It is hard to believe in our modern, hustle and bustle world the very area of Ontario, Canada that we call home was also once home to bear. The fur trade played a huge role in the founding of Canada which is one of the reasons some of my ancestors settled in this area. The waterways connecting Lake Huron to Lake Erie and tributaries were rich in beaver. At the same time another smaller critter, the muskrat caught the eye of the French Canadian settlers. They were and still are plentiful, fairly easy to trap or shoot, and especially in the early days a way to put fresh meat on the table during the long Canadian winters. To this day, muskrat aka Marsh Beaver aka river rat is still a popular dish in French Canadian communities as well as for those who hunt or trap small game.
We often see muskrat along the ditches, at our marina and when boating. We even had a muskrat hanging around the dock at our second last house. Muskrat gets it's name from the musk glands, that if properly removed leaves the meat quite edible. The meat is surprisingly tender and fine grained but it is rather smelly when cooking. The muskrat is skinned, head and glands removed then the meat is soaked in a salt water solution overnight to remove the gamey taste. The prepared muskrat is cut in half through the ribs butterfly fashion. The back side (saddle) portion of the muskrat is meatier.
The Marsh Beaver dinner was buffet style consisting of generous portions of muskrat, baked beans, scalloped potatoes, green onions, raw cauliflower, cucumber, bread and butter pickles, and stuffed olives. The muskrat was baked then pan fried in butter. I had three pieces. Each piece was one muskrat with the top piece showing the saddle portion. The round bone towards the left of the top piece is the tail bone. The other end near the green onion is where the head was. There is a fair amount of meat considering the size but you do have to work at it a bit to get the meat off the smaller bones. Muskrat is definitely a finger food!
I brought two pieces of the muskrat home so my husband could try some but he wasn't very interested. We hosted our regular gatheringt last night and our friend who is a avid hunter came. A couple of the other guys hunt as well so I warmed up the muskrat for them. It was gone in a flash! They were still smacking their lips at how tasty the muskrat was. If you ever get a chance to attend a Marsh Beaver dinner, it is well worth to do so. The meat really is quite good!