ANYONE FOR BOBCAT OR BEAVER BURGERS? (February 8/16)

To cook a muskrat, reads a wild game book published in Alberta, make sure after skinning and cleaning it to remove fat, scent glands and the white tissue inside each leg. After these cleaning pointers, two recipes are given, one for braised muskrat, the other for muskrat in tomato sauce.

The cookbook also gives recipes for cooking beaver, porcupine, squirrel, woodchuck and black bear.

If you’ve said “thanks, but no thanks” after reading this, you belong to the majority of people turned off by the idea of eating the flesh of wild creatures like muskrat, beaver, squirrels and so on. Normally we don’t think of fur-bearers as food sources and traditionally they aren’t.

On the other hand …. in some quarters those “non-traditional meats” are looked upon as food fit for an epicure. On beaver meat, for example, the Alberta cookbook claims it closely resembles the texture and taste of domestic roast pork and has “one of the most refined and savoury tastes of all wild game.” Muskrat meat is comparable to chicken, according to this cookbook and “squirrel and porcupine seem to produce their own unique, delicious taste.”

Before mentioning a Valley outdoorsman who has sampled the meat of various furbearers, I admit I’ve tried some myself. I’ve eaten black bear steak, roasted porcupine and baked bobcat. Yeah, I said bobcat, only the trapper who prepared it for a wild game supper called it recycled rabbit. Which is a little joke based on the fact the bobcat’s diet consists entirely of rabbits.

I didn’t care for the cat, the porcupine wasn’t much, and the black bear I’ll pass on it next time I’m offered some, thank you. Though I do hear that “pepperoni” made with bear meat is excellent.

Now, I have to tell you about a long-time friend, an outdoor writer and trapper, Reg Baird of Clementsvale, who has much more experience than me in sampling the meat of fur-bearers. Baird is a trapper with decades of experience in the woods and on the water. He has two books to his credit, on trapping and fishing and for many years he was the fishing columnist for Eastern Woods and Waters.

Thinking Reg Baird must have been tempted to cook and eat the flesh of the various fur-bearers he trapped, I asked him how they tasted. Contrary to what is written in the Alberta cookbook, Reg said that “muskrat is strong smelling and swampy tasting (and) not very palatable.” Bobcat, he said, is “bland and not strong tasting at all.” Reg apparently sampled coyotes (“it tastes miserable”) as well beaver (“good as long as all the fat is removed from the meat”) and raccoon (“I don’t think it was very tasty”). Black bear, he says, is “bland but makes good mincemeat.”

Based on what Reg Baird said and at least what one cookbook author writes, I have no doubt that muskrat, beaver et al, are sort of edible. Perhaps so, but I doubt you’ll ever see them offered in restaurants. Don’t look for bobcat or beaver burgers, or muskrat and fries, at fast food places in the near future, either.

However, if you have the desire to try these different meats, just ask any trapper you know and request a carcass. Trappers are obliging sorts anyway, and since many fur-bearer carcasses usually are discarded after skinning, one or two are probably yours for the asking.

On that note, in the 2014-15 season trappers caught 17,000 muskrat, around 3,500 beaver, 700 bobcat and 1,700 raccoon – and this was just an average season. None of the meat from these furbearers makes it into our food chain, as far as I know. Maybe we’re wasting a potential food source, so epicures take note.

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