The most recent feature in Indian Country Today Media Network’s “Best Indian food of 2013″ details a rare delight once served abundantly by the Passamaquoddy people.
As Jackleen De La Harpe writes, it’s a dish that has some teeth to it.
In Indian country, frybread, Indian tacos, curly fries and pizza have become as “traditional” as the dancing and socializing of annual pow wows and celebrations.
Food is at the heart of most celebrations, and fast food, in many ways, has taken the place of local cooking. Yet in many regions, familiar foods are being quietly revived or have quietly endured—traditional dishes may include fish caught in the dip net (salmon), greens gathered by hand (milkweed), or dishes that rely on an ingredient that is hard to come by—such as corn soup, red chile stew or muskrat.
Many adults haven’t tried smothered muskrat but Hilda Lewis, a Passamaquoddy tribal member living in Maine, is hoping to change that – for her family at least.
. . . Lewis, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, tribal elder and former tribal council member, says traditional foods served at Indian Days include hulled corn soup and moose-meat chili or stew. And one dish that has almost disappeared—smothered muskrat.
The recipe is simple, she says. First, chop off the tail, then drop the entire muskrat into the pot of water with potatoes, onion and shredded carrot. When the meat is tender, the muskrat, sans tail, is served “with the teeth showing,” she adds. The potatoes and onions are heaped on top, hence, the term smothered.
Muskrat has fallen out of favor as a dish because there isn’t as much trapping being done, Lewis explains, which means the toughest trick when cooking a muskrat is getting a muskrat. The best way to do that may be to ask around to see if someone has a few in their freezer.
Muskrat, about the size of a mink, can weigh up to four pounds and has a rich golden-brown pelt and teeth a bit like a beaver. There isn’t much meat on a muskrat, Lewis says, but the flavor is good, like rabbit with an herbal taste.
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Lewis has cooked muskrat for her sisters and their husbands, and this spring, she is thinking about introducing her grown children to muskrat. All four, who range in age from 31 to 52 years old, have never eaten muskrat, and she believes they will like it.
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