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Celebrating Groundhogs day with ground hog?

February 1, 2011

Groundhog Day may be one of the most recognizable holidays in America. Everybody knows what day it falls on – unlike Easter, which cannot seem to settle on a day it likes. We all pay attention to the news in order to find out whether or not Punxsutawney Phil or one of his lesser-known cousins saw a shadow and made an extended weather forecast. And yet, with all this notoriety, I still have to go to work. What’s with that?
Worse still, I don’t know what to eat on Groundhog Day. In our house, it’s usually birthday cake or whatever my daughter has decided she wants for her birthday dinner, since she is a Groundhog Day baby. But I cannot resign myself to a tradition of Easy Mac for such a noble holiday. Every other holiday has its signature dish. The Thanksgiving turkey. The Christmas goose. The Fourth of July grilled animal-of-your-choice. The Easter bunny. Gotcha.
I figured there must be a hidden tradition lurking out there that I had missed somehow, so I went a-looking. Unfortunately, the first few suggestions I found were disappointing. In the midst of Groundhog Day party planning guides, one of the most popular ideas was to serve all green foods (for spring), all white foods (for winter), or some combination thereof. That’s okay. I don’t mind themes. But the color idea is more focused on Punxsutawney Phil’s seasonal prophecy and less on Phil himself. So in the spirit of the groundhog, I kept digging.
One of my favorite suggested dishes was “ground hog.” Get it? Ground … hog? In other words, if you had a sausage biscuit for breakfast this morning, you celebrated appropriately. And, I might add, you also celebrated with much less effort than it would take to complete some of the other recipes that are out there. It’s much easier to pick up a pack of country sausage than to go out in the country and bag your own groundhog.
From what I could find out, groundhogs are in season year-round in many states, at least as far as hunting laws are concerned. (Check before hunting in Mississippi, though – I called the Wildlife Department and the groundhog laws were a little fuzzy.) I suppose they are considered something of a nuisance animal, unless they have their own fenced-in burrow, a proper title like General Beauregard Lee, and a yearly date with the morning news shows. Thus the seasonal issue is eliminated. The tricky part seems to be the dressing of the groundhog. Apparently there are some scent glands that must be carefully removed, lest the meat take on an un-tasty taint.
Very little surprises me anymore, yet I was a bit surprised by the number of genuine groundhog recipes I found. Here are some of the more ordinary: Groundhog and Sweet Potatoes, Country–Style Groundhog, Oriental Groundhog, Woodchuck Pie and Woodchuck stew. According to my sources, eating groundhog is akin to eating rabbit or squirrel – maybe even better. I really could not say. I’m reasonably certain I had rabbit a few years ago, but beyond that my best chance for tasting squirrel or groundhog would have been as mystery ingredients in someone’s Brunswick Stew.
The question remains, is groundhog the best candidate for the traditional dish of Groundhog Day? That would almost be like eating Reindeer Rigatoni on Christmas Day. Some celebrants, no doubt, would prefer to stick with the green and white theme – lots of easy choices, a little food coloring and they are ready to party. And no need to bother with those pesky scent glands. Others might take the celebration a bit further and make groundhog-shaped cookies, or a woodchuck mound made of crushed graham crackers, chocolate cookies and pudding.
Those who want a meatier holiday dinner, but are still a bit squeamish about woodchuck pie, will probably use the loop-hole and find themselves a sausage-on-a-stick. Chances are there aren’t too many of us who could actually declare genuine groundhog as the official dish of the day, unless one had serious issues with the weather prediction. This might explain the fellow who posted the recipe for Punxsutawney Ravioli.

Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at eatsoneate@gmail.com.

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