Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter 34

The time of year – going onto later November and as cold as a well digger’s rear end – helped our strategy as well somewhat; it certainly wasn’t a kind time of year for folks to be out trying to find a hole to crawl into. One of the fence patrols found a campsite just this side of the fence where the old break was. It had one person still there like Goldilocks who got caught by the bears only this one was dead of exposure from the looks; but the camp had obviously held more during the night.

The men followed the trail they left and found another fence break, this one due to nature. Apparently the group had discovered the fence and thought it surrounded something worth taking a chance on. When all they saw was bare vines they must have turned around and left thinking they’d just stumbled across another false lead. On the other hand, maybe they were just looking for a place to get off the beaten path and rest up for the next leg of a journey to who knows where and had to leave one of their traveling companions behind.

It isn’t that there is no charity these days, far from it. It is simply that the number of people and their general attitude and panic precludes being able to offer any charity that would make a bit of difference and not get the charity-givers run over or something worse. Ninety plus percent of the evacuees are locusts; they take and take with no thought to payment or barter. The other types - the ones willing to work or barter - are as rare as hen’s teeth and most people have given up looking for them. It is unfortunate they all get lumped together as I know it hurts people but after a while you have to start thinking of your primary responsibilities that God gave you, including your own family.

It is the locusts that we were trying to defend ourselves from. There is also the criminal element that is in any community no matter how big or small. You keep what you have as close to the vest as you can. The main concern this year is the field hands that have been hired on and living in the trailer. Chester and his sons are plenty OK and Alec speaks highly of the rest of them even though I don’t know them near as well. It also helps that they eat what we put up so if they want to eat they have to help defend it.

We decided to combine a Thanksgiving celebration with butchering time. The butchering would be done at our place and Cheryl and Aunt Adona would work out a way to have the Thanksgiving dinner at theirs. They said they’d provide the turkey since they had some toms that needed culling. We’d provide a fresh ham from the butchering. Sounded good enough to me. Dino was a little bent saying that they would be over to their place doing the fancy cooking while I got stuck at the farm up to my elbows in gore.

I told him, “I’d ruther it be that way. Here I’m in a kitchen I know and around people that aren’t going to pass out if I don’t know how to set a fancy table.” He stopped and looked at me in such a way as I felt I had to add, “You married me know I wasn’t … er … cultured the way the rest of your family is. OK, maybe I’m a little rougher around the edges than is strictly necessary but I’m comfortable being this way. I won’t shame you D …”

“Don’t ever think that Riss,” he said like I’d come close to making him angry. “You don’t embarrass me. If anything I’m embarrassed for not realizing that … well that Cheryl and Aunt Adona …”

I shook my head. “It isn’t like that Dino. They didn’t mean to make me feel like this, I just do. Some of it is my own fault but,” I shrugged. “So long as you don’t mind it then everything is fine.”

He was a mess, having just come in from mucking but still leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Damaris Pappas, you’re my laughter and my sunshine. I’m still not happy with you getting stuck being the only adult female at butchering time.”

“Oh ho, like that is supposed to bother me?” I laughed. “You don’t really think Hannah and Mrs. Bly really did any of that did you?”

We were both startled by AJ that was leaning on the door frame of what I’d come to consider his room. “Han … I mean the people you lived with left you with all the work?”

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t say that. It isn’t like there was a lot of butchering to be done, the Bly family were getting by but there wasn’t a whole lot of cushion in there.”

“But …”

“But what?”

“They left you to do all the work?”

“No … Mr. Bly was willing and learned to do a lot for himself. He learned to do things I never did. His eyesight was just bad even with his glasses on so it limited him. The b … the … the boys more than made up for the rest of it. They …” I stopped and then said a hurried “excuse me” when I heard Pita’s feeding alarm go off.

I came back after tucking everything back in and making sure it was covered up to find AJ sitting at the table grimacing every time he took a sip of chicory and talking to Dino. They shut up when I walked in so I know it was man-talk.

“Baby all right?”

“Um hmmm, clean, dry, and topped off too so hopefully she’ll sleep a while. It’s gonna get interesting ‘round here when she decides she wants to stay awake more.”

Dino smiled like he was looking forward to it but I’ve worked in the church nursery and know good and well that sleeping babies are a whole lot easier to manage that babies that were awake and wanting to be on the move. It was going to be like having a puppy underfoot that wasn’t house broke.

I looked at AJ and told him, “Don’t drink it if it makes you sick.”

“It’s fine, just a bit …”

I smiled at him, “Of an acquired taste?”

