2017.11.22 Old: Squirrel brains

Yes, I used to write about squirrel brains from time to time. Here’s a sample from 20 years ago.


I have a few loose ends to tie up before heading off to Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house. Squirrel brains. Face mites. That sort of thing.

Former Morenci science teacher Tom Buehrer sent an interesting note about skin mites. He recalled that Dr. Husband, a professor at Adrian College, was considered a world authority on ticks and particularly mites.

Dr. Husband had a theory that a person with a clean complexion had a healthier, more abundant herd of mites crawling around on his or her face. His idea was that mites helped clean out the pores.

My poor pores suffered greatly. Did all that washing with special soap kill off my mites? And the medicines, too. I think I used something called Tackle—unless that was a deodorant. Whatever it was, it must have slaughtered mites by the thousands. The stuff never worked anyway.

This brings up the question of what came first: the pimple or the mite?

I was quite interested in squirrel brains a few weeks ago. What was of most interest was the alleged connection between eating that delicacy and acquiring a variant of mad cow disease.

You might remember mention of a New York Times article allegedly written by a Sandra Blakeslee that sounded so ridiculous I was sure it was a lovely hoax.

I just didn’t believe the Times would publish an article that said:

Brain-eating families follow a certain ritual. Someone comes by the house with only the head of a squirrel and gives it to the matriarch of the family. She shaves the fur off the top of the head and fries the head, says Weisman. The skull is cracked open at the dinner table and the brains are sucked out. He says it’s a gift-giving ritual.

I tried to find out if there was a Sandra Blakeslee on the New York Times staff. I had a staff list sent to me naming only those reporters who wanted their names made public. She wasn’t there.

It wasn’t until our local library got its reference-seeking service online that I was able to take a look at the actual Times articles from the last 90 days, and I’ll be jiggered. There was the article.

My friend Lynn from Illinois told me about burgoo stew festivals that are pretty big parties every fall. Squirrel is a real gourmet food in that part of the country.

Eating squirrel might not appeal to many readers, but is it any stranger than eating those giant crustaceans commonly known as lobsters? They’re cousins to wood lice and water fleas.

According to culinary historian Andrew Smith, crickets and grasshoppers were commonly eaten by settlers right here in America in the 1800s. Tomatoes, on the other hand, were considered revolting when the Spanish brought them back from North America. 

Lobsters are bottom-feeding scavengers. Caterpillars, at least, eat fresh, clean vegetation. How about Samoan baked bat, Turkish lamb tongues, Hawaiian broiled puppy or the English delicacy, herring sperm with cream?

Psychology professor Paul Rozin studies human food choices. He calls America a muscle-eating country. Products that have viscosity—a state between solid and liquid (squirrel brains) are generally considered repulsive. An exception, of course, is that gelatinous substance found in a can of Spam. My brothers and I used to call it Spam Jello.

My sister says to bring a traditional vegetables-and-dip for Thanksgiving or, she says, “surprise us.” 

Sounds like a challenge to me. I’m heading out to the compost pit.