By George Brown
I am absolutely, positively sick of winter, and here we are still seven weeks away from the first day of spring. As if the snow and subzero temperatures haven’t been depressing enough, come Sunday we have to put up with the annual ritual of a fat, bucktoothed groundhog named Phil crawling out of his godforsaken hole in some podunk town in Pennsylvania to, supposedly, predict whether Mother Nature will show us mercy or subject us to another six weeks of this miserable winter weather.
Phil and, presumably, untold generations of his ancestors have been making their annual pre-equinox prediction since 1887 – and with what degree of accuracy? Apparently, Phil and his ancestors have no connection whatever with Mother Nature because in all those years they have accurately predicted the weather for the last six weeks of winter only 39% of the time. From this we can draw but one conclusion – seeing his shadow – or not – may be good for business in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but when it comes to forecasting the weather Phil’s predictions are hopelessly useless.
Exposing this pathetic varmint and his crafty handlers is long overdue, which brings me to the point of this column. I believe it is time to close the curtain on Punxsutawney Phil, forever putting an end to this 127 year old marketing ruse. But instead of relegating February 2 to the status of just another day on the calendar, I propose we capitalize on its legacy by declaring a new national holiday to be known as, “Dos de Febrero”.
The purpose of Dos de Febrero would be to celebrate the coming of spring ( a sort of get us over the hump of winter holiday); and like all American holidays it would be celebrated with a grand feast, the centerpiece of which would be groundhog – yes, groundhog.
If the idea of eating a furry, cuddly little creature named Phil sounds repulsive, remember this. Unless you are a vegan, on Thanksgiving Day you dine on a roasted bird that looks like a buzzard’s cousin, and on Christmas day you enjoy a juicy glazed ham cut from a pig’s butt. It’s not like I’m asking you to shoot Bambi’s Mom.
Inaugurating this new national holiday, with groundhog as the meat of choice, begs the question – is there an ample supply of groundhogs readily available to satisfy the ravenous holiday appetites of the American people? I’m pleased to report there is.
In fact, these largest members of the squirrel family, which, coincidentally, are as capable of climbing trees as their bushy tailed cousins, are believed to be more plentiful today than they were when the Pilgrims first stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that groundhog was one of the meats passed around the table at that very first Thanksgiving feast in 1621.
Understandably, shooting or trapping a groundhog, and then skinning and dressing it has no more appeal than killing and dressing your own turkey or pig for those other holidays, but I’m sure enterprising entrepreneurs would be glad to do the work for you. They would establish woodchuck farms (a much more appealing name) and ship the finished product to your neighborhood supermarket, presented to be as appealing and easy to prepare as a Butterball Turkey or a Honey Baked Ham.
There is a multitude of ways to prepare groundhog. You can barbecue ‘em, boil ‘em, broil ‘em, bake ‘em, and sauté ‘em. You can make groundhog kabobs, groundhog creole, and groundhog gumbo. You can pan fry ‘em, deep fry ‘em, and stir fry ‘em, but the hands down best way of all is groundhog stew.
As I learned from watching my Mom (and you wondered where this idea came from), preparing groundhog stew is much like preparing stew using any good stew meat, be it pork, beef, venison, or other commonly used meat. But just in case you’ve never made stew here is my Mom’s recipe, as best as I can remember. Note, it is based on getting your own groundhog one way or another.
Ingredients: 1 medium sized (5-6 pound) dead groundhog. A word of caution, never use road kill of any kind unless it is still warm when found. To continue: 2 large onions, sliced; 5-6 medium potatoes quartered; 1 cup chopped celery; 1 cup chopped carrots; 2 cups vinegar; water or bouillon broth as needed; a handful of flour; salt and pepper; several clove leaves and other spices of choice.
Directions: Cut/slice the groundhog meat into bite sized chunks; soak in the vinegar for several hours with a few slices of the onion and a handful of salt; drain and rinse the meat; parboil for 20 minutes then drain and rinse, place the meat in cooking pot and cover with fresh boiling water or bouillon broth; add the potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, clove leaves; and salt and pepper; cover pot with lid and cook at medium temperature for about 45 minutes or until meat is fork tender; during the last few minutes of cooking add flour to thicken the gravy.
Well, that’s it, folks. Happy Dos de Febrero!
George Brown is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Yvonne, live in Jackson Township.