“Yes,” he said thawing out a little bit when he realized I wasn’t going to jump down his throat about it.

“Come the spring I can make dandelion root coffee. I can also make some acorn coffee if you want to give it a try.”

He looked at me oddly. “I don’t want to create any more work.” He was obviously uncomfortable.

“You aren’t. I like chicory myself but you should see some of the looks Ajax pulls.” I laughed. “I’m worried his face is going to get stuck that way and then what would Tina say.”

AJ gave his twisted lip smile, a genuine believe it or not, and then Dino said, “We’re going to start butchering tomorrow but the barometer is threatening some pretty cold weather. We’ll do the butchering and scraping in the barn to stay out of the worst of the cold and to keep the carcass from freezing before it drains. Alec is going to bring his stock over here to butcher as well. You sure you going to be up to this?”

Noting his concern I said, “I’m not made of glass. If I start feeling faint or whatever I’ll let you know.” After looking at his face I told him, “I promise.”

AJ started looking uncomfortable. I could tell he wanted to say something but his pride wouldn’t let him. To pull him back so he could be part of things even if he couldn’t get outside and do the heavy work I asked, “How do they do it in the city nowadays?”

He looked at me surprised at the question. “It depends. Fresh meat isn’t that easy to come by. It used to be there were ‘Meatless Mondays’ or something similar but it gradually changed to where Monday became about the only day that meat was available. A few people raise their own but it can be dangerous and draw unwanted attention both from neighbors and food rustlers.”

“But for those that don’t raise their own how do they do it?” I persisted.

“The grocery stores still take the cost of bringing things in but the selection is small and extremely rationed. The grocery stores get it the same place they always have and those places get it from the farms.”

I nodded, “Sounds about like it always has just harder to come by. Did you get into any of that?”

I got another twisted smile. “Some. There are some people that still want the best and are willing to pay for it. I didn’t take possession of anything, merely acted as middle man most of the time.”

“I expect you are a good businessman.”

He gave me a suspicious look then asked, “What is it you need?”

“To pick your brain.”

I’d surprised him again. “To … what?”

“I’ve seen that inventory system you have. You’ve seen what we’ve got downstairs. And just about everywhere else there is room to stick something. I may use part of the attic next year too to hang strings of onions and garlic and bags of other dried things. Outside is the apple shed, corn crib, smoke house, tobacco barn, granary, and now Dino’s talking about building an ice house. I can’t keep up with it all in my head. I could just make a great big ol’ inventory of everything but … well … you already have a business where you have to keep track of a bunch of stuff coming in and going out on a regular basis. I was wondering if you could think on it and maybe figure some kind of system that would be easy enough for me to keep up with without getting things mixed up with the vineyard inventory.”

Well, the long and short of it is that after he got passed his initial suspicion that Dino and I were just making busy work for him so he wouldn’t be underfoot he got interested and then agreed to think about it. He started the next day and it brought about some interesting things.

We started in the cold of the early morning. I wasn’t even finished with my own breakfast before I heard the first shot. Then four more. Then a couple more after that.

I muttered, “That’s more than I thought they were doing.”

AJ who was finishing his own breakfast said, “Dino mentioned that he was culling more than usual to keep from having to feed them all winter long.”

I sighed, “Yeah, and come spring the tax man will be out this way and will be making note of it all. I hate the one from around here, he’s worse than the Inspectors are … he always seems to ding some places worse than others out of sheer spitefulness.”

“Short little frog. Looks like Kessinger on a bad hair day?”

“Like who?”

AJ sighed, “Please, on top of everything else, don’t make me feel old.”

Alec came in the door and stopped short just in time to hear that last. “She’s got that talent. Uh … last time I was here … er … you were sleeping. Riss said you’ve been suffering from an on again off again low grade fever.”

AJ stiffened up. “It’s nothing. I plan on coming out and helping today.”

“Wait,” I said. “You said you’d help me figure out an inventory system.”

AJ looked at me and said, “And I will, but I also need to know more about what you are inventorying in order to set up a system that takes the least amount of work but is explicit enough to contain everything.”

Something in my face must have warned Alec because he said, “Warning Will Robbins, she’s about to shoot you with her laser beams.”

I looked at him like he’d left his brain someplace but for some odd reason AJ got caught in a surprised laugh. “I haven’t thought of that … in years,” he ended softly. He shook himself and I could see the walls going back up brick by brick. I guess Alec did too.

