RALPH BARTHOLDT: Sweet, charred, meaty memories

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It's true. I fired up the barbecue last weekend.

I say, “it's true,” because I'm thinking it may have been publicized like a party line.

The neighbors likely ratted me out.

They didn't call the fire department like last year, although at least one of the neighbors was probably poised behind a porch curtain with the speed dial.

Was that you Jimmy? I'm just asking. You know I haven't forgotten to replace the cedar fence. And the hair on your cat will grow back.

Duh.

Even if word spread around the HOA like a gasoline fire — no one ever puts lighter fluid on the shopping list — the weekend's grill fest was worth every windblown ember.

Succulence and charbroil was smeared across the faces of everyone who ate the tenderloin.

Tenderloin is a misnomer for a piece of meat so finely fire charred. Last weekend's cuts notwithstanding, everyone who imbibed showed a charcoal smile because I gracefully cured the cuts with coal and heat, not unlike the stuff you get in the good truck stops.

Except for the grass.

The lawn is a good place to extinguish burning meat, but grass sometimes sticks.

My prowess with flames and chops goes back a ways.

The best meat I ever fire-cooked was muskrat.

It wasn't even my idea.

My pal, Boggsy, sort of mentioned it in mid-paddle.

We'd been canoeing much of the day and the rats we didn't catch in traps, we plugged quietly with the crack of a .22. Back at camp there was no shortage of sardines, beans and bricks of noodles, but red meat was laboriously extinct from the lock box where we kept the stores. And then Boggsy held up the skinned rats by their rubbery tails and asked, “What if?”

Say no more.

We started a fire and put them on a stick.

Muskrat meat, for the uninitiated, can cure scurvy and a sweet tooth at the same time. The hide is good for ear muffs, so there's that, as a Realtor friend of mine often says.

A good muskrat hock is sirloin all over again.

And who would have believed it? Charred outside like a marshmallow, the inside was blissful pink, loin-like and tender as a hummingbird's breast.

I go back there a lot when I grill, to that time, late fall, in the canoe with the bluebills setting their wings as they shot through the black spruce and tamarack sloughs as if on a zipline. The water was cold and dark as we dipped our paddles then watched the drips from them make rings behind us. I wonder, was it really what I think it was?

Memories are like zucchini, they grow big and are hard to get rid of, so I often regard what I remember of muskrat meat with suspicion.

I would try it again, with less zest, probably, than on that weeklong trip into roadless country with a minimal cache of cured meat.

But, for now, I'm grilling. It's the season as they say, and Pepto Bismol is as good a condiment as sauce.

• • •

Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at rbartholdt@cdapress.com.

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