Lagniappe: Butchering the Hog

 

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Chickens (still) enjoying the good life in Fort Collins, Colorado – 1957 or so

I grew up on a 5-acre “tract” in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the 1950s and we had a few sheep, a few cows, a pig or two and some chickens and turkeys. But those were mostly so my brother and I could have the 4-H experience. We didn’t count on them for our food supply. The only remembrance I have of using our animals for food was my dad cutting off a chicken’s head, on top of an old tree stump in our back yard – and the headless running around that resulted. Dramatic and traumatic, but that was it. Short-lived, so to speak.

My brother maintains it was he who cut the head off  – and it was a turkey, not a chicken –  and it was just prior to Thanksgiving.  Memories seem to be variable.

Our Baton Rouge neighbor, Katie, and her brother Joe (see last week’s blog) have vivid memories of the yearly late fall ritual in Crowville, Louisiana, when the “fattening hog” was slaughtered. Though both recall that children never witnessed the actual killing – in fact, Katie doesn’t know how it was accomplished – the butchering was a joint endeavor of several-families, children included. Please don’t wince as I recount a little of the procedure. It’s good sometimes to be aware of how meat reaches – or used to reach – our table.

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Eating pork loin must be  “livin’ high on the hog”

The (now-dead) hog was first dipped in a vat of boiling water so that the hair could be scraped or shaved off. Then the animal was hoisted up on a pulley for the shaving and the removal of the entrails. Skin (to become “cracklins’ – considered a great delicacy) was immediately cooked and the fat rendered for lard. The whole hog was used for food – brain, skin, feet, head, entrails.  The family that owned the hog always got the hog’s head.

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The drawing above comes from an article on the specifics of hog-butchering – which seems to pretty much mirror what Katie has told me about the event.

Because large home freezers didn’t enter the picture until the 1950s – and Katie and Joe grew up in the 1930s and 1940s – the meat from this hog, which would be a main source of meat for the entire year, would need to be preserved –  with salt and smoke.  Shoulders, hams, bacon slabs, and sausages were all preserved that way.  Only a few parts, such as the tenderloin, were eaten (and I’m sure greatly enjoyed) immediately, since those parts didn’t preserve well.

In Joe’s wonderfully informative paper about life on a Franklin Parish farm, he remembers how school children’s lunches were primarily ham and sausage and biscuits – and how wonderful the cloakroom smelled because of that.  And his insightfulness continues:

Southern vegetables were flavored with pork, usually “fat meat.” It is fortunate that cholesterol had not been invented in the 1930s and 1940s otherwise life expectancy in the region would have been greatly reduced. (Editor’s note: 🙂 )

 Cooking was almost exclusively with hog lard. Vegetable oils only began to come into use in the post war period.

It goes without saying that far too much animal fat and too much salt was consumed on the Macon Ridge and throughout the South. Considering the intake of fat and salt, the general health conditions and longevity were surprisingly good. Hot weather and hard manual labor perhaps helped to dilute the effects of these unhealthy items. Furthermore, I recall very few cases of obesity of people at any age during the war years.”

Before I invited our friend Lynne over to eat our Louisiana meal, I advised her to do some serious work in her yard and garden….preferably on a 90 degree day with high humidity.  Following that, here’s what we served her: Gaga’s Angel Biscuits, Southern Creamy Butter Beans with Ham (recipe below), Collards with Bacon, Sweet Potato Pone and Eggplant Fritters.  As we always said, growing up in Colorado, you’d think we’d “died and gone to heaven.”  Or was it “hog heaven?”

 

 

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Butter Beans with Ham (and collards and angel biscuits)

Butter Beans with Ham

We don’t have a family recipe from Katie for cooking butter beans – since who would possibly need to write down something so simple – so we went to another Louisiana authority, Chef John Folse, for inspiration. Note: there are MANY theories as to the best way to cook dried beans.  We’ve opted for the quickest, simplest – and possibly tastiest.  Also, don’t salt until the end of the cooking time – not because it keeps the beans from getting tender (it doesn’t) but because the ham will add saltiness during the cooking process.

  • 1 lb of dried butter beans (aka lima beans); Camellia brand is the Louisiana favorite
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 c chopped onions
  • 1 c chopped celery
  • 1 c chopped bell pepper – either green or red
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 oz ham, diced
  • 2 ham hocks
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Tony Cachere’s Seasoning, if you happen to have it
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)
  • rice to serve with the beans (optional)

Rinse the beans; put them in a large pot, covering the beans with about 2″ of water.  Bring the water to a boil and let the beans boil for a few minutes.  While that’s happening, heat a large skillet, add the butter.  When the skillet is medium hot, add the onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and diced ham.  Saute, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

After the beans have boiled for a few minutes, turn down the heat so they are just simmering.  Add the vegetable/ham mixture and the ham hocks, pepper, Tony Cachere’s, and thyme and stir to combine.  Allow the beans and vegetables and ham hocks to simmer until the beans are tender, but not mushy.  I partly cover the pot.  My beans cooked in about 1 hour.  Taste and add salt, if necessary.  Stir in the parsley.  Serve over rice, if you wish.

