Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Seven

Chapter 67

December 17th – My hand hurt too much to write yesterday but it isn’t quite as bad today. Yesterday was laundry and sewing and making a couple of loaves of Pineapple Loaf so that I wouldn’t have to cook breakfast this morning. I like to have breakfast baked ahead on church mornings; it saves me time and I’m not as rushed. And if I’m not as rushed then I’m not as grumpy. And if I’m not as grumpy … well, it’s all good and everyone is happy.

The sewing was just basically finishing up the knitting projects that Momma O and the other ladies had assigned to me. I’m right handed so running the knitting machines really didn’t hurt but making those stupid pompoms for the tops of the knit caps sure did; so did the tassels on the ends of the baby blankets. Let me tell you, there sure are a lot of babies. I guess like my Memaw always said, “You play you pay.” It just seems like people would use a little more caution … or maybe they’ve forgotten how if they ever knew. Accidents are gonna happen, but not all of the folks were married when the babies got made from what I understand. Those aren’t accidents, that is just out and out getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

Yesterday’s breakfast was biscuits with busted down gravy. Gosh I hadn’t thought of calling it that for a long time. It was funny, well funny to me anyway. For some reason it just came out of my mouth when I was putting it on the table. Rand gave me the strangest look and then for absolutely no reason I got the giggles. Rand started laughing because I was laughing. I finally stopped and told him it had been one of my grandfather’s favorite breakfast foods. Fried eggs, biscuits, and busted down gravy. The gravy is basically white gravy with ground and browned sausage mixed in. If you like it hot you can use hot sausage and add ground pepper but spicy doesn’t do me a bit of good lately so I fixed my plate and then let Rand have the pepper mill so he could add as much as he wanted.

After breakfast I did the dishes up quick while Rand took care of the cows and letting the animals out to their pens or pastures. I got the first load of clothes soaking while I finished up another baby blanket. Wound up having to take about six inches undone when I noticed a dropped stitch. Man was that aggravating. I had just gotten back to where I had started when I had to put the blanket aside and stomp and rinse the load of underthings. The load was bigger than normal because of the long johns that were mixed in.

I loaded the basket and stepped outside to find Rand laid flat out on the front porch doubled up. I just about dumped the basket of clean clothes to rush over but he stopped me first and told me he was OK but pointed off towards the barn and started laughing again. I looked but I couldn’t see what was so funny. Eventually he caught his breath and said, “You know that rooster of yours is something else.”

“Why? What has he done this time? Tried to take on the cow?” I asked, remembering that Pretty Boy sometimes didn’t seem to understand his size could be a hindrance to his ego.

“No. Better. You know them hens we got in the trade?”

“Yeah, the ones you called Jersey Giants ‘cause they’re so lar … oh. Oh no, he did not. That’s not … I mean … I know he courts the Rhode Island Reds we have but surely … Rand! He’s too little. He didn’t really try to … ?”

“Try?! That’s some rooster you’ve got there!!” and he fell over laughing again.

About that time one of the grey Jersey Giants came out of the barn … with Pretty Boy on her … I swear, who would have thought that a midget poultry could be embarrassing. The Jersey Giant just completely ignored him while he tried to … well, you can imagine what he was trying to do. This has to go down as yet another example of God’s sense of humor.

The day just went on and on from there; putting laundry to soak and picking up a knitting project, then setting whatever project I was working on aside so I could rinse and hang that load out. Eventually the laundry was finished and I was sick of looking at the needles on the knitting machine going round and round and up and down.

