By Sue Baldani
As we move into February, most people are beginning to get tired of the cold and the snow. We need a sign that warm weather is on the horizon, and with it a chance to stash our winter coats, gloves and boots back into the closet.
Maybe that’s why Groundhog Day, celebrated on February 2, is such an anticipated event each year. Everyone is watching to see if a large and furry rodent will give them hope of milder days soon to come. Of course, that same animal can also quash those same hopes in a matter of minutes.
Now, I’m sure most people don’t believe that a groundhog can really predict the weather. But, it’s a fun tradition that is looked forward to in the colder parts of the country every year.
The most famous groundhog, of course, is Punxsutawney Phil, and Punxsutawney, PA, puts on quite a show every year. Since 1887, when Groundhog Day originally started, Phil has been considered the most accurate when it comes to predicting how much longer winter will last. Of course, since groundhogs (also known as woodchucks and whistle-pigs) usually live less than 10 years, there have been many Phils since its inception. And he’s not the only groundhog known for predicting the weather. Others include Buckeye Chuck in Ohio, Staten Island Chuck in New York, Chattanooga Chuck in Tennessee, and General Beauregard in Georgia.
Legend has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow, which Punxsutawney Phil does quite often, winter will last another six weeks. If he doesn’t, then spring weather will soon be moving in. Of course, seeing his shadow depends on whether it’s a sunny day or a cloudy day.
The credit for the celebration of Groundhog Day goes to German immigrants, who were Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers. They had a tradition called Candlemas, which is the day midpoint between winter and spring. Although hedgehogs and badgers were used in Germany to predict weather, in America, groundhogs were chosen since they were easier to find, and considered not only smart, but sensible as well, and the perfect animal to carry on the tradition.
A poem about the tradition of Candlemas Day reads,
“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.”
People are so enamored of Groundhog Day that a movie was made with the same title in 1993. Poor Bill Murray, as weatherman Phil, kept experiencing the same day over and over again. Talk about a long winter!
So this year, if Punxsutawney Phil or one of the other famous groundhogs do indeed see their shadow, keep the long johns and winter socks close at hand. And make a hearty pot of soup. Enjoying hot soup is one of the delicious perks of a longer winter.
Groundhog Day Loaded Potato Soup
1 medium onion diced
4 tablespoons flour
8 cups chicken broth or stock
10 Yukon gold potatoes peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
2 cups half and half
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese shredded
6 slices of cooked bacon cut or broken up into small pieces
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
After cooking and removing bacon, add diced onion to the same pot and sauté until soft and clear. Sprinkle flour over the onions and stir well until combined. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 3 minutes.
Slowly add chicken broth, whisking constantly while bringing to a boil.
Add diced potatoes and reduce heat. Simmer for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring often.
Add half and half and stir until well combined.
Put half of the soup in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Be careful because it will be very hot.
Add this mixture back to the pot and mix in shredded cheese and cooked bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with additional shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or chopped green onion.
Written for The Country Register, published throughout the U.S. and Canada.