These beans may be even better the second day! Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

 

 

 

On our Journey to Ithaca

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.  

From “Ithaca” by the Greek poet, C.P.Cavafy;  first published in 1911 (and read at Jackie Kennedy’s funeral in 1994)

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Looking from LSU toward downtown Baton Rouge

In Andy’s Corner today we have the grand finale to our cat blogging.  It’s hysterical.

As for me – I’m thinking about “Ithaca,” a poem which I love, and our journey.

It was July 1975.  We were a Coloradoan and a Californian – and we were on our way with our 18-month-old and our 4-year-old to live and work in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  A new adventure had begun.  And what an adventure it was – lasting 26 years.

Because we lived near LSU and Andy was employed there, our new friends tended to be university folks who had mostly moved from other states to join the LSU faculty.  Even at the Baton Rouge Unitarian Church, which quickly became a source for many friends, there was a preponderance of out-of-staters, many employed by Exxon or other chemical companies which were located in or near the city.

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But then we met Katie.  Yes, Perry, who was Katie’s husband and was also a professor in the sociology department at LSU, was from Maine with a Harvard degree, but Katie was from north Louisiana.  Or, as she pronounces it, “Luze-i-ana.”  Katie is now 88 and recently returned to Baton Rouge after visiting us in Glen Ellen;  our friendship of over 40 years has been filled with adventures and new knowledge, including the summer we all “raised” monarch butterflies, the spring we met up in Stockholm, Sweden, and the week we joined her at Owls Head, Maine  –  plus, we’ve gotten a glimpse of what it was like to have grown up in Crowville, Louisiana.

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Crowville is in Franklin Parish, north and a little west of Baton Rouge; its location on the Macon Ridge is considered a “terrace” between the alluvial plains of the Mississippi River on the East and the Ouachita River on the West.

Katie, born in 1930, and her brother Joe, born in 1935, were reared on their parents’ small farm in Franklin Parish, Louisiana.  Joe calls it “diversified self-sufficiency farming,” which was typical of that area.  That description is important because that type of farming is partly what made their lives there so unique.  We might call it “living off the grid” and “homesteading” today.

The farms were generally small, 25-80 acres, and farmed by family members – with only occasional help from others.   Plantations – which so many of us associate with Louisiana – were elsewhere.   Yet on these small acreages families managed to grow and produce almost all of their food.  They had summer and winter vegetable gardens,  a pea patch, a potato patch and bee hives, and fruit trees.  And, of course, the wild blackberries that love Louisiana!

I always think of corn as a midwest crop, but corn was also an important crop on these small farms in Franklin Parish because it helped feed the animals – as well as the people. Mature ears of corn were ground into cornmeal at a local gristmill and then the cornmeal was used in cornbread – which was a staple on the dinner table almost every night.  Young corn was cut off the cob and turned into a creamed corn dish, rather than eaten as corn on the cob.

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When the weather is hot, make cornbread in a skillet on top of the stove.

Katie’s folks also raised a couple of cows for milk and butter, chickens for eggs – and later to fry.  And a hog per year.

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I know I know – that’s not a cow – it’s probably a steer or a bull, but it’s the best I can do

As with most born and bred North Louisianans, Katie’s vocabulary is infused with colorful local expressions, a good number of them involving farm animals.   Admittedly, it helps to hear Katie herself tell the story but if you were feeling down, you might be “as low as mule’s puke.”  If a bit dense, you “wouldn’t know sheep manure from wild onions.”  Or one that I had to sneak past the propriety critics, he was such a loser that he must have been “raised on the hind teat.”

Thinking about mule’s puke, mules were needed to pull the ploughs in that era, since tractors weren’t widely used until the 1950s.  Katie’s uncle was “walking in tall cotton” (or doing well – which is better than being “poor as Job’s turkey”), since he had 30 or 40 mules.  The only problem with that is that they need to drink lots of water (preferably from a river) during planting and harvesting, and herding them to the river – freed from their ploughs or harness or constraint, says Katie – who occasionally helped with that – is a little like herding cats.  Thirty really big cats.

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This isn’t on Katie’s property – but it gives you an idea of mules and ploughing.  And did you know that a mule is the sterile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse (mare)?

The term “Southern Belle” has distorted the view many folks have of women born and raised in the South.  I’d put a real Southern Belle up against the Annie Oakleys of my West most any day.   Katie (who, I should add, is one tough cookie) is rightfully proud of the long line of strong Louisiana women from whom she’s descended.  Katie’s maternal grandmother, affectionately called  “Mammaw,” was not only the mother of 10 children and an outstanding cook but was so tough that “she could hunt a bear with a buggy whip” – or so all the family says.  And there were bears there.  Yet this tough woman bathed and dressed up each afternoon, and parasol in hand, skin untouched by the sun, walked into town to do a little shopping.

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Mammaw – who could “hunt a bear with a buggy whip”

Katie’s mother, whom the grandchildren called “Gaga,” another strong woman and great cook, worked 6 days a week for 30 years as the postmistress in Crowville, while her husband managed the farm and took care of the livestock (and washed the dinner dishes).

