It Happened Here

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It Happened Hereby Larry S. Chowning

Maggie Hoge lived on the corner of Watling and Cross streets in Urbanna in the 1950-60s. At her home, she made wine used for Communion at Christ Episcopal Church in Middlesex.

Mrs. Hoge grew the grapes, made the wine in her basement, served it for dinner to people staying at her boarding house, and made sure it was available on Communion Sunday at Christ Church.

I lived down the street from her and one day she asked if I would “save her some steps” by helping her pick grapes. While picking grapes, an opossum ran across the yard and went underneath a neighbor’s barn.

“Opossum Sunday!” said Mrs. Hoge. “There was one Sunday in the fall every year when my mother would have a black lady cook us an opossum and we had all of our family, friends and neighbors over. Mamma called it Opossum Sunday.”

The year the black lady died, Mrs. Hoge’s mother had her husband kill an opossum and she attempted to cook one for Opossum Sunday. “Momma didn’t know what she was doing. It was the greasiest piece of meat and no one ate it,” she said. “It must be a secret to cooking opossum.”

The secret is not in the cooking but in the preparing. In a 1992 interview for the chapter in my book “Chesapeake Legacy—Tools and Traditions” on cooking muskrat, the late Max Chandler of Revis unveiled the mystery of cooking opossum. “Opossum ain’t so bad if you clean him out, but he ain’t as good as a muskrat,” he said. “Around the first frost, we would build us an opossum pin and catch one live. For several weeks after the first frost, we would feed him persimmons and bran mixed together. Persimmons are naturally bitter tasting until after a frost and then they are as sweet as sugar. An opossum loves a sweet persimmon. Opossum meat is naturally greasy but persimmons and bran take that grease out of him. My grandmother loved opossum meat and had an opossum pin at her place right next to the one she had for her hogs!”

It happened right here in Rivah country!