GROUND HOG DAY CELEBRATED BY VERMONT WOODCHUCKS WITH…WOODCHUCK STEW!
FROM THE GONZO CHEF
What better way to celebrate this wondrous day then to cook a woodchuck stew. I removed from my freezer three skinned woodchucks—one old and fat and two young ones. They were destroying a garden and a Browning .22 pistol did them in.
My they were difficult to skin; it was as if they did not want to lose their winter coat while the road kill turkey I gathered up a month before skinned quickly and was in the oven in a flash. It rated four YUM YUM YUM YUM
We have all sorts of woodchucks in Vermont. There is the Glitter Chuck, a two-legged woodchuck who sells pieces of land or houses to Wood Charles and goes to their pretentious cocktail parties. A Wood Charles usually comes to Vermont from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. They often have a trust fund but no common sense, which all Vermont woodchucks have. Oh yes, there are native Vermonters that do not have any common sense and we call them Rednecks.
A two-legged Vermont Woodchuck used to be someone born in Vermont. Now the name also includes those from out of state who are so assimilated that they drink Coors or Bud. Woodchucks can drink more of it at a much lower cost than local craft beers. It is why those empty cans are scattered along our roadsides.
It’s a fact that a four-legged woodchuck, also known as a whistle pig or ground hog (Latin name, Marmota Monax), can eat a quarter of an acre of a hayfield in a summer. Don’t believe it? Ask farmer George Woodard or any dairy farmer. It’s real easy for a cow or horse to break a leg in a woodchuck hole. Woodchucks build homes in hayfields and have a mound of dirt around the entrance, where they sit on a summer afternoon on their hind legs and whistle. They also build a hidey hole nearby with no mound and it is their emergency entrance—a straight drop to their fallout shelter. This hidey hole is a booby trap for cows and horses, for they invariable break a leg when they step in one
Boots Cornell, a Vermonter who lived in Cabot and now resides in Woodchuck Heaven, or Hell (as far as we know, the four-legged variety needs a green card to join the club), shot with his Winchester .22 hornet over 14,000 woodchucks in his life and should have received a medal from the Farm Bureau or at least a mention in the Guiness book of records.
Also the board of Directors of this four legs society realized that fisher cats, after they finished off the porkies (porcupines to you flatlanders), found a taste for pussy cats and woodchucks. So the directors of the woodchuck society advised their members to live in rock piles or stone walls.
Let’s get back to the kitchen. I took my three frozen woodchucks, (they had lived in an abandoned culvert) filled the sink with water poured salt in and brined the critters for about four hours, then gave them a cold water bath and took the cleaver to the carcasses. The young ones only had meat on the legs; the large one had a meaty haunch. I sliced off the fat and searched carefully for any glands and cut them out, for they can make a woodchuck taste like a teenager’s smelly sneaker that won a first prize.
My guide for this stew is The Recipe for Chaos, (https://therecipeforchaos.wordpress.com/2010/02/02/savory-west-virginia-groundhog-stew/ ).
Chaos led me in the right direction. The beer was the most important part, so my nephew Steve, who works for the Alchemist, brought me four Headys which I was going to dump in the stew. He told me his boss just shook his head and said the Heady would boil down and be bitter. He suggested New Castle Brown a svelt beer, creamy and imported from England. I bought a six pack, drank one. Hmnm, better in a stew I thought. I also noticed in the store several types of Woochuck Cidery’s special so I bought Winter Chill Woodchuck hard cider with 5% alcohol (vs 4.7 for New Castle’s beer). Took a deep swig of their cider, then finished off the bottle. Not bad and seemed right for a woodchuck stew.
The most important part of the West Virgina recipe is laying down a quarter inch of grape seed oil (damn, expensive!) in a large skillet, sifting seasoned flour (Dr. Kernel’s) onto the cut up chunks of woodchuck and browning them. Set them aside. Then add the beer and cider to the grape seed oil in the skillet(one bottle of each to start with…don’t be stingy!). Stirred it, glazed it and set it aside. Cut up the veggies but then I went native and before heating them I added to the recipe what any good Woodchcuck, would do—clean out the leftovers in the frig and spice cabinet.
I added to the Chaos recipe:
A bottle each of New Castle and Winter Chill Woodchuck Cider
A clump of Hen of the Woods mushrooms
Garlic given to me by the Food Shelf (well, I am Vermont Broke, why else would I be making woodchuck stew and eating roadkill?).
4 Bay Leafs.
Thyme, just a sprinkling
Celery salt—two dashes or so
Mexican oregano (gift of my daughter who owns Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant in London.)
Worscester Sauce Two jerks of the bottle.
Angostura Bitters. Give it a double dash.
Ground Chipotle flakes. Just so much.
Srirachi A swirl.
Liquid beef bouillon to vanquish a cloying sweetness,
Cross of an orange and lemon. A half cup of the juice.
Now I forgot to tell you I saved the woodchuck livers.
I did them in butter, tasted a small bit and it was okay but lets face it I HATE LIVER! But I’m a Depression child and so I clean my plate or else!, says the ghost of my Mother. I had some port that led a wall flower’s life for about a year and poured some into the frying pan, Thought better and added enough to cover the violet-purplish black liver and transferred it to a closed covered casserole dish and slid it in the oven with the large pot of stew, set the oven on 215 degrees and the timer to four hours. I was, at this point, finishing off a can of Heady that I decided to put in another pot.
Went into the living room and watched the Iowa Caucus Circus. Drank another Heady chased with a Woodchuck Winter Chill hard cider and stumbled to bed. Woke early with a dry mouth and a clenched brain.
…Tasted the stew. Good. Tasted the liver. Hmmm. So I put a third of the liver and port sauce into the stew and kept the rest as a snack for any visitors. After such a welcoming, maybe they won’t come back.
The stew?? The woodchuck meat was firm but not gamy and the sauce a bit sweet so I added a cup of beef bouillon to give it a wry woodchucky bite. Also at this point I added a bit of Heady. The boiling had been completed so the Heady wouldn’t be bitter hoppy, but just as it always is. Outcome? Four YUM YUM YUM YUM! Here’s to Woodchuckery!
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