It is never a good idea to go passed your tolerance level when sewing or you are going to start making stupid mistakes so I decided it was time to work on the Pineapple Loaf. I started by stirring one-half teaspoon vinegar into one-half cup of milk and letting it stand for a few minutes while I combined the dry ingredients. You take two cups of sifted flour, two cups of yellow cornmeal, one teaspoon of baking powder, one teaspoon of baking soda, and one teaspoon of salt and mix them together into a big bowl. By that time the vinegar milk is ready and you add two tablespoons of melted butter and then mix the liquids into the dry ingredients; do it gradually or you wind up with too many lumps. Next take one and a half cups of undrained crushed pineapple and add one half cup of molasses and then stir that really gross looking mess into the batter. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

Rand went hunting for a little while but he came back empty handed and discouraged. “Good thing we are growing our meat because I think people are overhunting the area, trying to keep food on the table. I haven’t even seen too many squirrels, have you?”

I asked him if the ones out in the garden patch count? “I keep chasing them out because I don’t want them burying their stupid acorns out in the rows for me to have to fight as sprouts in the next garden.”

“Instead of chasing them I’m going to try setting up some of those traps we used in the barn. I’ll see if Mr. Coffey has any good ideas for snares.”

Guess it is a good thing that we both like our veggies. Dinner was thick homemade vegetable soup and homemade cornbread. Rand said he had some work to do and it gave me a chance to escape to the sewing room to try and get the last bit of sewing done on his chaps. I had already punched all of the holes using a hammer and awl so all I was doing was threading things together.

We both went to bed tired and sore … my hand and Rand where he was finally returning to all of his labors … but woke up in a pretty good mood. Since I didn’t have to cook breakfast I could help with before-Church chores and we were able to load the wagon and be on our way quickly this morning.

Pastor Ken preached a good sermon. I could tell because whatever he was saying people were nodding and smiling and the Amen pews were really going; but, my mind just couldn’t settle enough to concentrate. All the things that I need to do kept running through my head and making sure that I had all the knitting projects and supplies to give back to Momma O.

We stood to sing the Doxology and Invitation before I even realized it and then there was a bunch of handshaking and greeting which gave me as good an excuse as any to escape over to Momma O and tell her what I had brought.

“My lands girl! You telling me you really did finish all of that?! Well bless us all, maybe we will be able to get everything finished in time. Mary Lou, woohoo, Mary Lou! You’ll never believe it … “

Mary Lou is Mrs. Withrow to everyone but her husband (now dead) and her “bosom bows.” She looks like a good puff of wind would blow her frail body down the street but she’s even more tenacious than Momma O … and she has at least a decade of years on her as well. If it is possible to be scared of a little old lady that’s exactly what she does to me. Her robin’s egg blue eyes can look a hole right through you and that is exactly what she did as soon as Momma O showed her what I’d brought.

“Well dear, we may just need to induct you into the Ladies’ Auxiliary though you are a might young for it. We always need willing hands and a nimble mind. That suggestion for suspenders has been a big hit with the other ladies who have all grown more than tired of watching their children and men flashing their undies and hitching up their pants where everyone has lost so much weight or haven’t been able to replace their worn clothes with the right sizes.”

I beat feet out of there as quick as I could and still be polite. That’s all I need is some of those ladies starting to have expectations of me or starting to organize my life and my time. I know they are trying to be nice but I have enough on my plate as it is and the idea of suddenly becoming parts of some ladies’ society puts a chill in my blood. What do I know about that sort of stuff?!

I managed to put the finishing touches on Rand’s chaps today. I’ve been lucky he’s been working and organizing out in the barn so much. I was so happy about getting that finished that I made a sorghum pie for dessert.

You make yourself a pie crust and lay it in a nine-inch pie pan. Then in a mixing bowl you take five eggs, one-third cup of white sugar, and one and one-quarter cups of sorghum molasses and mix it all together. Pour the resulting slurry into the pie crust and bake it in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 35 to 40 minutes. The pie will set a bit as it cools and then you can whip up some sweetened heavy cream to top each slice with if you have a mind to … and I did since I had enough butter for quite some time.

