Monday, September 11, 2017

It's nuts! Squirrel Cook Off this Saturday in Bentonville

I’m a city girl, having grown up in New Orleans. When I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in the fifth grade we lived on the outskirts of the city in a quaint suburb called Middletown. My best friend, Valerie Brown, introduced me to many things — and I won’t admit most of them here — but one was her father hunting squirrel. I’ll never forget visiting her home one afternoon with a delicious aroma emanating from the kitchen and what looked like a plate piled high with fried chicken on the kitchen table. My mouth watered at the sight and smell — until I found out what it was.

Now that I’m a food and travel writer I regret never sampling her father’s fried squirrel, but I was a shy pre-teen entering the culinary world. I have since sampled some pretty unusual things traveling the world but squirrel has never been one of them.

Don’t you be shy this weekend. The World Champion Squirrel Cook Off takes place in Bentonville, Ark., and includes more than tree rodents being fried up and served (I couldn’t help myself because yes, technically, that’s what they are.) There will be all kinds of dishes prepared with squirrel, including gumbo, tamales, pizza, sushi, empanadas, tacos and burgers. Take about creativity!

The fun happens from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, at the new 8th Street Market south of the square. It’s free and, according to event organizers, offers other food items, live music and Habit Outdoors apparel selling samples starting at 8 a.m. 

Here’s the 4-1-1: Joe Wilson founded the event in 2012, a strong supporter of natural, sustainable food such as squirrel, as well as hunting traditions. According to organizers, “although it’s built for fun and squirrel humor runs rampant, the event has a few simple rules.” They require two- and three-person teams to prepare their squirrel and a side dish — everything cooked on-site— for the judges, with all entries containing 80 percent squirrel. Presentation, taste, tenderness and texture are important aspects of judging.

As organizers say, “That’s it in a nutshell.”

Chere Coen is a travel and food writer who loves unusual places to visit and all kinds of great things to eat — even squirrel.

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