Skinning and processing of dormice in Slovenia
Before dormice can be skinned, processed and cooked – they have to be caught. That is an art of its own and is described in an article you can find under this Link here.
Skinning and processing of dormice is done similar to other mammals, but due to its smaller size in a simplified way. First, the dormouse is laid on its back towards the skinner. Hind legs will be spread apart und one long cut from the base of one leg to the other one over the belly is done with a sharp knife. Thereafter the skin is loosened from the meat at both legs and the skinners finger loosens the skin between he back of the dormouse. As a next step, all four legs will be cut-off at the ankles.
Thereafter the skin will be removed towards the tail and the root of the tail be taken out from the bushy fur tail. Now the fur will be pulled over the body towards the skull, over the remaining front legs and completely pulled of the skull. Whiskers, eyes, and muzzle will remain on the skinned skull, which gives it a Mickey Mouse appearance. The complete skin is loose now, and the skull can be cut off for civilized cooking or left on in survival situations. Thereafter the anus be ringed, and the small intestines be drawn out of the hind body cavity. The length of these intestines is about one meter from the stomach. And the cleaned-out gut can be dried and later used either for bindings or be part of a fishing line.
Further processing of dormice
Depending on the age and physical condition of the animal, more or less fat will be stored below the skin, on the body and inside the body cavity around the kidneys. This fat should be scrapped off and stored for future use.
After opening the body cavity, all remaining intestines, stomach, and reproductive organs should be removed and are of no further use. Lungs and kidneys should be left in place and be eaten. During beechnut mast years the liver is pleasant to eat, whereas in times, when dormice mainly feed on acorns, the liver becomes very bitter.
After skinning and processing of dormice we got three useable parts: skin, meat, and fat. And from the remaining parts, only the small intestines are of further use for mentioned purposes. As the dormouse meaty body is quite small, further split-up of meaty pieces is not necessary.
Roasting dormice on a spit
There are two mainly used cooking styles of the body: spit roasting and pan frying. Spit roasting is the simplest form. Just put the body on a green hazel stick and roast over the coals. Rip cage can be chewed as a whole, due to the thin rips and all other parts be gnawed off the bones. On some Croatian islands, it is customary to put the spit-roasted dormouse on a slice of bread and eat it like a sandwich. It is deliciously tasting and smelling meat, similar like the leg meat of a chicken.
Frying dormice in a pan
And for pan frying, onions are fried in hot oil. Whatever vegetable is available can be added and the meat is nicely browned in the sizzling pan. Some flour and wine will create a tasty sauce. I prefer this style even more than just roasting on a spit.
Use of dormouse skins
The skins got nice, fluffy hair and although the skin is thin, it is quite tough. Slovenians, therefore, produced in former times a traditional head-dress, called ‘Polhovka’. For such a head-gear about 30 – 35 tanned dormouse skins of average size were necessary. Beginning of 2022, the last maker of such hats died at Kočevje, according to information of the local museum curator.
Use of dormouse fat and oil
Dormouse fat is semi-liquid and stays that way up to -35 degC. And dormice oil processed from fat got unconfirmed medical healing properties. According to this weblink, it ‘…rubs in easily and is quickly absorbed into the skin, moisturizes the skin, does not leave a greasy feeling, and is especially very stable.’
Lessons learned from skinning and processing of dormice in Slovenia
- Dormice are easy to skin. It is important however not to cut initially too deep into the the belly skin
- The root of the tail has to be pulled out of the pelt cautiously
- In a survival situation all parts of the animal can be either used or eaten
- Dormouse meat tastes deliciously, especially when pan fried