Collecting Delaware Books
No animal is more a part of Delawares culture and folkways than the muskrat. In the first half of the 20th century, raising or trapping the muskrat for meat and fur was an important source of cash for subsistence farmers and watermen idled by winter weather. Fire hall dinners featuring muskrat are still held.
As it turns out, there is a literature of the muskrat. How-to books on the muskrat business have been published in great numbers. Most any you find will have at least one mention of Delaware.
One such book is Practical Muskrat Raising by E.J. Dailey, Naturalist-Sportsman, published by A.R. Harding, Columbus, Ohio. There is no publication date, but the typography and photo-engravings place it in the early 20th century.
The books frontispiece is a photograph bearing the cutline, "Buyer inspecting 4300 muskrat skins, the season's catch of a Delaware raiser."
Dailey comes on strong, saying, "The vocation of raising muskrats and other fur-bearers has a strong appeal for the average American. Born of ancestors who battled wild animals, Indians, and the elements, and who came to this country when it was a vast untamed wilderness: clearing away the majestic trees and erecting houses, in the way of log cabins, forming the nucleus of our nation."
Later he says, "In my estimation, the raising of muskrats offers more chance for speedy remuneration than that of any other fur-bearer, being prolific and easily maintained."
The eating of muskrat meat was first introduced in Baltimore, according to Dailey, where it was known as "marsh rabbit." He adds, "It quickly appealed to the persons who put aside prejudice and tried it."
Daily gives recipes for fried and stewed muskrat, after cautioning about removing the musk glands and soaking the carcass in salt water. The meat is fried in lard after being coated with egg and cornmeal. He suggests a milk gravy. It can also be stewed with onion and parsley and served with a gravy of the thickened broth.
An interesting collection of muskrat books is possible, both government and commercially printed. There were also magazines such as Fur-Fish-Game. Delaware tie-ins will be found in many such publications.