OK, so I realize I have not always been the foremost expert in regards to world history, as there may be debatable historical embellishments in some of my quasi-educational posts such as “A History of Food” and “The Foodie Backstory of Noah's Arc”. However, recently I was reading a fascinating post from Whoonew.com about “Stories from Wisconsin’s Christmases Past” as they recalled a botched holiday meal in the Wisconsin wilderness 200+ years ago involving venison stuffed raccoon (Mmm, sounds delish) and a complete disregard for state mandated safe food certification procedures.
The hungry gentleman was Captain Thomas Anderson, and his delicacy was never to be as it rotted away sitting out overnight waiting to be cooked. Our venison stuffing virtuoso was a prominent British trader making his way through the wilds of pre-settled Wisconsin and it turns out he was kind enough to leave us with a memoir of his adventures. These are saved by the Wisconsin Historical Society and viewable online.
Captain Anderson may have been the original Fox Valley Foodie as he mentioned his culinary challenges multiple times in his writings. And since food blogs were still a long ways off, memoir writers were essentially the bloggers of their day.
Though his handwritten blog likely had a total viewership of 1 at the time, and his only hope of going viral was by contracting smallpox, our foodie fur trading captain and blogging pioneer did offer this disclaimer for anyone reading about his 1811 Christmas dinner plans:
"In case this narrative should fall into the hands of any French cooks, which is not very likely, I must enlighten him touching the mode in which we prepared a Christmas dinner in onk e-tah en-du-tab's dominions in the year 1811."
What followed was a detailed draft describing his preparation for a Christmas dinner featuring Smoked Muskrat Pie. And as unlikely as he felt it would be for a French cook to peruse those writings, how much more bewildered would he be to learn someday his lamentation would be modified into recipe form and published for all to see on the World Wide Web!
I have pieced together the recipe from his transcription of the preparations and posted it below for your amusement. If you were reading the Fox Valley Foodie blog in 1811, these are the recipe notes you could be digesting. What follows is funny because it is true:
Captain Thomas Anderson’s Smoked Muskrat Pie Recipe
- Large bowl of Flour
- 6 fat muskrats
- 1 lump of Tallow
- 12 Peppercorns
- 1 Deerskin
Secure a large wooden bowl full of flour and add sufficient water to turn into a paste. Place near warm fire to allow dough to rise.
While the dough is rising cut off the heads of the muskrats and remove the hairy part of the feet. These can be discarded. Divide the muskrats into six parts and wash with warm water.
Add peppercorns into deerskin and proceed to pulverize them. Keep pounding till the powder is as fine as snuff tobacco. Do the same with salt.
In a large kettle grease the bottom of the pot with tallow. Roll out your dough ½” thick and cut the dough to fit snugly into the bottom of the kettle.
Add a layer of muskrat meat on top of the bottom layer of dough, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add another layer of dough. Continue to alternate the courses until the kettle is nearly full.
Fill the remainder of the kettle with water, add lid and then cover with coals. This can then be set beside a slow fire to cook to completion.
So what did Captain Anderson think of his concoction?
"Pepper and salt did not save it, nor savory crust convert muskrat into relishable food. On opening the pie, so sickening was the effluvia emanating from it that all were glad to rush to the door for fresh air. Nor have I ever since voted in favor of smoked muskrat pies."
Hmm, maybe it needed cumin.
Don’t worry Captain; I have bad days in the kitchen too.
So, next time you screw up a meal, don’t feel bad. Wisconsinites have been doing it for centuries. You’re culinary disaster could always be worse… you could have actually successfully made a smoked muskrat pie!