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Muskrat delayed: A Delmarva culinary lesson learned

While I do like to eat muskrat, I might like telling people that I eat muskrat nearly as much and sharing my muskrat adventures most of all.

Friday night I declared a (fairly spontaneous) Varmint Fest, which is to say I wanted to arrange to go out to a muskrat dinner. There are only small pockets of places that serve this delicacy and the Delmarva Peninsula is one of them. The simple reason is that they are plentiful and fat when no other food or animals are. There even was an old-timey rumor that the Catholics got the water animal declared a fish so it could be eaten on Fridays during Lent. It’s something that still goes on all over the world.

Maybe that’s what I had in mind as Friday approached. More likely, though, it just was that muskrat season is ending and there have been years when I missed out on it altogether. I didn’t want 2017 to be one of them. This year, I went to Dayton’s an iconic local restaurant from which I’ve never had ‘rat. The sign on the front was clear, it said “Muskrats Are Back.” But you had to go into the restaurant (which is where they keep the fine print) to know that it only was back on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


At some level, I should have known this. I mean, apparently everyone else does. It is a subtle reminder that there is a separate culture on Delmarva that ‘come heres’ like me can’t co-opt without effort. I really only try and embrace the culture when it is convenient, but I’m clearly not an initiate. That said, by going and failing to get muskrat, I added to the depth of my Eastern Shore Cultural knowledge. Everyone who has their muskrat at Dayton’s knows it is served Tuesdays and Thursdays as sure as everyone who goes to Dave’s Pittsville Dinette knows Muskrat night is Wednesday. In retrospect, it should have occurred to me to ask which days were muskrat days at Dayton’s. It was a rookie mistake that I’ll not repeat.

There are very few people who start eating muskrat as grownups, and even fewer who are building an annual tour of muskrat places on the Eastern Shore. I’m one of them, so I have lessons to learn beyond just the subtleties of preparation. Also, if anyone is hungry, Varmint Fest 2017 has been moved to Dayton’s on Thursday March 16.

Round-tailed muskrat – Wikipedia

The round-tailed muskrat is a semiaquatic and nocturnal species native to the southeastern United States. Limited sexual dimorphism is seen among round-tailed muskrats, with female adults weighing an average of 262 grams and male adults measuring at a slightly heavier average of 279 grams. The round-tailed muskrat feeds on emergent aquatic grasses, including aquatic plant stems, seeds, and roots, to sustain its herbivorous lifestyle.

Tony Russo
Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies, dailies and several destination websites. In addition to having documented everything from zoning changes to art movements on the Delmarva Peninsula, Tony has written two books: Eastern Shore Beer (2014) and Delaware Beer (2016). He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their dog and cat comfortable. Follow him on Facebook and at @Ossurynot on Twitter.
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