After dinner and the nightly kitchen clean up Rand and I sat down and did some talking as we listened to the occasional broadcast from the radio in the background. We have a lot to do right after Christmas; no holiday break for us. We need to be ready to start butchering as soon as we get a cold snap and hope it lasts long enough to get it done all in one shot. This means that we need to have everything prepped and ready to go at the first sign of a frost or freeze. Tomorrow Brendon is coming over and the guys are going to take down a tree for us to replace the hardwood that is coming out of our seasoned pile.

I’ve been pulling and prepping all of my jars but Rand suggested … more like warned me politely … not to show my full hand as far as the jar situation because he thinks there will be non-family at the butchering.

“Don’t get me wrong Babe, they are nice people but these days it just makes more sense to hold a little back so that no one can take everything you have. On the other hand you’re probably the last person I need to tell this to.”

“Rand, don’t you worry that it looks like we don’t trust your family?”

He got a studied look on his face and then said, “Let’s just say that I trust them but I also know them well enough that I don’t want to have to worry about someone forgetting and accidentally taking advantage of us in all the hullabaloo that goes on during butchering time.”

December 18th – All outdoor work was rained out today. Rand was worse than a cat on a hot tin roof until I suggested he help me to do some reorganizing and cleaning. Guy that he is he suddenly realized he needed to clean all the guns and organize and inventory the remaining ammo and all sorts of other things that didn’t involve mops, brooms, and buckets. That’s fine, it kept him out from underfoot and I didn’t have to create make-work for him to keep him from sitting around and getting bored.

I knew I had been missing something but I hadn’t realized what it was until after Rand figured out a way to charge his old iPod. Music. I’ll hum and sing when no one is around but that’s about it. I’ve caught Rand whistling out in the barn. We sing hymns at the church services but it is without an instrument after the piano lost some wires.

“Oh Rand … it’s … it’s been so long.”

“Yeah. I was looking for an old t-shirt to use as an oil cloth. And there it was. I’d even forgotten about throwing it in that box. I’ve got a little set of speakers for it around here somewhere. If I can figure out how to charge that … well, if you want, we can listen to it sometimes.”

We both sat and listened to it for about fifteen minutes and then for some stupid reason I haven’t figured out I just started crying. Rand didn’t laugh or think I was crazy or anything like that. He held me until I was over it. And then we both just got up and got back to work.

There’s always work. When Rand was sick we managed to stick to two meals a day which made things easier … hearty breakfast and then we would have what Momma used to call “lupper” … lunch/supper … with a smaller snack or warm milk at night before I turned down the stove for the night. Now that Rand is back working and trying to get up to full steam he is hungry all the time although he hasn’t complained. I can see it in his eyes. My Memaw would have said Rand was born with a hollow leg … personally I think it is two hollow legs.

For breakfast this morning I started using up that cream of wheat that Rand and I found in the bed hide-a-way space. But I just can’t choke that stuff down plain so I used it to replace cornmeal and flour in some recipes. For instance this morning I made a ham and cheese frittata that used cream of wheat as the “crust.”

Stir together one-half cup cream of wheat, one and one-half cups boiling water and let it stand five minutes. Then add six beaten eggs to the cream of wheat mixture. Next melt a tablespoon of butter and add one diced onion, one diced green pepper and one diced red bell pepper and sauté about five minutes. Then to the sauté pan add one cup diced ham and mix everything up gently. Once you have that done, gently pour the cream of wheat mixture over the veggie stuff in the pan so that it covers everything. Sprinkle some cheese over that … I used some queso blanco I had made this morning … and cook over medium heat for five minutes until the edges begin to firm up. Then you put the skillet in the oven for ten minutes at 450 degrees F.

When your frittata is finished, take it out of the oven and carefully turn it over onto a serving platter so that the cream of wheat “crust” is now on the bottom. Rand really liked his. Probably would have gone better with some sour cream as a garnish but hey, you go with what you have and I hadn’t opened the new can of powdered sour cream yet.

