Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Modest Proposal

"This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it."

-Phil Conners, Meteorologist, WPBH-TV9, Pittsburgh

The groundhog (marmota momax, of the Rodent family) is a large, burrowing, ground-squirrel common to the American Midwest and Northeast. These meaty cousins of the common squirrel and marmot are quite widespread, reproduce like baby-boomers, and are very rotund, thus, likely slow.

So why aren't Americans eating more groundhog? I blame the supermarkets. Pre-packaged meat has led far-too-many to believe that pork chops grow on trees, and chicken breasts sprout out of the ground. Understanding where one's food comes from is an important lesson to the advancement of our culinary culture. To that end, knowing where the groundhog comes from- the same family as squirrels- can offer much insight into the deliciousness that could ensue when Americans get their gastronomic s**t together.

Take- for example- some excerpts from "Bayou Bill" Scifres' website, "All Outdoors" (, talking about the preparation of squirrel. If this doesn't get your tummy rumbling, then you belong to a styrofoam tray of uniform cutlets:

- "I have bagged squirrels early in the morning on many occasions and kept them unskinned until dark on hot August days of the past without ever having a squirrel turn bad. It also is a good idea to keep flies off the squirrels."

- "it is not difficult to skin a squirrel after rigor mortis has set in."

- "I know, the notion that squirrel heads should be saved for cooking may bring about some cases of the "jeebies." But there is a lot of good meat on the cheeks and the part of the head that joins the neck, not to mention a great little morsel of brain when the top of the head is cracked (usually with the handle of a table knife) after the meat is removed."

- "Most wild game eaters consider the back legs of the squirrel "top choice," but I do not look down my nose at any piece of squirrel including heads."

- "Fried squirrel is a favored method with most wild game cooks, but they may be boiled (especially the older, tougher ones) and turned into a magnificent pot of dumplings. Then, of course, I do not have many guests leave the table when I present a platter of whole, baked squirrels with body cavities stuffed with my sage dressing."

- "To be honest about this entire thing, I have never seen a squirrel dish I did not like."

Thank you, Bayou Bill. I think you've made my point. Only substitute "groundhog" for "squirrel", and replace "meaty and delicious" with "meatier and delicious-er".

Quit worrying about whether or not that groundhog is going to see its shadow, and get that whistle-pig wondering if he'll see your shadow... right before you bag 'im.

Considering the wild nature of the critter, find a wine that has complementing "gamey" aromas and flavors, like Rhône Syrah, Pinotage from South Africa, or a Chilean Carménère. Or, if you go the fried route, few wines stand up to richness like Rieslings.

Of course, Champagne goes great with most any food. And few things class up the table better than a bottle of bubbly and a platter of fried groundhog heads. There's good meat in the cheeks, you know.

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