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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day in the Valley…

Scary Shadow

Gather up your guns

And call out your dogs!

Gather up your guns

and call out your dogs!

Into the woods—we’ll

catch a groundhog! GROUNDHOG!

It’s a frisky shadow that walks with me this sunny morning in the Valley. Sometimes I’m “shadowed;” sometimes I’m led; shadow to the left of me; sometimes shadow to the right. No wonder that immortal boy of J.M. Barrie fame had Wendy sew his shadow to his feet to keep it from bounding off at will.

Only forty-six days until spring—unless that rodent of meteorological portent, Punxsutawney Phil, is spooked by his shadow. But apparently he wasn’t. No big surprise there considering his neck of the woods is experiencing the Perfect Snowstorm of the past several decades. Looks like we can lop off another six weeks from this strange La Nina winter.

Come here, Sal,

With a big, long pole!

Come here, Sal,

With a big, long pole!

Twist that whistlepig

Out of his hole! GROUNDHOG!

Whistlepig—what an apt nickname for that rotund little varmint whose habit is sounding a “heads up” with a shrill whistle when alarmed. Another common name for the perky pest is “yellow-bellied marmot,”a lowland rodent akin to the hoary marmot one encounters while hiking in the mountains.

When I was growing up in Eastern Washington, a favorite spring pastime was to comb the rockslides and outcrops on hillsides, .22 rifle in hand, hunting groundhogs. Local farmers, especially alfalfa growers, consider groundhogs pests because of their love of alfalfa and the quantities of potential hay they can pack away. I guess we considered we were doing our bit to protect the local crops by plinking a groundhog or two whenever we got the chance. Besides, it was spring and after being housebound all winter with nothing to do but terrorize our brothers and sisters, the hills called us out. High adventure, if you’re a kid, and a good way to hone your sharpshooting skills for the hunting season to come.

On one spring foray to the hills, I bagged a nice whistlepig, fat and sleek, and decided to pack it home and stew it up for the family. Put a little marmot meat on the table for the folks. I used an old pioneer recipe, one I’m happy to share with you. In honor of the day I post it here .

           Groundhog Stew

6  large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

6-8 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 1/2 inch rounds

3 large onions, peeled, halved and quartered

4 large rutabagas, (turnips will do) peeled and chunked

1 head of celery, including the leaves

1 knot of garlic. Separate and peel cloves.Use whole. Do not chop, dice, or press

1 quart canned tomatoes

liberal quantities of salt and pepper

1 large groundhog, skinned and gutted. Remove head and paws. Set aside tail for garnish or table decoration.


Place vegetables and condiments in a large Dutch oven. Add three quarts water. Quarter the groundhog and mix in among vegetables, including the back portion. Bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes, then reduce heat. Simmer for 12 hours or until meat and bone separate.

Serving: remove every last bit of groundhog meat and bones. Set aside for the huntin’ dogs. Dish up vegetables and broth piping hot.

Serves a large family of eight to ten—if you can find anyone willing to pit his palate or stomach against such hearty fare! Good luck!

Here comes Bill

With a snicker and a grin!

Here comes Bill with a snicker and a grin!

Groundhog gravy all over his chin!


Happy Groundhog’s Day to the Valley!

Cool marmot

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