Lunch was venison chili straight out of the jar that I had canned it in. Dinner was the leftovers from breakfast and lunch plus I made a cinnamon rice pudding. I felt full to bursting but I think Rand could have eaten more. I swear I don’t know where he puts it sometimes.

We’ll be heading off to bed pretty soon. I’m glad. Despite being cooped up inside all day I still worked my tail feathers off. Rand did his thing as I said. I spot checked my inventory and added a few things to the list of “wants” and “needs” that we have started. Among the items on that list is white sugar, wheat or wheat flour, and potatoes.

The potatoes might be a pipe dream. Anyone in the area that has them are saving them for their spring gardens and who knows how we are going to get more seed potatoes until those people are willing to part with a few. It might be a very long time before I see a fresh potato.

December 20th – Rand got another deer today. And Hoss and Bradley brought by some alligator tail and looked like they wanted to stay a while and talk. I grinned behind their backs at the look on Rand’s face and asked everyone how Gator and Ham Soup sounded for lunch.

“Now see there? I tol’ you Kiri’d know what to do wid it. What does Marsha’s ol’ man know about it anyway?” Hoss said brightly.

Uh oh. Marsha was the widow that Hoss had been courting. Apparently Marsha’s father wasn’t fond of the match and may have finally managed to run Hoss off for good. It had to be something along those lines. No one with any common sense turns down food these days.

And it wasn’t like I was unfamiliar with cooking gator. We’d get it in the diner every so often and it was a big hit. You do need to know what you are doing so that it doesn’t taste too fishy or gamey but even with that it is easier than cooking some wild stuff like raccoon and opossum where you have to be wary of cutting the glands out correctly or you’ll ruin all of the meat. And alligator tail is actually just about the only meat on the gator worth messing with anyway. You just chop it up and cook it and then add it to your other soup ingredients and cook everything even further until your beans are tender. Wasn’t half bad if I do say so myself even if I did get a major case of heartburn afterwards.

December 21st – Oooooo I could just spit. I was in the middle of journaling last night when someone started banging on the front door. Rand grabbed his gun and then Brendon calls out.

“Yo! Rand … dad says that it is time and that you need to come on over if you are coming!! Y’all still awake in there?!”

Crud. Double crud. Triple, quadruple crud. The temperature had been dropping since yesterday morning but I didn’t really think that it was cold enough that we’d have to start butchering. What a time to start this stuff. The Christmas celebration just a couple of days away and I still have baking and other stuff to do. Uncle George’s timing couldn’t have been worse but frankly I’m too tired to do much more than make a token complaint here in my journal.

It’s even worse for Rand. He left last night and told me not to come until after chores this morning. I so did not sleep very well. He didn’t get to sleep at all.

But we are home now and he is already asleep, only taking the time to feed the animals before crawling into bed with a mumbled apology. I’m still up baking and trying to heat some of the damp out of the house while I put away the jars of stuff that has already been canned.

Four hogs and two cows were butchered over the last twenty-four hours. That’s a lot of meat, but by the time it was divided up between all of the participating families and cooked down for canning and what have you we didn’t bring home nearly as much as I thought we were going to. But there is tomorrow and we’ve got another six hogs and three cows to butcher and we might also try and do some goats if we can hurry things up. Uncle George and some of the other older folks said butchering isn’t just about how many animals you’ve got to do but how long the weather holds cold to let you do it.

Since I’m still waiting on my bread to do its second rising before I put it to bake I’ll describe how each hog is butchered. First, you are merciful and kill the hog as quickly as possible. The preferred method around here is a .22 straight to the front of brain. While the hog is still kicking … it’s already dead, it just doesn’t realize it yet … it is strung up by its hind legs and a big butcher knife is used to slit the throat. You have to do this part quick to bleed the animal out. If the blood coagulates in the meat you’ve ruined everything.

