by Curt Kovener
(This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archives.)
Most of us are formulating our menus for our Thanksgiving meal next week. Some of you may take the opportunity to go out for the holiday meal; some of you may be more of a traditionalist.
In trying to come up with what I will be bringing to my family table, my memory banks took me back to more than half a century ago to my Grandma & Grandpa’s farm. It was in the cool part of the fall when a hog would be butchered; something that my grandpa never let me witness because of the sights I would see. Today, this son of an undertaker finds Grandpa’s over protective shielding a bit humorous in light of what I saw and did helping my dad.
Howver, Grandma had me help scrape & wash hog intestines for sausage casing.
After the hog became parted into parts, they were prepared for curing. Other parts were cut into smaller useable pieces, meat was scraped from the skull and ground into sausage…something else Grandma thought I ought to experience. Then there was stuffing the sausage into the scraped and cleaned hog gut.
There was a smokehouse at grandpa’s farm. It was a small block building about the size of a small yard barn today. I remember watching him use a hatchet …the same one which he used to separate a chicken’s head from its neck for grandma to prepare for Sunday dinner… to chop dry hickory kindling into chips. These he tossed into a bucket of water to soak.
After rubbing coarse salt on hams, shoulders, bacon and sausage, he started a small fire in a metal pan. When the fire was just red coals, he piled on the wet but dried (isn’t that an oxymoron?) hickory chips and shut the smokehouse door.
He checked on it every morning when he went out to milk and added more chips. He did a lot of work without his grandson’s help because the work got done quicker without my help.
His nosey grandson was ordered to never open the smokehouse door unless Grandpa was around. And being the obedient grandson, I complied.
One afternoon he took me to the smokehouse (as opposed to the woodshed) to check on the meat curing process. I was in awe of the lengths of sausage horizontally coiled over a broomstick size stick of lumber hanging from the rafters and the hams, shoulders and bacon on the wooden shelf coated with a layer of salt. The formerly fresh butchered pink meat covered in white fat and skin was now delicious shades of gold and brown. And the aroma of the fresh hickory smoked meats made my salivary glands to kick into gear.
Grandpa pulled out his pocketknife (the same one he used to castrate the hog which now was in the smokehouse) and carved off a couple of slivers of meat from a ham for he and me to taste test.
He smiled and nodded that the meat needed no more smoking and would just be left in the smokehouse for nature’s refrigeration for the winter.
That salty sliver of smoked ham from my youth still makes my memory’s mouth water. For many years after grandpa and grandma passed, I would open the door of the old smoke house and breathe deeply of the lingering aroma of hickory smoke and smile at the memories it replayed.