Balls to the Wall

Ever since I was a kid growing up in the Colorado Rockies, I have heard the lore of the “oysters” but never had the balls to try them. Suddenly my opportunity was just over the horizon.

When we pressed across Montana past the three Bs: Billings, Bozeman and Butte, ever westward, past Helena and

even Missoula, things began to seem strange. Like we were traveling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind, mountains and cooked animal parts. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination, deep fryers, Idaho and Canada. Wait, there's a signpost up ahead... our next stop: The Testicle Zone!

Yes Virginia there IS a Testicle Festival (love how the words roll off the tongue!) and it is held every August at The Rock Creek Lodge just outside the booming metropolis of Clinton, Montana. The signs along I-90 point the way cuz no doubt this stuff could not go on within the city limits.

Luckily the festival had been over for several weeks by the time we arrived -- it takes that long to recover -- not to mention clean up. But even a couple

fortnights after the big bash, The Rock Creek Lodge was still having a ball serving up Rocky Mountain Oysters.

Testicle Festival in Clinton, Montana

For all you flat-landers out there, Rocky Mountain oysters, also known as prairie oysters or cowboy caviar, are considered a delicacy by many mountain folk and are made by slicing and frying bull testicles.

The Rock Creek Lodge is a typical mountain inn with

the exception of their obsession with livestock gonads. We sauntered in and bellied up to the bar amongst the usual mix of cowboys and Grizzly Adams types, fortified ourselves with a beer -- even though the sun was still high in the sky -- and chatted up the bartender, Frank, between the telling of tall tales by our already half-in-the-bag barmates.

Through Frank we learned that the Testicle Festival was founded by Dr. Rod Lincoln, the Baron of Balls, twenty-seven years ago. Rod is no longer with

us, but he died doing what he loved, leaving this world on the last day of the twenty-fifth Testy Festy.

Conceived to boost sales for the Lodge, the Testicle Festival can be likened to any major ballet company’s production of the Nutcracker -- it keeps the place in business for the rest of the year.

Asking the regular clientele about the Festival gave us the impression that it was fairly benign. Aside from the wet tee shirt contest and the over-the-top drinking, that is.

Everyone seemed to be very proud of the international attention the Festival has gotten

the past few years. After a bit of prodding, however, we were treated to a peek of the photo albums from the early years. Suffice it to say Mardi Gras in New Orleans began to seem tame compared to the antics of the original Testy Festys. Let's say bovine reproductive organs were not the only species represented. Yeah, that's a good way to put it.

Still lacking the fortitude to order the house specialty, we felt a stroll through the gift shop was in order. Walking past the “wood peckers” (think the worst thing possible and you’ll be right on the mark) and the baby shirts decorated with barb wire with “I ripped Mommy a new one” emblazoned across the chest, we noticed the church.

Wait, what? Yup. Sharing space with an ex-home-on-the-range-roaming stuffed buffalo was The Set Free Ministries, a self proclaimed Biker Church. Refreshments are served after the services, in the bar. Bring cash.

The time had come to take the bull by the horns and head back to the bar to face the inevitable. We asked Frank to rack ‘em up. There was no turning back now, since the triple-dog-dares had already been laid out. Thankfully the testicles are VERY thinly sliced, HEAVILY breaded and spiced, then deep-fried until there's no telling what's inside. A

heavily flavored cocktail sauce makes consumption a little easier, just try not to think about it and pop ‘em down.

Having lost the coin toss, I was the first to give the balls a try. Summoning up my courage, I dipped the wafer into the cocktail sauce and took a bite. Spicy and glistening with oil, down the hatch, knowing that any sign of discomfort would turn Veronica from the task at hand. It was not easy but I smiled right through it. The uneasiness over the main ingredients overpowered the fact that the taste wasn’t completely appalling.

Veronica kicked into her panic mantra (”People do this every day and do not die, People do this every…”), closed her eyes, dipped and chewed. Uh. The best compliment she could come up with was that it wasn’t the WORST thing she had ever done. Close, but not the worst. It helped that we were pretty hungry and with the proper breading to grease ratio almost anything is edible. It also helped that often the breading would accidentally slip off... “oops, I guess I’ll just eat this part.” Quite a few grey slices of bull ball were left in the bottom of the basket. Mmm, Mmm, Good eatin’.

It was time to see the source. Luckily we had not thought to ask to view the raw frozen bull testicle prior to the tasting, as THERE WAS NO WAY in hell we would have eaten with the picture of that huge frozen, veined gonad burned into our brains.

That would be nuts.


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