While the hog is bleeding out, or even before, you are preparing a huge tub like thing by filling it with very hot water. Uncle George’s set up had the tub raised above a bed of hot coals. You want the water scalding hot but you don’t really want to boil the pig as in cooking it. What you are doing is scalding the pig so that it can be loosen the hair on the hog.

When the hog is bled out, Uncle George ran a wire through the hogs head to form a large ring. Not through the meat but through the bone and gristle. This is then attached to a hook that is on a pulley system that allows the hog to be dipped into the scalding water.

Next comes the scraping part. Scraping a hog is not hard; it’s just weird if you’ve never done it before. After lifting the hog from the water you start pulling the hair out with your hands and scraping with a broad-bladed knife. Since you do not skin a hog you must be sure to get all the hair off. Hold your knife in both hands so that the blade is against the skin and scrape. It’s a little like shaving with a dull razor. If the hair is stubborn about coming off, dip the hog in the water or pour hot water over especially bad places.

Next comes the gross and messy part. You cut on the hog’s head. You begin by cutting through the flesh on the neck all the way around the bone and then twisting the neck until the bone breaks. Put the head in a kettle with a little water in it. The head can be used to make many things such as mincemeat, headcheese, pickled ears, and the jowls can be cured. Even the brains and tongue can be used for food. Nothing will be wasted although I’m not too sure about eating pickled ears or pig’s feet. Daddy did, and really liked pig’s feet, but from what I remember they look too much like what they used to be. I’d have to be pretty doggone hungry before I could nibble on something like that.

The next step is to clean the hog insides. The carcass needs to be opened up all the way down. With the hog hanging by the hind legs start at the top at the back center and cut all the way through the skin down to the hind bone. Then make a shallow cut the rest of the way down the hog so not to cut into the intestines. Be sure to cut around the end of the intestines.

With an ax cut the hind bone in half. This has to be done in order to split the hog in half for cutting up. Tie off the end of the intestines with a piece of string. Now cut the breastbone. This is the hardest part because you must be careful not to cut the intestines when cutting the breastbone with a knife. Cut all the way through the skin and find the breastbone and cut it. Uncle George was the only one to do that part because it took a practiced hand.

Next the intestines come out. Open the stomach entirely and put the intestines into a large wash tub. The intestines are saved because of the fat on them and to make sausage casings with. They don’t smell like I thought they would but one of the ladies there said it was because they were tied off at both ends so nothing of the … err, smelly stuff … leaked out to be smelled.

The cutting of the meat is next. The carcass was swung to the big butcher table and laid it on its back with the skin against the table so that it splits open. It looked like a giant dissection experiment for biology class.

First to be cut is the backbone which has to be cut apart from the rest of the meat. You do this by chopping with an ax down the length of the backbone on both sides where the ribs join it. The backbone and the tenderloin together make would pork chops, but Uncle George didn’t cut it that way. He likes to keep them separate. The backbone has meat on it as good as the tenderloin, so he cuts it up and boils it like stew meat, but with the bone still with it. We did that and canned a bunch of quarts or pork stew.

The way to make pork chops is to saw down the center of the backbone and cut off the extra rib ends about five inches from the backbone. Sawing the backbone is done while the hog is still hanging from the pulley. If there were freezers still available Uncle George said he’d have done it but he considered it a waste of meat right now since we’d have to can or cure to preserve everything.

The leaf lard came next. It is a thin layer of pure fat that is right against the ribs. This lard can be pulled out easily by hand. This lard was put in a pan along with the other fat that was cut off.

Ribs aren't too hard to cut out. They are a large slab on both sides of the backbone. To cut them out you start from the backbone and cut to the outside. Put your knife just under the ribs and cut all the way under them; continue this until you have cut them out completely. Fresh pork ribs is what we ate for dinner although some of them were deboned and canned for later use.

The tenderloin, like the leaf lard, can be pulled out of the hog. In comparison to the other cuts of meat it is a small portion of the hog, stretching along the sides of the backbone. It is also the best portion of a hog. It is only about five inches thick and is what people used to pay an arm and a leg for at the grocery store.

