Why Groundhog?

Tomorrow tens of thousands of people are expected attend Punxsutawney, PA's annual Groundhog Day ceremony while millions more watch the event on television and online. With that celebrity status, furry forecaster Punxsutawney Phil doesn't need to worry about human predators as he checks his shadow. But that wasn't the case for his forebears.

As American as Shoofly Pie In "Consider the Groundhog," a chapter in the forthcoming book,
As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine, historian and author William Woys Weaver reminds us that the famous marmot was usually seen on a platter before he began to appear on television. Groundhog meat–along with squirrel, rabbit, and other small game–was an economical source of protein for rural families. Weaver says, "Properly dressed, groundhog is indeed an underrated American delicacy, and smoked groundhog is an unsung luxury—I do not exaggerate."

Fortunately for the groundhog, it is more appealing as a mascot than as a main dish. Pennsylvanians have named many institutions after the animal, from the Groundhog Day holiday to the Groundhog or Grundsau Lodges, which preserve the Pennsylvania Dutch language. What gives the unassuming rodent such regional charm? Weaver writes:

The groundhog fits neatly into Pennsylvania Dutch culture because it was a common denizen of the countryside, a ready symbol of farm life, and long associated with weather prognostication, an important point in the days when farmers spent the late winter poring over almanacs.

Now, even though we're more likely to consult the Weather Channel than the Farmer's Almanac, admiration for the groundhog endures.

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