The whole reason for cleaning muskrats is to prepare them for eating, although they are animals that really don’t need “cleaning” per se. They are among the cleanest of beasts – eating a crisp vegetarian diet and obsessively washing themselves whenever and wherever possible. Why, these aquatic mammals even set aside specific bathroom closets within their tunnel systems. If they used towels (and had access to washing machines) they no doubt would change them daily. All of this is for naught, however. When you are called a muskrat, you are a “rat” in the public eye and that is that. It is their reputation that needs cleaning, more than their little carcasses. That, of course, is grist for another time.
For the ‘rat cleaning crew at the Monroe Boat Club there was no need for muskrat reputation cleansing. The muskrat reigns king in this place, so fat removal was the only cleaning necessary. Everyone had a good time scraping the stuff off and chewing it at the same time. Our Sunday morning crew completed this work in what was considered record time. My daughter and I probably only cleaned ten of those ‘rats – total – and I doubt we had anything to do with this record-setting pace, but we patted ourselves on the back anyway.
We were halfway back home from Bolles Harbor when Katelyn remembered the knives. “The knives…we forgot the knives!”She yelled. We were, in fact, so proud of ourselves that we left the place without my wives’ prize Hamilton Beach knives. More chilling words could not have been spoken. Remember, these were the “I will kill you if you lose them” knives. I turned the car around as fast as humanly possible and roared back to the boat club. Fortunately they were still sitting on the counter and my life was saved. The short return trip was enough to play havoc with my mind as I imagined how my gutted body would look laying atop that stack of muskrat meats. With all my fat scrapped off there would be little left!
Even though our work was done, the kitchen crew at the Boat Club was still hard at work finishing the preparation. I suspect they were there for a better part of the day. True to tradition, the cleaned ‘rats had to be parboiled before being stored away for the final cooking at the meal itself. I sheepishly snuck in and whisked the knives off the counter. “See you next week,” I chortled – now confident that indeed I would survive the remainder of the day (and the week).
The only thing left to do on this muskrat odyssey was to partake in the dinner itself. This event took place at the Monroe Boat Club on the night of Jan. 3. The folks at the MBC were kind enough to issue me a complementary ticket (for all my hard “work”) and I flashed this pass upon entering the side door. No one was there to look at it, mind you, but I flashed it anyway. Apparently there is little risk of strangers crashing a muskrat dinner even in Monroe.
I’ll get right to the meal at hand and skip most of the scene-setting stuff except to point out that the tables were full of hungry participants. I did notice a disco ball hanging from the ceiling but the device was not put to use during the dinner. Unlike most area muskrat meals, this one only offered ‘rat. There were no alternatives such as chicken, beef, or spaghetti to appease those weak-stomached souls from the “outside.”All were here to eat ‘rat and, by golly, it was ‘rat that would be eaten.
A ‘Rat Ready for Eating
As you walked down the line, your plate was piled high with one whole ‘rat per serving. The meats were served from a large cooker and the carcasses appeared to be swimming in a pool of creamed corn. Ample doses of the corn stew were then poured upon the beast and a hefty plop of mashed potatoes was placed next to it. Just for good measure, more corn was dumped upon the potatoes. This is the time-honored way to serve muskrat around these parts. Corn and ‘rat go together like a Hamilton Beach knife and a happy marriage.
All that was left to do was to dig in. Although utensils came in handy during the initial stages, especially when eating the mashed potatoes in polite company, muskrat eating is basically a manual sport. Piece by piece the thing is picked apart and the meat literally sucked off the bones. I dutifully picked, pried, sucked and devoured my ‘rat with gusto. Separate platters, placed in the middle of the table for throwing bones, quickly amassed piles of shins, scapulas, fibias, tibias, and rib bones – lots of rib bones- as the meal progressed. Like the newspapers that accumulated the bits of cleaned fat during cleaning, these bone plates told the story of the meal’s progression. They were dumped several times before the dinner was complete.
There were two small oddities to report, although they have no real importance other than adding flavor to the experience. We all noted that Ralph Naveaux’s ‘rat was twice as big as everyone else’s. It dominated the plate to the degree that several of us were forced to recall that one of the local marina cats had recently gone missing. Most of us also noted that, for some strange reason, our meals were all missing their right hind legs. None of us had any good explanation for this, especially given the fact that these appendages were present when they were cleaned. I do have it on good authority that small pieces of muskrat meat (such as hind legs, for instance) are useful for luring cats. Out of courtesy, I did not share this observation with Ralph.
I realize that there is only so much one can say about a muskrat meal so I will conclude by observing that the meat was dark and sweet and the company was congenial and talkative. This, ultimately, is what muskrat eating is all about. It’s about getting folks together for cleaning, cooking, and eating. It’s about keeping up TRADITION.