What remains to cut now are the hams, sides and shoulders. Cut straight across to cut out the sides or bacon. Trim the bacon to get off the excess fat. The hams and shoulders are the last pieces of meat to be cut. Just cut at the knee joint to cut off the feet and you're done cutting up the meat. Ham and shoulders are cut and cured alike.

After the shoulders, ribs, hams, jowls and sides have been trimmed, the fat is used for lard, and meat which is not used for anything else is used for sausage. Many people put the heart, tongue and spleen in the sausage. You can cut the tenderloin and shoulder for sausage as well but Rand and I wanted all of our hams and shoulders whole and I wanted the tenderloin for canning.

To prepare the meat for the sausage mill, it must be cut into pieces small enough to fit into the mill easily. Mostly lean meat is used for sausage, but on a hog many of the scraps are partly lean and partly fat, like bacon. This is all put into the sausage. Too much fat will make cooked sausage shrink up and leave mostly grease in the pan. According to Uncle George, who as teaching as well as doing the butchering, good sausage has just enough fat to make it juicy. I already knew that from being on the farm when I was little and because we made our own sausage at the diner.

A sausage mill grinds the meat into sausage. It looks like hamburger does when it comes out. The mill is a small hand operated machine with a small hopper at the top into which the pieces of meat and fat are pushed a few at a time. There is a crank located on the side of the mill which when turned by hand, turns an auger inside of the mill, forcing the meat through knives and out through a chute located on the front of the mill. When grinding sausage, alternating putting in lean and fatty meat will help in mixing the sausage to more uniform consistency. The ground up meat drops into a pan under the mill.

While some folks handled milling the pork into sausage, others started making the lard. Lard is made from intestinal fat, leaf fat, and scraps of fat from the butchered hog that are trimmed off from different cuts of meat as it is butchered. The intestines are covered with a layer of fat stretching the entire length of them. After removing the intestines from the carcass, strip them of all their fat with knives, being careful not to pierce them. The best fat for lard is the leaf lard that comes from the inside of the ribs but it isn’t enough so you add the less desirable pieces as well.

After enough fat was gathered from the cutting table, it was taken to a little lean to for cooking. The fat was first cut it into small cubes with sharp knives. While that was happening the lard kettle was readied. The kettle has to be about 4 inches off of the ground to allow room for the fire wood. Put a small amount of water in the kettle to keep fat from sticking when you first put it in before any grease has cooked out. Build a fire under the kettle to get the kettle hot before fat is put into it. As the fat is diced, it is dumped it into the kettle. What little water is left will boil out. Stir constantly with a stick or a paddle. As the fat gets hot, it melts down into liquid grease. Stir it constantly to keep the fat from burning. Keep the fire low while in this process because the lard, if a flame is touched to it, it will catch fire and too hot a fire will cause the lard to be brown when it hardens.

Brown lard will get rancid more quickly. You keep dumping more fat in the kettle and dipping out grease as it cooks out of the fat until you have put in all the fat that you have. You keep cooking the lard until all the fat is extracted. Low heat directed to the fatty tissues will melt the fat, leaving the cell structure and the rind. This residue will cook in the hot fat and float on the top of the grease. These are called cracklings.

You can tell when the lard is done by the cracklings floating at the top. The fat that you pour into the kettle floats also but the fat is white until it is melted down to just the cracklings. So you can tell when you're done when everything floating at the top is brown.

Dip the lard out of the kettle with a large dipper or sauce pan and pour through a straining pan and a cloth into a lard stand or container that can hold very hot liquids. Cover the lard can and let it cool and harden. The lard is stored in lard cans and I’m told will keep all year. I’ll take their word for it but I’ll also keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t go rancid. Rand said he’ll try and turn an area of the lower cabinets into a lard cooler somehow.

