The Guardian Tuesday 18 September 2007, 12:00pm
For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the hedgehog was meat for the pot. Today, it is an acquired taste – acquired by combing the verges of roads.
Making a meal of it: first, find a pair of gloves … Photograph: Niall Benvie/Corbis.
So, archaeologist Dr Fairchild of the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff has revealed that, 6,000 years ago, hedgehog was one of the choice or, more accurately, opportunistic meat finds for the Sunday roast. Our ancient ancestors may possibly have expressed their hairy lip-smacking and furry finger-licking appreciation of its unique culinary merits with deep hedgehog mimicking grunts of guttural satisfaction; but the question that needs answering is, what exactly does it taste like?
With the language and poetic yearnings to express themselves, how might aspiring Oz Clarks of the stone age have grappled with the highly subjective nature of taste and smell in describing the culinary pleasure of hedgehog munching? No doubt comparatives would abound – descriptive words and names drawn from a range of creatures now long extinct. Yet, to answer our question, we must turn to stories of gypsies, crisps, modern-day roadkill and contemporary edible beasts.
Well, hedgehogs are nowadays a protected species, of course, and gypsies (historically partial to a bit of hedgehog) were nowhere to be found; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, perhaps our most celebrated roadkill connoisseur was, quite sensibly, unavailable for comment, and Arthur Boyt was too busy researching his roadkill cookbook, so this is forager-chef and sometime roadkill aficionado Fergus Drennan’s verdict:
“All wild meats have their own unique flavours and hedgehog is no exception. Of course, the classic descriptive cliche for practically any previously untried meat is that it either tastes like chicken or, more curiously, tuna. What I would say, then, is that if you bear in mind that badger tastes somewhat beefy, fox a lot like mountain goat, squirrel like a turkey-lamb chimera, seagull like a rich ducky pheasant with a whisker of cat, and mole like rabbit with a hint of liver, the flavour of hedgehog could be described as follows: delightful initial bursts of badgery foxiness transform into grungy pork nutty acorn with caramalised apple flavours, together playing a subtle counterpoint to a base rhythm of peaty earth and mole. This cacophonic complex of flavours reaches a wild boar crescendo, fading out with the distant cry of seagulls…
“The perfect accompaniments, naturally, being sautÃ©ed hedgehog fungus and roast chestnuts (less their spiny cases).”
Not unlike those notorious hedgehog-flavoured crisps of the 1980s, then – only minus the salt and potato.
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