Fund-raiser a hit for Bivalve firemen


February 15, 1993|By Joe Forsthoffer | Joe Forsthoffer,Contributing Writer

BIVALVE -- "More rat!" comes the request.

"More rat coming up!" answers a voice from the kitchen, and a moment later a steaming bowl of muskrat joins the turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes, greens, corn bread and steamed tomatoes making their way through the community hall of the Westside Volunteer Fire Department here.

By 11:30 yesterday morning, a half-hour before the dinner was to start, folks were lined up and waiting for muskrat. By 5 p.m., an estimated crowd of 800 people had consumed 550 muskrats, 35 turkeys and vegetables by the bushel.

The annual event, now in its eighth year, is one of the two big fund-raisers (the other is the Great North American Turtle Race, in August) supporting the volunteer fire department serving such communities as Tyaskin, Jesterville and Whitehaven, sandwiched between the Nanticoke and Wicomico rivers in Wicomico County.

"It's been successful for us," said Joe Dickerson, Westside's chief. "There are a few other people who have smaller muskrat dinners, but we do right good with ours."

Community muskrat dinners, once a staple of Eastern Shore life, have all but disappeared. Westside's is a direct descendant of muskrat dinners once sponsored by St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Quantico, about halfway between Bivalve and Salisbury.

But Quantico held its last muskrat dinner in 1985, and in 1986 Bivalve picked up the tradition. By then, it was about the only big muskrat dinner left on the Shore.

"It's easier to do a bazaar than have muskrat dinner," said Emilyne Couch, a member of St. Philip's parish. "I didn't want to see the dinner stop, but its time had come. A lot of the ladies who were active [in putting out the dinner] didn't work. Now, nearly all the churchwomen work. It took a lot of time to put on the dinners. You had to clean and soak the muskrats."

For a time, Sunday muskrat dinners were a regular stump stop for local and state politicians. "It was like the medieval trial by ordeal," according to Richard W. Cooper, historian and author of the book "Salisbury in Times Gone By." "If you made it through all the muskrat, chicken and oyster dinners during the election, you deserved to win."

At the Westside firehouse, Mickie Anderson of the ladies auxiliary was busy greeting both neighbors and vaguely familiar faces from out of town. People paid $9 each for an all-you-can-eat menu and, still dressed in their Sunday best, filled the dining room.

Judy Miller made the three-hour drive from Brinklow in Montgomery County with her husband, Lenny, and three sons. Last year, while visiting friends in Salisbury, the Millers were coaxed into attending their first muskrat dinner.

"My husband and sons tried it, but I'm not that brave," Mrs. Miller said. "My husband hunts, so we do eat a lot of different things. But I have trouble eating something with the word 'rat' in its name."

While frog legs and even rattlesnake are likened to chicken, muskrat tastes like, well, muskrat. Liberally seasoned with sage and red pepper, it is gamy but sweet.

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