Thanksgiving feast meant hard work years ago
November seems to be a “tucking in” time of year. The harvest is done, and the weather is cool enough that we prefer staying indoors where it’s warm and cozy.
I remember feeling that way years ago after having spent summer and fall helping my parents prepare for winter in ways we no longer need to pursue.
All summer long, my sisters and I had helped Mom can produce. By fall, the cellar shelves were lined with jars of peaches, pears, apricots, green beans, tomatoes, and pickles among other such fruits and vegetables. There’d always be a few crocks below the shelves with sour kraut and small pickled watermelons to add zest to winter meals. Looking around the cellar was like seeing summer sunshine captured in quart jars.
As soon as it was cool enough, Mom and Dad started making plans to do the butchering. At least a few of the relatives had to be included in those plans because it was a really big job. I don’t suppose we children realized just how much work went into the process. For us, it was fun to have uncles around and lots of interesting activities going on.
The beef was butchered first because it had to hang a day or two before being cut up. Then one or two hogs were butchered. For Mom, it meant more canning. She’d brown cuts of beef and pork and can them in their own juices. I can still remember how delicious and tender that meat was.
She also had to render pork fat to get lard used in cooking and making soap. Now days, there are recipes using the cracklings that result from rendering, but I can’t remember Mom ever using them for cooking. She gave them to the cats and dogs to eat, being careful to give them just a few of those rich crumbles each day. The animals’ coats grew shinier after having that special treat.
After both the pork and beef were butchered, it was time to make sausage, which included both meats. The meats had to be ground together, then seasoned. I remember watching my parents stuff the casings. One end of a long strand of cleaned intestines, which my parents purchased at the local locker, was shoved over the spigot on one side of a sausage press. As a handle on the press was turned, the meat mixture squirted out, filling the casing. Then Dad smoked it. The result was the most delicious sausage I have ever eaten.
Mom and Dad were careful to use every bit of the butchered animals. Mom scraped the hog’s head clean, split it to take out the brains, and boiled it with pig feet to make “head cheese.” She’d cut the cooked meat from the head and feet into small pieces and put it into the broth which had formed during the cooking. When refrigerated for a day or so, fat came to the top, and the liquid set up like gelatin. Mom scraped off all the fat and sliced the “head cheese” to serve as a breakfast treat.
Mom even used the brains. She’d rinse them thoroughly and fry them with eggs and onion. I never could make myself eat that.
This year, as we gather for our Thanksgiving feasts, we may want to give extra thanks for the ease with which we put together those meals. I wonder, however, if we appreciate the bounty quite as much as our parents did when they sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner featuring foods they raised themselves.
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