I remember one of the first first times I saw mustard and pickle relish in my potato salad. “Certainly,” I thought, “someone got this wrong”. In our family, the recipe that’s been handed down from my Pennsylvania Dutch
Great-Grandmother, is considered the one and only way to eat potatoes as a salad side dish. Let’s see: potatoes, white vinegar, boiled eggs, mayonaise, salt and pepper. Yep. That’s it. And I have to admit, I still think it is the best I’ve ever eaten. “Sprinkle white vinegar on the potatoes first,” my grandmother or mother reminds me. “It removes the bitterness.” And so it does.
But winter isn’t usually a time when people ponder a summer or spring dish like Potato Salad. Although, I have to admit, folks in the northern regions about now are longing for that first sight of Spring. Maybe that’s why Ground Hog Day managed to find its way to “holiday” status. When you crave something so desperately, it suddenly becomes very important.
But where, exactly, the day got it’s start, I truly didn’t know. A little time at the laptop uncovered Ground Hog Day as a Pennyslvania German custom dating back to the 1700s. Our European ancestors it seems brought the tradition with them to the new world. Apparently, in the “old country”, a badger or “sacred bear” was the original prognosticator of the weather.
Interestingly, February 2nd coincides with what the religious sect celebrates as Candlemas, and, it once also marked a Celtic holiday by the name of Imbolc. But back to our burrowing critter…
Punxsutawney Phil, as he is endearingly referred to these days, has been elevated to superstar status. His appearance from his hole now involves social events, food, speeches and entertainment. Crowds of up to 40,000 in attendance have been known to gather in his home of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, since 1886.
The earliest American reference to the celebration has been found in the diary of storekeeper James Morris (Berks County, Pennsylvania) :
February 5, 1841
“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”
We, here in the South, are currently surrounded by a lovely layer of temporary winter white. But I can only imagine that our friends above the Mason Dixon (who dwell in snow for months at a time) are hoping that our little hog avoids his nap and, rather, foreshadows a sweet sight of Spring. And that, none too soon.
Just my thoughts,