Postmark, Pony Express, 1860, Westbound

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I inherited my mother’s cookbooks. Recently, my husband was reading one that must have been one of her first ones. The Lily Wallace New American Cook Book was published in 1945. She had married in July, 1941, months before the attack at Pearl Harbor in December.

My husband was amused to see they included squirrel in their Brunswick stew recipe.

“2 grey squirrels. Skin, dress, draw, and clean squirrels, according to instructions for roast rabbit.”

He grew up in Georgia, where squirrel was considered an essential ingredient in Brunswick Stew. He didn’t expect to see it in a cookbook from a Midwestern girl. But, in one of the first cookbooks I got when I married, Joy of Cooking (copyright 1967), and in his mother’s 1946 edition of The Joy of Cooking, chicken is substituted for squirrel.

To be fair, the 1967 edition of Joy of Cooking does include instructions on how to skin a squirrel, while the 1946 edition just tells you to treat it like rabbit.

We now have three generations of Joy of Cooking. Our 1997 edition does not mention squirrel.

Shortly after my mother married, she and my father moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they met at the University of Michigan, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She once told me the story about being asked how her postal service was in Michigan. Confused, she said, “It’s fine.” Her questioner followed up with, “Well, I just wondered how reliable the Pony Express was.” Following along with her questioner’s poor knowledge of history and geography, she replied, “Oh, they’re quite reliable.”

The Pony Express route did not include Michigan. Riders traveled from Missouri to Kansas, and to Nebraska, before going west to Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and finally California.  It started in 1860 and closed in 1861 after 18 months of service, days after the transcontinental telegraph connected Nebraska and California. The company sold its logo and assets to Wells Fargo.

It is easy to misunderstand someone else’s circumstances when you are distant in time or place. How often do we hear the joke about grandchildren asking their grandparents what it was like to grow up with dinosaurs. So, it is perhaps understandable that someone on the East Coast might not realize that the Pony Express had not been active for nearly 80 years.

But, some time between 1967 and 1997, the squirrel disappeared from one of the most popular American cookbooks, Joy of Cooking. Possum (or opossum) seems to have disappeared about the same time.

I wonder if my grandchildren will ask me how to skin a squirrel. I’ll let their grandfather tell them.