The cracklings get caught in the straining pan and when they cook down they make good munching, like potato chips or corn chips. They have a nutty, crisp brown taste. I remember my grandmother putting them into cornbread and then my uncle – Momma’s brother – would crumble a slice of crackling cornbread into a glass of buttermilk and eat the whole mess with a spoon. Each to his own. I prefer to keep my food and drink separate thank you very much.

Now the butchering is all well and good but we can’t keep everything fresh and it isn’t practical to try and can everything either so the next step was to start the curing process. Curing meat starts by putting the meat on a table in the smoke-house. You must wait until the body heat of the hog has left the meat before you apply the salt. It only takes a few hours for the heat to leave in cold weather which is why it is so important to take advantage of the really cold snaps here in the south.

In the afternoon after butchering when the heat has left the meat, use two parts sugar cure to one part table salt and rub the mixture into the skin side of the meat. Then turn it over and rub the other side. The salt mixture should cover the meat entirely, and should be a thin layer about 1/8 inch thick. It usually takes about a pound to a pound and a half of salt to ten pounds of meat. Uncle George has a lot of this type of thing on hand because he had a food license for preserving meat for resale to the public. The meat has to sit then for about two or three weeks in cold weather to take the salt. When cured, wash the excess salt off of the meat and hang or store. It should then be properly cured.

According to one of the other men there, before sugar cure was available on the market, the old-timers used just plain table salt to cure the meat and then smoked it. Many times the meat wound up tasting very salty because of curing too long and had to be soaked to get out some of the salt. The sugar cure gives a simulated smoke taste. When it came on the market, most people stopped smoking their meat.

After the salt cure the meat will get hung by wire to the joists in the smoke-house. Meat is hung the same way it is on the animal, sides hung with the thickest part up and joints, such as hams and shoulders, also hung with the thick side up. The part the hog stood on is still down. That natural position keeps the grease from dripping out when it gets warm. If you hang it upside down it will lose all the grease. The wires are put in by cutting a small slip in the hide and slipping the wires through the slit. The shoulders and hams only need one wire at the top of the joint, but the sides need two, one at each end of the thick side.

After the wires get inserted and the meat gets hung in the smoke-house, it will be time to build the fire. The fire is built in an iron kettle. The kettle will be put in the smokehouse directly under the meat being smoked. The best type of wood, and almost the only kind used, is hickory. According to the ladies I was helping, hickory smoke has a very pleasant smell and adds a desirable flavor to the meat. Most people use wood chips. If hickory isn’t available, sassafras can be used to give a different flavor.

The way this lady explained how it was done when she was little is they would put the chips in a kettle on a bed of ashes and set the wood on fire. When the fire was burning well, they took ashes and smothered the fire so that only smoke came out of the kettle, because the flavor was not in the fire itself, but in the smoke. Since many smokehouses were not tight, walls were sometimes papered temporarily to hold in the smoke as much as possible to reduce the smoking time. The kettle was placed directly under the meat that was being smoked. For instance, the kettle would be placed under the hams. The fire would be tended until the hams would be brown. It usually took two or three days for the meat to turn brown. When the hams turned brown, the kettle would be moved under the sides. In the Winter, the farmer might have three or four hogs in the smokehouse at the same time, depending on the size of his family.

When all the meat was smoked some people just let it hang in the smoke-house, while others took it down, wrapped it carefully and packed it in boxes. Whatever the farmer did with the meat, he had enough to last through the summer and into the next winter when it would be cold enough to butcher again.

I’m not sure what Rand and I are going to do. We haven’t gotten that far yet. I do know that Rand intends on curing the meats at Uncle George’s place and then bringing it back to ours to hang in our own smoke houses.

The beef was butchered the same way but different and frankly I’m just too tired to write it down. Not to mention that my bread is ready to bake and I need to get to it. Who knows what kind of stuff I’m going to be getting up to tomorrow.

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