Thursday, December 22, 2011

Quill Pigs and Blue Jay Kabobs- A Five Course Meal

     This is a re-posting of a blog from 2009. Sometimes, I like to look back at old work. I hope you do, too. ' Tis the season for nostalgia!

    I love cooking shows.  One of my favorites is the cooking competition “Iron Chef,” in which a challenger competes against a previously chosen champion. The chefs must create a five-course meal in one hour using a ‘secret ingredient.’ At the last minute, the show’s creator, with a dramatic, theatrical flourish, reveals the secret ingredient. The competition points are based on flavor, presentation and creativity in the use of  said secret ingredient. Each course, including desert, must contain the secret ingredient, which can be something obscure like Sea Squirts. Often, the secret ingredient sounds incompatible with all of the necessary courses.
     I just watched an episode where asparagus was served as an ice cream. Asparagus used as an appetizer, deep-fried and adorned with a chip of fried pancetta made me drool, but they lost me on the green ice cream. So now, ladies and gentlemen, I reveal to you the secret ingredient - PORCUPINE!
   One of my favorite dishes made by my mother was “Porcupines.” There wasn’t any porcupine in it, only meat balls made with rice in them. The ends of the rice stuck out of the meat resembling the quills of the porcupine. As a kid, I loved the adventurous idea of eating a porcupine, though to date, I have not.
     Endemic to the Old and New Worlds, porcupines are the third largest rodents on the planet, coming in behind Capybaras and beavers, which are all edible (I’ve eaten Capybara and it’s delicious). Porcupine is generally only eaten in desperation as it’s fatty and mineraly tasting. The wood pulp, bark and leaves they consume are astoundingly high in potassium imparting that flavor to the meat. One of the reasons they are so destructive is that they constantly seek sodium to offset the potassium they consume. In addition to trees, they eat ax handles, gloves, or anything else that has absorbed salt from sweat.
     The word porcupine comes from the French porc d’epine or “thorny pork.”  Consistent with the reputation of the pig, the ‘Quill Pig” has a voracious appetite. Because tree parts have less than 2% crude protien, less than most breakfast cereals, porkies have to eat a lot! The greatest wild predator of the porcupine is the Fisher.  To avoid the quills, they circle the porcupine repeatedly biting its vulnerable face until it succumbs. A Quill Pig can have 30,000 spines, each with a viciously sharp point and barbed end.
     The quills of North American porkies are two to four inches long, but the African Crested Porcupine’s spines are eight to sixteen inches long!    Long ago, the shafts of birds’ feathers were used as pens called ‘quills’ for their resemblance to hollow porcupine quills. The African porky quill could surely be used as a pen. Porcupines do not throw quills, contrary to popular belief. When threatened, they raise the spines up to make themselves look bigger and will run backwards towards an attacker. Easily loosened from the porky the quills quickly lodge into the attacker’s flesh. Working their way inward at the rate of an inch a day, the quills can be fatal.
    There are reports of Great Horned Owls, Ruffed Grouse, deer, bears, pigs, even a trout, and of course, dogs with embedded quills. I have not found reports of any Blue jays with quills, so this one that appeared at my feeders, may be for the record books.
   Omnivorous Blue jays are also hogs of a kind. I have had an enormous flock of 30-45 of them at my feeders this past week. I’ve had to put food out twice a day to keep up with them and they have driven off most of the other feeder birds. To slow them down a little and to amuse myself, I took a whole peanut in the shell and tied dental floss around the middle, securing the end to the feeder. The Jays try repeatedly to take the peanut only to be hauled backward. It doesn’t hurt them, only humiliates them. I wouldn’t hurt them, no matter how much they ate. I wouldn’t hurt a porcupine, either, though they have chewed on my house in the past. However, I do wonder how they would all taste in a savory pie.






  






                                          A Blue jay kabob with quill skewer - yum!

With thanks to Wikipedia and Marty Stouffer's Wild America
  1. Woods, Charles (1984). Macdonald, D.. ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 686–689. ISBN 0-87196-871-1. 
  2. Macdonald (Ed), Professor David W. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-920608-2.

