Muskrat Dinners - Gastro Obscura

Ritual & Medicinal

Muskrat Dinners

The fading Michigan tradition once attracted thousands of visitors.

On Fridays during Lent in Michigan’s Downriver region, families gather in church halls for dinners where the main course is a “four-legged fish.” The tradition of dining on muskrat, a wetlands-dwelling mammal, is part of a long tradition of eating semi-aquatic rodents on Catholic fasting days when fish is the only permissible protein. Though muskrat dinners are fading into obscurity—due to a decrease in both hunting and interest from younger generations—they once served an important role in community building in towns along the southern stretch of the Detroit River.

In their heyday, muskrat dinners were popular fundraisers throughout hunting season, which stretched from November to March. At the 1906 “gala muskrat banquet” in Monroe County, Michigan, for example, connoisseurs flocked from as far as Seattle and New York to eat 2,000 prepared muskrats. But the days of such celebrations are coming to an end. In 2007, one of Michigan’s most well-known muskrat-serving restaurants had to shutter its doors after failing to pay property taxes.

Still, a small number of church groups carry on the tradition of muskrat dinners in the Downriver region. Should you attend one of these events, you can expect to see the meat par-broiled and fried. Chopped into sections or left whole, the muskrat gets served alongside any number of classic sides such as creamed corn, green beans, coleslaw, and mashed potatoes. Tucking into a muskrat or two, diners describe the dark meat as similar to duck, rabbit, or squirrel, but decidedly unlike chicken.

Need to Know

If you're cooking up your own muskrat, it's crucial to remove the gland that produces the musky odor the animal is known for. 

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