Given this year’s warm winter in New England (so far, so good), I expect that Punxsutawney Phil will predict an early spring on Groundhog Day. The American version of the holiday, celebrated February 2, is 130 years old. In the 19th century, American farmers used to say, “Groundhog Day, half your hay.” February 2 is halfway through winter, and careful farmers kept half their hay to see their animals through the rest of the season.
Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog that comes out of his burrow each year, probably enjoys special, protected status because he’s a celebrity. But the groundhogs in West Virginia have no such luck. I recently found a recipe for stewed groundhog in the Best of the Best from West Virginia Cookbook (Quail Ridge Press, 2002), which I bought during a visit to Charleston, my father’s hometown. The recipe originally came from the Pocahontas County Hunter’s Cookbook. The introductory note claims the groundhog offers “the cleanest meat one can find.” I’ll take their word for it! Besides, where would I go groundhog hunting in Boston?
Ground Hog (1980s)
After the ground hog is skinned, remove every bit of fat from the meat. Cut meat into pieces, wash and drain. Use only the meaty pieces if you like. The good pieces of 2 ground hogs make a nice platter of meat.
Parboil the meat in plain salt water and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. In the parboiling, watch the pot, as it is bad to foam up and run over. Drain and wash meat.
Put the meat in a large cooking pot. Add 2 quartered onions and 2 or 3 carrots. Boil gently until meat is tender.
Remove meat, roll in flour and brown in a heavy skillet in margarine or butter, adding salt and pepper, and if desired, any other seasoning that you might use on any meat.