Weasels

It is well noted that Soddenham is subject to its own unique micro-climate. Indeed, it is the characteristic dampness of the area that gave rise to the proliferation of the lichen industry so that our glorious coastline should be garlanded in luxurious spume.

A weasel, yesterday

However, the weather can also be a fickle and cruel mistress for those who depend on particular conditions to prevail, as was seen in the Great Lichen shortage of 1802 and the slight less dramatic Lichen Shortage of 1871{1}, both of which affected the village for many years following these unseasonably dry and mild winters followed by equally dry and mild summers.

It was during these hard times that Sodd’hamites had to become more resourceful in order to put food on the table. The humble weasel, largely regarded as vermin in later years, became a staple of the local diet, along with elvers from The Leam and even hedgehogs{2}

WEASEL FACT – the weasel eats four times its own body weight every day!

Whilst elvers have remained part of the regular local diet, the consumption of weasels has become somewhat of a seasonal tradition, with these much maligned little creatures gracing the tables of Soddenham folk during the month of October{3}, in all manner of culinary forms. Locals used to prepare their own weasels, but many these days they prefer to purchase their weasel from local tripe dresser, Les Taret, who can wield a sharp blade as deftly as a surgeon on these small but tasty creatures!

The weasel has been honoured and venerated by locals over the years, in recognition of their historical status as well as their culinary delights! There have been fairly regular festivals and feasts during the last 50 or so years, bringing villagers together over food and drink in another one of Soddenham’s unique traditional celebrations. {4}

WEASEL FACT – the weasel eats four times its own body weight every day!

Charles & Di, yesterday

Bernie Tooley at The Witches Teat has created special commemorative ales on two separate occasions, the first in 1981, “Weasel Piss” to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di, of which no samples or visual ephemera survives, and the legendary “Little Stinker” in 1996, to mark the official recognition of BSE, also known as ‘Mad Cow Decease’ and the mass slaughter of of the UK’s bovine herds. Sodd’hamites were particularly smug about that. Incidentally, 1996 was the year that Charles and Di divorced – coincidence? Who knows?

WEASEL FACT – the weasel defacates almost continuously, even when sleeping!

“Little Stinker’ is so named after the appalling scent weasels spray whilst under duress, a display more commonly associated with skunks, but is just as potent in the humble weasel. You really don’t want to get sprayed by a weasel. Really. Les Taret once accidentally sliced into the scent glands of a weasel he was preparing will testify that it does not decline in intensity even when the animal is dead.

WEASEL FACT – the weasel is killing machine that will kill its prey even when it has just eaten, just for fun!

A record number of weasels were harvested in the early 1980’s sparking the festivities we know today. In 1981, it is estimated that 0ver 3000 weasels were consumed in a single week, a figure never repeated, but also never tried to be. In the latter part of the 1980’s the weasel was in severe decline and meat was scarce and expensive, and some local people began to recognise the impact their culinary tastes were having upon the weasel population. It was decided to set up a team of people to monitor and help the tasty little creatures bounce back. Through out the 1990’s a series of Weasel Stewards {5} undertook valuable conservation and cultivation responsibilities to ensure that breeding was undisturbed and that a general population was maintained during the harvest period.

Each October a wide variety of weasel dishes are served in the village, at home as well as The Teat and the village restaurant, Organos Vitales. At The Teat there are tasty bar snacks of weasel kebabs and jelly, whilst at the restaurant, a wide variety of classic dishes such as the Country Weasel Platter to more modern concoctions as Weasel Pancakes with Seaweed Waffles! Something for everyone! Of course, all weasel produce is prepared by Taret’s, and Les and his team are happy to advise on what cuts and quantities, as well as offer a few recipes of their own! Mention that you read about this here and Les will throw in a free weasel pie with every weasel based purchase!

WEASEL FACT – the weasel is the only mammal other than humans that can whistle! Their whistle is very quiet and their repertoire only contains the chorus to ‘Purple Rain’, which if heard, is said to be quite impressive.

{1} Both events were equally as catastrophic for the community, but the two differ inasmuch as the latter was more widely reported, therefore giving it ‘Great’ status in the annals.

{2} Hedgehogs are no longer reared and harvested for food in Soddenham. The last recorded hedgehog meal was during The Great War, when the deserters who made it back to Soddenham resorted to the small, spiky mammal when they were refused victuals at The Witches Teat. It is likely that there have been other occurrences since, but the eating of hedgehogs was generally associated with shame and dire necessity. Soddenham has been very active in encouraging, enabling and protecting hedgehog habitats over the last few years, a scheme started and championed by our very own Jessie Blunt, who is also the Chief Weasel Steward.

{3} Weasels were once consumed year-round in a wide variety of different guises. Although the practice has become a traditional annual event, it is the common belief that Weasels were once eaten for Sunday dinner, and for some families their only source of protein. Some of our oldest residents, amongst them Mrs. Elsie Smokepipe can recall playing a sort of ‘Knucklebones’ game with the weasel bones on Sunday afternoons in the middle of Fair Switch.

{4} Soddenham has a number of traditional celebrations throughout the year, some of which have been marked continuously since records began. The Weasel celebrations are a fairly modern affair, the earliest being in 1964.

{5} Ron Gussett was elected as the first Weasel Steward and retained the responsibility for 4 years until a bloodless coup by The Soddenham Ladies who installed a series of ‘puppet stewards’ who prevented the village from a total conservation approach and gradually paved the way for more a more dominant female representation within the communities clubs and societies. It was Mrs. Diedre Swanpole who made an effective difference in weasel husbandry, calculating sustainable numbers for harvesting and ensuring mating pairs were left undisturbed during the year. Mrs. Swanpole also began a program of tagging breeding pairs which was much applauded at the time but soon ended up aiding unscrupulous poachers who joined the program in order to seek out the nests. Mrs. Swanpole, once seen as a pioneer in weasel conservation, was soon ousted and never recovered from the embarrassment.

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