24 comments:

  1. When I was a kid, my parents had a farm in NH, and when I was growing up we had an outhouse (2 seater) for the necessary ablutions of the day. We had to constantly have to replace of the two "seats" because our local porcupines love to gnaw on those seats, due to the accumulated salt on the seats from our butts. Interesting, ne?

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  2. Today I saw a porcupine ornament! If I had read this before we went shopping ...what a perfect 2010 Christmas gift! I remember eating porcupines, the rice variety, as a child. I would love to know the story behind the quilled blue jay!
    HG

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  3. We had a multiple seater in NH when I was growing up, too. I don't recall anything gnawing on ours, thankfully! Thanks for that, and yes, interesting, indeed!

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  4. HG, I'd love to know the story behind that Blue jay, too! All I know is it showed up repeatedly at my bird feeder. I'll keep looking for it. Maybe I can get the truth out of it!

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  5. Ahhhh....that poor Blue Jay!! He doesn't look too happy. Great post...I learned a lot about porcupines--didn't know the quills worked themselves deeper at an inch a day!

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  6. Thanks, Kelly. No, the poor thing looks pretty miserable. Knowing that the quills advance at an inch a day makes me suspect that he's already gone to the big Blue jay place in the sky since it was poking him in the head. What a way to go!

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  7. Love that Cardinal; my favorite bird next to bluebirds which I haven't seen up here; lots in NY. We live on Cardinal Rd! Happy New Year.
    Ron

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  8. thanks, Ron! I aim to please.....er, ah,,,,,most of the time. :)

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  9. That poor Blue Jay is a new one for me with a quill imbedded. Great photos and thanks for the lesson in Porcupology!

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  10. I have a large flock of Jays at my place too - piggers that they are I think I might try the peanut trick too. :) I'm still jealous over your Cardinal!

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  11. thank you, Renee! I wish I had the nerve to wear that color red, and for that matter, to wear my hair that way! Ha ha!

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  12. Always interesting. Always educational. I really like the porcupine image. And porcupine meatballs aren't bad either!

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  13. "Porcupology!" Ha! I wish I had thought of that. What a hoot! Thanks, John.

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  14. Thanks, Ed for that. I took the photo of that little waddler in Colorado, but it's the same beast we have in the east.

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  15. As about as good as it gets for a personal blog. A friend in Maine referred me to your site. We live in Seattle. Like your photography. Appreciate your writing.

    God bless you.

    Tim Bruce
    Seattle
    tbruce@windermere.com
    www,windermerewoodinville.com

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  16. Thank you, Mr. Bruce, what a lovely thing to say. I appreciate your appreciations!

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  17. Amazing shot of the porcupine Robin, incredible looking creatures! Poor little Blue Jay, spiked!! Hope you had a great Christmas.

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  18. MERRY CHRISTMAS & A VERY HAPPY  NEW  YEAR TO YOU & YOUR FAMILY.  I LOVE YOUR BLOG. KEEP ON DOING WHAT YOU'RE DOING! YOU MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY!  ALL THE VERY BEST-MARTHA

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  19. Robin.........I must, again, tell you how much I like your Writing and Photography. Do put your Writing into a Book form and list me as a Buyer!  Wishing you and your's a Good Christmas and a Happy New Year from your friend in Alabama.........Kaky Hughes

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  20. Thanks so much Robin.  The blog is an endless source of inspiration, amazement, and amusement for me… and one I have shared with my friends who are birders and/or folks who love Maine.  So your artistic reach is broader than you know.  Take care and Happy Holidays, Laurie in New Mexico (Ted and Marcia’s niece)
     

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  21. Dear Robin,
    Your blogs and gorgeous photography have really enriched my life and I thank you for sharing them. I look forward to your new installments (when you are ready to write them....) and know I will smile, if not laugh, when I read them. Have a wonderful holiday season and know that you are one of life's blessings for some bird-loving strangers. Ellie Davis

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  22. Hi Robin, this is a new post for me. I enjoyed reading about the porcupine and the jays. The photos are amazing. I can not imagine 35 bluejays at my feeders, they are piggies. Have a great week!

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  23. What a beautiful photo of the Porcupine !!!

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