Belltown Root Pie (Groundhog) Day History – February 2nd
From 1978 to 1982, the Belltown Café on First Avenue in Seattle was a neighborhood hearth and home to a Groundhog Day Root Pie tradition. The Café proprietors often traded food for art with their customers. One exchange resulted in the creation of the “Belltown Pan,” a large copper pan shaped like a bell, fabricated as an exterior sign for the Café and as a baking pan that would fit into a commercial oven.
On Groundhog Day, the Belltown Pan would be taken inside, cleaned and used to bake an impressive root pie from an assortment of below-ground vegetables such as rutabaga, parsnips, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, and garlic for all to enjoy. The next day the Pan would be returned to its outdoor station as place marker.
Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2nd – about halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. Thewinter’s end during the first of February has taken place since ancient times. Spring welcoming traditions across the world have evolved throughout the ages; many of them include watching for weather omens, such as looking for a groundhog’s shadow.
In February during this long dark time of year our metaphorical root cellars are depleting. A reason to gather and share the last of winter’s reserves and acknowledge the imminent return of spring’s replenishment. The community comes together to dine as the groundhog, with a taste of roots, checking for shadows to foretell the length of winter’s grip.
Since the 1970’s, the local Belltown community has been engaging in civic activities that bring neighbors together for a cause, including: planting the street trees that are now along First Avenue; initiating the Belltown P-Patch Community Garden and Growing Vine Street; and the establishment of the Apex Co-0p.
The Belltown Café closed in 1982. An organization called the Strand Helpers, which fed Seattle’s homeless, was based in the building until it burned down in 1987. Now in the 21st Century, Bellwether Housing occupies the old Belltown Café’ site. The neighborhood is more populated and a new sense of community has developed, along with the revival of the Groundhog Day Root Pie tradition.
Recently multiple editions of “Belltown Pans” have been reproduced, cast from recycled metal, to propagate collective restaurant participation in the Root Pie tradition. Its reemergence is a bellwether for local sustainable civic urbanism. The iconic Belltown Pans symbolize a call to awaken from hibernation, to engage in community action for the common good.