Imagine for a moment that you are poor.

How poor are you? Do you have shoes on your feet? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you ever eat meat? Would you like some nice roasted hedgehog?

Imagine you are poor in the English countryside a couple of centuries ago. Now would you like some nice roasted hedgehog?

'Hedgehog pie' is a traditional way of preparing hedgehog which has nothing to do with pie as you probably know it. The hedgehog is entirely encased in a ball of mud or clay, which is then placed under a fire for about half an hour. Then the clay ball is broken open, revealing the succulent juicy roasted meat. Or the rather dry and disappointing roasted meat, if you harvested your hedgehog at the wrong time of year.

It is not strictly essential to kill the hedgehog first.

Cooking a hedgehog this way is a practical way of addressing the greatest problem faced by all would-be predators of the common urchin: the spines. The clay protects your hands from the prickles, and rips out most of them when you open it.

Better results are to be expected if the animal is gutted and stuffed with dry straw.

According to Harry Robert's Tramp's Handbook (published 1903) Hedgehogs are best eaten between September and January, after they have had a chance to fatten up and before they start running out of food again.

Travellers, as the people formerly known as travelling folk and formerly formerly known as Gypsies are called in England these days, are said to have eaten hedgehog well into the twentieth century. It is not at all to be ruled out that other people also did so without being said to do so, and that talking about the supposed dietary habits of others behind their back is a useful way of passing on valuable but low-status knowledge without embarrassment.

Hedgehogs are useful animals to have around, eating a variety of pests, including slugs, which nothing much else will eat. So please only consider eating one if you are actually starving.

Do not try this with a porcupine.

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