Blue skies and sunshine grace the last of our November days, yet there is a sharp bite in the air that gives the promise of colder weather to come. With its summit bathed in glory, Pilot Knob is a multicolored jewel shining in the sunlight this morning. When the evening sunset sheds its rosy glow on that mountain, it glows with an ethereal beauty.
This is perfect butchering weather. The week of Thanksgiving was our annual butchering time, when pork and beef were killed and processed for our winter’s supply of meat. It’s so much easier for us now, with a walk-in cooler and a meat shop to cut up and wrap our meat. We used to do it commercially, but we’re not able now. It’s for our family’s use only.
Old folks, and my dad included, always waited until Thanksgiving to butcher the hogs, and it was a mess. I don’t know if they were waiting for cooler weather, or whether they waited to have fresh pork for the Thanksgiving meal, but it was a dreaded chore for the housewife. Walk-in coolers were unheard of on the farm, and the weather had to be cold enough to chill the carcass overnight.
There were no modern meat-cutting tools, usually just a meat saw and a sharp butcher knife. Everything had to be done the hard way. The following day brought the hardest work to the farm wife. We used a hand grinder to grind all the fat for lard, and to make pork sausage. It was powered by the more or less willing hands of us youngsters, and it was an arm-wrenching, back-breaking chore. Mom would start rendering huge kettles of lard, and frying down the cakes of sausage to can. I can still smell that cloying odor of hot grease, and feel the greasy handle of the sausage mill. (We also ground fresh horseradish roots and covered them with vinegar–so good with fresh pork!)
Preparations had to begin the day before. Daddy would fill a washtub with water, and pile the firewood along side to heat the next morning. The single tree would be ready to hang on the pig pole, and coffee sacks (gunny sacks) ready nearby. After the hog was shot (we always covered up our ears) and loaded on a sled, the horse would pull the carcass down to the tub of boiling water.
I can see Daddy and Boone Butler covering the hogs with the coffee sacks, and pouring boiling water over them. It had to be done precisely; if the water was too hot it would “set” the hair on the animal and make it hard to scrape. (We skin the hogs now, but at that time, the skin was also rendered. It was also used to cook in dry beans.) Crackly pork skins rendered in the oven was a treat for us.
After the hogs were hung on the pig pole, and entrails removed-saving the leaf lard, liver and heart-they were left until the next day. Then Mom’s work began. We never owned a deep freezer, so Mom would can the ribs and backbone. Nothing tasted any better on a cold winter day than that dish of hot pork, along with sauerkraut and a brown, crusty pone of hot cornbread. Daddy would cure the hams, bacon, and shoulders in a brown sugar and salt brine, and then smoke them in the smoke house. It may have been the hard way to do it, but modern meat processing methods could never produce the unforgettable flavor of that pork.
Nothing went to waste; we utilized every scrap of pork. Mom would make souse out of the head, cooking it until the meat fell off the bone. The pig ears were cooked tender and chopped along with the head meat-this is what jellied the souse. The chopped meat and broth were then mixed with fresh chopped garlic, chopped onion, fresh horseradish, chopped dill pickles, a hefty dose of sage, a little vinegar, and salt and pepper. The mixture was placed in loaf pans and chilled overnight. It could then be turned out on a platter and sliced. It was good!
The feet (minus the hooves and scraped well) were cooked tender and pickled. It shocks some of the younger generation when we tell of the things we used to eat, but my mother and dad were married during the Great Depression of the ’30s, and they learned not to waste a scrap of anything. Of course, country living on a rocky hillside farm taught that lesson also.
Some of the boys in our local meat department were horrified when I told them of eating chicken feet. Am I the only person in the country who ate chicken feet? It’s not as bad as it sounds; the toes were chopped off, and the feet parboiled and peeled. They were not served at the table, but Mom cooked them, along with the “lay-poke” and used the broth to enrich the gravy. We children grabbed for the feet-and yes, I ate the lay-poke.
There was never any problem getting us children to eat what was set before us. In fact, with eleven of us grouped around the table, with a bunch of tow-headed children crowded together on the old handmade bench, we were reaching and grabbing almost before the “amen” was said. There was no “I don’t like that,” or short-order cooking for individual tastes, but we were grateful for the ample country food. Even today, I am still thankful to the Lord for “the food on our table, and the shoes on our feet.”
The Thanksgiving holiday is over, but we need to live with a thankful heart each day. It is the traditional time to give thanks to God for our blessings, but I am afraid if we haven’t lived the whole year long with a thankful heart, we cannot cram it all into one short day. The Lord loves and blesses a thankful people. A thankful and grateful heart will resound with praises unto God, and it rises as an incense unto Him.
The Lord has blessed me so abundantly that I can’t thank Him enough. He has been with me every step of the way, even when I was not aware of it. Now that I have come to the last stage of my journey, He is still my guide, my comfort, my strength. The greatest blessing of all is salvation, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This promise is for everyone.