Most of the menu read like a typical buffet, with soup, salad, turkey, pork and potatoes. But the first offering at the annual Muskrat Dinner in Michigan was distinctive: a pot of the rodent's meat mixed with creamed corn.
"Most beginners are a little hesitant to dive in, especially when they see the carcass laid out on the plate," said Ralph Naveaux, who helped organize the event. "But those of us that have been raised on it, we just adore them. It's almost an addiction."
Members of the Algonquin Club of Detroit and Windsor, Ont., and other muskrat aficionados — about 80 in all — made their way to the Monroe Boat Club, 65 km south of Detroit, for the recent event.
The history buffs chatted about local lore and heard from a speaker about the War of 1812, but the star of the show was sherry-soaked, boiled and plated.
For these folks, chowing down on muskrat was as natural as seeing the animals scurry around local waters.
Algonquin Club member Robert Lynch, of Kingsville, Ont., was among those looking to sample a taste of history -- muskrat was a staple of the frontier diet of the region's French settlers.
According to Lynch, muskrat can't really be compared to other kinds of meat.
"I heard somebody say that it tasted like a strong, dark turkey meat. And that would probably be the closest," said Lynch, a 70-year-old retired elementary school teacher. "But there's nothing really to compare to it. It's just different. Some would say it was an acquired taste."
Muskrats, also known locally as "mushrats" or "marsh rabbits," are not rats, but they are members of the rodent family. They eat mostly plants and vegetation, are about 50-65 cm (20-25 inches) long, including their tails, and weigh between 1-3 kg (2-5 pounds).
Area residents have been dining on the marsh-dwelling critters for two centuries -- ever since trappers first pared away the animal's odorous musk glands and determined its meat was good to eat.
Charlie Hyde, past president of the Algonquin Club, made his way through the buffet line, sat down and began to dig in.
"Yum, yum," he crowed after taking in a fork-full of muskrat meat and creamed corn.
"This is actually about the best muskrat I've had in about a year. It's the only muskrat I've had in about a year," joked the 67-year-old retired history professor from Royal Oak, Mich. "Actually, it's very good."