As surprising as it may seem, several U.S. presidents are known to have eaten squirrel during their lifetimes. In the early days of the country, serving squirrel for dinner was not uncommon, especially in rural areas where game was plentiful. Though unusual by today’s standards, eating squirrel had less of a stigma attached to it back then. Some of our nation’s most famous leaders partook in this unusual delicacy.
Why Did Presidents Eat Squirrel?
There are a few reasons why presidents and other Americans ate squirrel in earlier eras:
- Squirrel was abundant – In the 1700s and 1800s, forests covered much of the country. Squirrels were everywhere and relatively easy for hunters to kill.
- It was considered game meat – Squirrels were viewed as fair game for hunting, the same way people hunted rabbits, deer, turkey, and other animals.
- Frontier living – On the frontier, settlers made do with what they had. Squirrels made for readily available protein.
- It was a free food source – For poorer citizens, eating squirrel was free since the animal could be hunted or trapped.
- No refrigeration – Before refrigeration existed, preserving and eating wild game was important for survival.
In short, squirrel meat was cheap, abundant, and helped feed American families going back to colonial days and beyond. The fact that U.S. presidents ate them too reflects how normalized the practice was at the time.
Which Presidents Actually Ate Squirrel?
Here is a list of presidents known to have eaten squirrels during their lifetimes:
Andrew Jackson’s historical association with squirrel-eating is well documented. Jackson grew up in backwoods Carolina territory where hunting and eating wild game was a way of life. As a young teenager during the Revolutionary War, he fought as a patriot courier and survived weeks alone in the wilderness, where eating squirrels and other wild animals was necessary for survival.
Later in life, one account describes President Jackson inviting members of his cabinet to join him for a squirrel soup dinner at the White House. Though initially hesitant, the cabinet members found the squirrel meat quite tasty when prepared into a hearty soup or stew.
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant grew up in Ohio in the early 1800s when Ohio was still considered the western frontier. Like Andrew Jackson, Grant gained experience hunting and eating wild game from a young age. In his memoirs, Grant remarked on enjoying squirrel hunting as a boy. He also later recalled eating roasted squirrels during his time as a freshman at West Point military academy.
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was famous for his love of hunting all kinds of wild game. As an avid outdoorsman and naturalist, he utilized every part of the animals he hunted. There are multiple accounts of Roosevelt dining on cooked squirrel, even at the White House. It fit perfectly with his rough-and-tumble, frontier image.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower’s love of squirrel stew dates back to his childhood in rural Kansas in the late 1800s. His mother often cooked squirrels that Dwight’s father hunted. A favorite dish was Brunswick stew, a hearty squirrel meat soup Eisenhower requested even during his military career. As president, he had White House chefs recreate his boyhood squirrel stew to serve at dinners.
Growing up in rural Georgia in the 1920s and 1930s, Jimmy Carter was no stranger to country-style living. In his autobiography, Carter recalls eating fried squirrel prepared by his mother at least two to three times per week. Though not his favorite meat, Carter ate squirrels often well into his adult life.
How Was Squirrel Cooked and Served?
Squirrel meat is tough and sinewy if not prepared properly. Here are some of the common ways it was served:
- Squirrel stew – Slow simmering or braising tenderizes the meat. Thick stews with vegetables were popular.
- Fried squirrel – Bread and fry chunks of squirrel meat much like fried chicken.
- Squirrel pie – Baked in a pie with potatoes, carrots, and gravy. Similar to chicken pot pie.
- Brunswick stew – A tomato-based squirrel meat stew with corn, lima beans, and other vegetables.
- Squirrel dumplings – Squirrel meat cooked into a thick broth and served with dropped dumplings.
Stewing, braising, and frying were best for tenderizing the meat. Creative cooks came up with many ways to make squirrel palatable and flavorful.
When Did Presidents Stop Eating Squirrel Meat?
The popularity of eating squirrel declined in the early 20th century. Some key reasons for this change:
- New hunting laws – Stricter regulations limited squirrel hunting seasons and bags.
- Growing urbanization – Fewer Americans lived in rural areas where hunting was common.
- Refrigeration – Refrigerators and modern supermarkets made other meats more available year-round.
- More farmland – Forests and open hunting areas became farms for domestic livestock.
- Changing tastes – Squirrel was seen as old-fashioned and unrefined by the mid-1900s.
By the 1950s, serving squirrel meat had become rare even in the South. Though presidents like Jimmy Carter still ate fried squirrel into adulthood, the practice definitively died out in the White House kitchens by the mid-20th century.
Do People Still Eat Squirrel Today?
While no longer a common menu item, squirrels remain legal to hunt and eat in most states today. Here are some of the groups that still regularly consume squirrel meat:
- Hunters – Those who hunt for sport may cook up their squirrel bags.
- Rural families – Some country families see it as free game for the table.
- Survivalists – Useful for those practicing wilderness living skills.
- Nostalgics – Trying to recreate old family recipes.
- Foragers – Those focused on eating wild or hunted foods.
So while squirrel-eating is rare today, the practice persists in certain circles. Hunting laws and public tastes ensure numbers stay low, even in the rural South. But the memories of potted squirrel from the 1800s live on in history books and family stories.
Presidential squirrel-eating may sound strange today, but it made practical sense in early America when wild game was an important food source. For early presidents like Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant, eating squirrels was part of a frontier upbringing. Theodore Roosevelt prized squirrels as hardy game worthy of the table. Later presidents benefited from rural Southern cooking traditions where fried squirrel remained popular into the 20th century. Though squirrel meat is scarcely seen on menus today, it represents an interesting part of America’s culinary history.