Skip to comments.Muskrat love: A Lenten Friday delight for some Michiganders
Posted on 03/08/2007 1:58:26 PM PST by presidio9
There's an alternative to fish for some Michigan Catholics abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent -- muskrat.
The custom of eating muskrat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent apparently goes back to the early 1800s, the time of Father Gabriel Richard, an early missionary in Michigan whose flock included French-Canadian trappers. Legend has it that because trappers and their families were going hungry not eating flesh during Lent, he allowed them to eat muskrat, with the reasoning that the mammal lives in the water.
The story varies on just where in Michigan the dispensation extends. Among areas mentioned are along the Raisin River, along the Rouge River, both of which flow into Lake Erie south of Detroit, Monroe County in the southeast corner of Michigan, or all of southeast Michigan.
The Detroit archdiocesan communications department said there is a standing dispensation for Catholics downriver -- in Detroit's southern suburbs and below -- to eat muskrat on Fridays, although no documentation of the original dispensation could be found.
A 2002 archdiocesan document on Lenten observances, in addition to outlining the general laws of fast and abstinence, says, "There is a long-standing permission -- dating back to our missionary origins in the 1700s -- to permit the consumption of muskrat on days of abstinence, including Fridays of Lent."
The prospect of eating muskrat, a foot-long rodent, might be less than appetizing to some, but to many people downriver it's part of Lenten life.
St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Newport holds a muskrat dinner every year to raise funds for the parish's youth sports teams. The early February dinner includes sides of creamed corn and mashed potatoes. It features prizes donated by local merchants and serves up to several hundred dinners.
Bill "Pip" Chinavare was president of the sports club for 29 years and still heads up the muskrat fundraiser. His wife, Candy, said not many women participate in the annual dinner.
"This is a men's thing," she said. "They pack the men in."
"The majority of women can't get past the 'rat' thing," she said.
Father Russ Kohler, pastor at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Detroit and a downriver native, is a regular at the St. Charles Borromeo muskrat dinners. He said the trick to making the muskrat edible is in the marinade, a secret recipe based on a French liqueur.
He said he never ate muskrat before he attended the dinner while filling in at St. Charles as a priest. He's tried to make the dinner every year since then.
"I didn't fall in love with the product until I could drink beer," he joked.
He said muskrat has the consistency of chicken, but with a "unique" taste.
Johnny Kolakowski, owner of Riverview's Kola's Food Factory, has been eating muskrat since he was a kid. When he opened up his restaurant years ago, he put muskrat on the menu.
He can sell several dozen muskrat dinners on a Friday, but they were more popular back in the 1980s, when he would sell 150 a night. The tradition's less popular with the younger crowd, but it's not uncommon for young men to come in -- with their cameras -- and order a muskrat dinner.
Kolakowski, 59, a member of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Wyandotte, said muskrat tastes the same as duck. Both animals live in the water and have the same diet -- the only difference is one walks and one flies, he said.
His muskrats come from a trapper in Canada and they're served with sides of sauerkraut and mashed potatoes and gravy. The best part of a muskrat is the hind legs, he said.
The late Bishop Kenneth Povish of Lansing wrote in a 1987 column in The Michigan Catholic, Detroit archdiocesan newspaper, that "no (formal) dispensation was ever given to allow Catholics to eat muskrat on Fridays."
He referred to what he called the "Great Interdiocesan Doctrinal Debate" of 1956, during which he determined that although muskrat is a warm-blooded mammal and technically flesh, the custom had been so long held along Michigan's rivers and marshes that it was "immemorial custom," thus allowed under church law.
For the record, Bishop Povish didn't much care for muskrat as a meal. He wrote that "anyone who could eat muskrat was doing penance worthy of the greatest of the saints."
4 Muskrats (all fat and glands removed)
1/2 pound Bacon
1/2 Celery bunch, chopped
4 Onions, chopped
1/2 pound Oleo
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
21 ounces Tomato soup
Saute bacon, celery, onions, oleo and cayenne pepper together for 10 minutes.
Put rats in bottom of a pan you can cover tightly (my mother makes a double batch and uses the roaster she cooks turkey in). Pour sauteed mixture over the rats, and then cover with tomato soup (Don't add water to the soup).
Bake, covered, for 2 1/2 hours at 350 degrees F or until done.
This recipe for Fred's Muskrat serves/makes 4
btw, it sure looks like a rat to me. Let's see, long whiskers, a long tail, no gills and has fur and looks like a rat. I'd say that most would agree that it's meat and can't be eaten on Fridays.
FWIW, I was under the impression that the Church is also cool with people eating whale meat during Lent.
It can't be eaten, period. >:-Q
"Kolakowski, 59, a member of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Wyandotte, said muskrat tastes the same as duck."
I don't eat duck, either. I heard it's very greasy!
I know. You boys can warm up to it by eating squirrel...
I agree with Bishop Povish. Eating muskrat has to be a penance worthy of the saints. It would be back to the family tradition -- meatless spaghetti. Or scrambled eggs.
The beaver? Castor canadensis the rodent thank you very much!
All of these live in water.
Is a seal or walrus OK during lent?
LibKill collapses in drooling incoherence.
You're so bad!
Just guessing, but I doubt muskat is very much like beaver...
Not so greasy as all that. It's very nice. If you don't like fat you should leave that on the plate and concentrate on the white meat.
The local chinese buffet used to have roast duck on the line. No longer. I cry myself to sleep now.
Yeah, thanks for the advice. I have nothing against dark meat [per se] but fried food and sweet sauce are a major turnoff. I guess my taste is pretty healthy. Salad every day. Boring.
But, I'm a Texan and you DON'T take my steak away. Or my BBQ!
I hate Chinese food.
But there are a couple of secrets to cooking duck. One is to briefly parboil it before you roast it, it opens all the pores (some people go so far as to stand it up on end and blow a hairdryer set on "HIGH" all over the duck to keep the pores open). The other secret is to use a large roasting pan and a rack that keeps the duck up fairly high. That way the grease drains into the bottom of the pan where it can be bailed out from time to time as the cooking proceeds. I usually roast it with the breast down.
You don't need to use a sicky-sweet sauce. I use a black bean or hoisin sauce that is tangy and spicy, or I go American with apples and onions and sage.
You'll have to count on cleaning your oven afterwards though -- the fat spits all over everywhere. Self-cleaning ovens are nice things to have.
Cheese omelets are standard Lenten fare around here. That and shrimp in an East Indian brown sauce (onions, garlic, cardamoms, pepper, turmeric, and yoghurt) over basmati rice.