“We were both a couple of brats,” he explained to me. “You see how Mother can get. It was worse when we were kids and that was what we would say when one of us would notice the other was about to set her off. Those were fun days before …”

AJ was icing up but Alec – surprise, surprise – for once didn’t make it worse. “I wish things would have been different. What Dad did … I just …” He shook his head and shrugged.

As Alec walked away AJ said, “I was too young to really understand what was going on. You took the brunt of it … in a lot of ways.”

I wanted to knock both of them in the head and tell them to get to the hugging and making up already but it guess that was about as far as either one of them was ready to go. Still, it was a first step and I wasn’t going to hash it up by making too much of it. Besides I had to put the beans on to cook and get the bread baking before the hard work really started.

After the hogs are killed and bled, they get scalded by dipping the whole hog carcass into a barrel of really hot water; dipping, not being left in to boil and cook. The scalding is what makes it to where you can scrape the hog hair off. Scraping isn’t hard either, you start by pulling the hairs out by hand and any of this that are left can be “shaved” off by scraping with the broad side of a knife.

Next the head gets cut off and this is really the only part I don’t like, but more cause it is so messy than because it is gross. 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. That’s a nasty sound I’ll tell you that. I put the head in a kettle with a little water in it and use to make things like mincemeat, headcheese, pickled ears. I cut the jowls and set them aside for the men to cure them. You can use jowl – or cheek meat – very similar to bacon or you can use it to season with. Even the brains and tongue can be used for food; nothing is wasted these days just like in the really olden days before there were grocery stores all over the place.

The next step is to clean the hog inside real good. The carcass needs to be opened up all the way down. With the hog hanging by the hind legs the men start at the top at the back center and cut all the way through the skin down to the hind bone. Then they make a shallow cut the rest of the way down the hog so not to cut into the intestines. With an ax they cut the hind bone in half. This has to be done in order to split the hog in half for cutting up. Next they tie off the end of the intestines with a piece of string. Next is the breastbone. This is the hardest part because you must be careful not to cut the intestines when cutting the breastbone with a knife. You cut all the way through the skin and find the breastbone and cut it.

That when the intestines can come out. You open the stomach entirely and put the intestines into a large wash tub. The intestines are saved because of the fat on them. Plus some people really like chittlins … more properly called chitterlings … though they just aren’t my favorite ‘cause usually I’m the one that had to clean them. Talk about disgusting work. I prefer to soak the intestines and use them as sausage casings.

After the intestines are dumped out the cutting of the meat is next. The carcass is swung on to a butcher table and laid it on its back with the skin against the table so that it splits open. First to 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 pork chops. 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.
The leaf lard comes out at that point too. 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 is put in in a pan along with any other fat that is 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.

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 but it shouldn't be hard to find.

What’s left 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. Now all there is left to do is to trim the meat and cut off any excess fat to be used for lard. Put the trimmings to be used for sausage in a pan for making sausage later.

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. Now some folks put the heart, tongue and melt (spleen) in the sausage. I’m not too partial to that myself and Dino told me he actually uses it for the dogs.

To prepare the meat for the sausage mill, it must be cut into pieces small enough to fit into the mill easily. My granddaddy’s mill is a big one with a long crank handle but it still won’t take whole hog meat. Mostly I use the lean cuts of scrap meat 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. Good sausage has just enough fat to make it juicy.

The mill I use 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 are such things as electric meat grinders but I’ve never used one. 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 I grind sausage, I alternate putting in lean and fatty meat to help in mixing the sausage to a more uniform consistency. Granddaddy was bear when he it came to his sausage and I learned lots at his elbow. The ground up meat drops into a pan under the mill.

Once all the meat is ground and in a large flat pan like a dish pan, you are ready to mix in the spices. Everybody seems to have their own secret recipe but mostly all it is in the recipe is salt, pepper, and sage. The best way to tell whether you have spiced the meat well enough is to fry a patty and taste it. All the time you are adding spices in with the meat you must mix constantly in order to mix the spices well. There is no better way of thoroughly mixing than with your hands though I have known some people that give their sausage a second pass through the grinder to mix it up. Fergit a spoon though because it will not do the job properly.

The amount of sausage which is yielded from a hog varies according to the size of the hog and how much of the meat is put in. AJ wanted to know how much sausage comes from each hog and I told him generally speaking from a 275 pound hog properly butchered and all the scraps used you can get nineteen pounds of sausage.

And that’s only the beginning, next comes rendering the fat.


  1. We use to use a bit of warm water to soak the spices and then mix it all up in the pork. Yep, we used our hands!

    thanks for the new chapter!!