that goes up, that water cools it when it comes out and goes down into another barrel, it cools it, you know it starts dripping.”

Me: “I’m lost.”

L: “I know, you have to go down to see it to know-”

Me: “I got lost at the barrel. You coat the barrel with rye?”

L: “Okay, here we go. Let’s say this is the barrel, you know, and this barrel is on top of a fireplace right here. I got a ring I made that sits on top of this barrel-”

Me: “Like a lid with a hole in it?”

L: “Right, I made it to sit on top of that. Now we got the thing starting to cook, you know.”

Me: “What’s in the barrel again?”

L: “Rye, we took that out of the barrel-”

Me: “You mean what you were fermenting before?”

L: “Right.”

Stinger: “The mash.”

L: “Yeah, okay, so you put it in the kettle. You dump that in the kettle, and it starts to get where it’s warm, he knows it’s gonna start steaming, so right away he’ll put that cap on, he’ll take this barrel and he’ll set (it) on top of that, so no steam comes out around here. He can’t waste it, okay? So now you got your steam coming up through here-”

Me: “Because this barrel has a hole in the bottom.”

“Yeah, this barrel is upside down with a little hole in the side-”

Me: “Oh, the barrel’s upside down! The top barrel. Okay.”

L: “You got a little hole up there and you got a long pipe comes out here down to this (other) barrel. This barrel sits on the ground, okay, full of water, okay. So now you got your pipe coming down, and here’s your coil, down in this water.”

Me: “Your coil?”

Stinger: “A piece of copper tubing.”

L: “It goes in here, and when the steams coming up, it comes up, and it starts up and it goes down, and as it goes down, the water’s cold all the time, it puts steam out.”

Stinger: “You put ice in the water to make it colder.”

L: “Yeah. It comes out and starts dripping.”

Me: “It comes out of where?”

L: “It comes out of the bottom, where the coil goes down, you have a little hole down there, it cools it, yeah, that steam will turn into sweat, it sweats in there. It turns into whiskey, is what it does. Coming out of here it goes down here, it comes out white and, let me tell you, when it comes out white, you can’t really drink it, you get your nose up (in it) you don’t breathe, it’ll take your breath from you, that’s how hot that-”

Stinger: “I want some of your dad’s Moonshine, ’cause the stuff they used to make-”

Me: “Then that’s the drinkable stuff.”

L: “Oh yeah. What they do with that, what dad used to do with it, uh, if he wanted to sell it, and if he wants it cured… he puts it in a barrel about that high, you know, a small barrel, and it has, um, he has burnt wood in there, like a charcoal wood, and that’s what darkens the whiskey. Well, if he had some that wasn’t darkened, and he’s gonna sell it, he puts it in a jug, a gallon jug, takes a little bit a coffee, and he dumps in the coffee, and that cures it right away. So you got nice brown-”

Me: (Laughing) “That’s great!”

L: “You can’t taste the coffee whatsoever in that there whiskey. That makes it nice and brown, so that makes it look good. That’s how he used to do it.”

Me: “That’s awesome.”

L: “I’m telling you, you would not believe-”

Me: “And they call the steam that comes off The Angel’s Share, because that’s how they make cognac, and stuff.”

L: “Yeah.”

Stinger: “That was good Moonshine though because your dad used rye not corn.”

L: “Oh yeah, I’m telling you.”

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2 Responses to Boiled Squirrel and Moonshine

  1. Annie says:

    What an enjoyable read!

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