First Monday in May? Eat crow at this first Sunday in March

I was working as a reporter for two small weekly newspapers when I received access to an invitation-only wild game feed, held in the town of Corwith, Iowa (population: 266).

The hunters were a little wary of having a 23-year-old reporter bumbling around, but they treated me like a true guest. Even though I published one of their infamous quotes about “the worse thing I’ve ever had in my mouth.”

CORWITH — Things are usually pretty tame in Corwith, with the exception of the first Sunday in March.

About 60 people gathered in the town of almost 300 on March 4 to sample turtle, alligator, rabbit, venison, squirrel, duck and pheasant, prepared by seven local men with a passion for hunting.

“We started it (the meal) just for the appreciation of the guys’ property we hunted on,” said Dick Erickson, one of the three original organizers of the event.

Erickson, along with Dave Poage and Lenny Tebben, began the dinner in the early 1980s. After Tebben’s death in 2004, the dinners continued on the same weekend, close to Tebben’s birthday.

Norma Tebben, Lenny’s wife, said the unusual dinner has a sweet message.

“It’s an honor to him that they keep doing it,” she said.

Norma Tebben said she has eaten some pretty bizarre meats over the years, as her husband, Erickson and Poage kept experimenting with different varieties they have hunted, ordered or had given to them.

“Bear, lion … I couldn’t handle rattlesnake,” she said. “Groundhog casserole … I don’t care for squirrel.”

Some visitors to the dinner have poked fun at Erickson, Poage and Tebben’s event, they said, by stringing a banner under the many slow cookers filled with, as the banner called it, “miscellaneous roadkill.”

“We cook anything we can get our hands on,” Erickson said, listing muskrat, horse, yak and raccoon as offerings in prior years. “I want to cook a coyote, but no one’s gotten me one yet.”

What the three friends didn’t dare experiment with was the cooking technique, something Lenny Tebben had a definite opinion on.

“He wanted to start everything in cream of mushroom soup,” Poage said.

The cooks have come a long way from that method, with this year’s dinner featuring several recipes that sounded like they belonged on a top chef’s menu: rabbit in a champagne cream sauce and venison cooked with bleu cheese and horseradish.

“People want to see how we’ve cooked it this year,” Poage said. “We probably would have gotten him convinced to try it.”

Norma Tebben said her husband would have needed some convincing.

“He would throw a fit because of the way they’re cooking the food,” she said with a laugh.

While these fearless men are prepared to throw anything together in their kitchen, including alligator, this year’s new delicacy, there is one thing Erickson said was enough the first time.

“I won’t do crow again,” he said. “That is the worst thing I’ve ever had in my mouth.”

The group gathers early in the morning on the first Sunday of March to prepare and cook for about six hours. While a private party, Erickson said once you’re invited, you’re welcome for life.

The event suggests a free-will offering, but this meal is not a fundraiser.

“It’s about everybody getting together,” Erickson said.

“It’s kind of a party,” Poage said.

Newcomer Betsy Jensen of Mason City sat down to a plate filled with new flavors.

“I am excited about the new idea of eating wild game,” she said.

While alligator was nothing new for Jensen, she had never tasted deer, pheasant or squirrel.

“So far, so good,” she said. “But I started slow with the turkey.”

This article was originally published here on March 18, 2012.

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