Katie’s family has shared some of the North Louisiana family recipes they fondly remember – and still enjoy – so when we had our San Francisco family up here a few weeks ago we served them Gaga’s angel biscuits;  they all went “gaga” over them!

Even if you’re a proclaimed eggplant hater, you must try Gaga’s Eggplant Fritters;  they’re unique and wonderful – and quite easy to make.  And don’t wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the Sweet Potato Pone.  With these old-fashioned southern dishes on your plate, you’re bound to feel, for a brief moment, like you’re living in Franklin Parish back “when Hector was a pup.”

Next Tuesday we’ll have a lagniappe blog (how apropos) about hog-butchering in Crowville.  And a recipe to go with it.  I promise the recipe is not for pig’s feet or brain or chitlins or hogshead cheese or even pickled pig’s lips – though adventurous cooks might demand those.  In the meantime, we’ll be “busy as a bob-tailed cow in fly time” getting the blog ready.

Footnote:  Special thanks to Katie and Joe for providing the inspiration and information for this blog.  Joe’s input comes from a paper he wrote when he was a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi; it’s entitled “Making Do on the Macon Ridge: the Eating Patterns of Southern Farm Families During World War II.”  We’ve posted it under Food for Thought.  It’s all fascinating.  And thanks, Becky and Brook, for all your help with recipes and photos and remembrances from your days visiting your North Louisiana grandparents.  May all of your journeys be long and “full of adventure, full of knowledge.”

Click “continue reading” for these old Southern, delicious recipes.

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Lagniappe: Super Simple Sheet Pan Roasted Tomato Sauce

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We’d like to congratulate one of our favorite guest bloggers for coming up with a super simple recipe – if you’ve got some extra – or maybe less than perfect – home-grown tomatoes as the summer winds down.  This Siamese congratulatory note seems so right following last week’s blog.   Here’s the text we received from today’s blogger (an aside: first hand-written notes gave way to emails; now apparently texting has replaced emailing 🙂 :

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Pan roasted tomatoes – with herbs and garlic and onions

I’d like to submit my simple fresh tomato sauce for Big Little Meals. I’ve been roasting sheet pans of tomatoes with salt, olive oil, and herbs (a little sage, rosemary, thyme) and onions and some garlic and then I throw it in the food processor and blend it and then when it’s time I cook it a bit more, season with chile flakes and more salt, and finish it with some butter. Delicious.

This is my secret.  It’s so simple. It’s essentially a one sheet pan tomato sauce.

This may go viral.

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Cherry tomatoes roasted and ready to be smeared like jam on garlicky bread

Super Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce

  • Servings: Depends the number of tomatoes you use
  • Print

  1. Tomatoes, very thickly sliced – or cherry tomatoes whole
  2. Peeled onion, thickly sliced
  3. Couple cloves of garlic, peeled
  4. Herbs (your choice)
  5. Toss it all with a generous glug of  olive oil and salt.
  6. Put it all on a sheet pan.
  7. Roast at 450 degrees, till just slightly charred (20-45 minutes, depending on size of tomatoes)
  8. Then it goes directly into the food processor (all of it—garlic, onions, herbs, and tomatoes) and pulse till almost but not all the way smooth.  
  9. Before serving, season with chile flakes, add salt, if needed, and a bit of butter

You might serve this with kalamata olives, capers, parsley, basil and chicken over pasta or even over farro.  Smear roasted cherry tomatoes over garlic bread.  Add a jalapeño to the mix and create a salsa.  Recipe brought to you by Sara in San Francisco and BigLittleMeals.com.

 

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Our special blogger – demonstrating how to make Tacolicious’ ceviche at the Ferry Building Marketplace – not how to make roasted tomatoes.  You take what you can get photo-wise.

Whether it’s “like mother, like daughter” or she’s a “chip off the old block” or “we’re just two peas in a pod,” (I’ve been thinking a lot about expressions lately; be sure to check out next week’s blog for more) it just so happens that I’ve been roasting tomatoes too.

While Andy fixed us a martini the other night, I quickly cored some garden tomatoes (we have an unusual over-abundance), sliced them in two, tossed them in some olive oil and salt and peppered them, popped them in a 450 degree oven and sat down to my martini.  And it was still icy cold.   Forty-five minutes later I had amazing roasted tomatoes.  I blended them quickly in the food processor, dumped them in a glass freezer container, and popped them in the freezer for an easy, delicious future meal.

Sara and I recommend you get wild and crazy and avoid adhering to a rigid recipe (like David, another guest blogger).  I omitted many of Sara’s seasonings because I wanted my tomatoes to be able to go any direction when I used them: maybe in a Mexican sopa or maybe Italian-style over pasta or maybe even a spicy tomato jam.

My only suggestion is that you line your sheet pan with aluminum foil – and don’t use parchment paper, since you want to capture all of the juices.  I’ve also used a glass dish, which works too.

Thanks, Sara Deseran, for your contribution! 🙂

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As my friend Katie would say –  our mother/daughter photo is “old as the Hills” – but nice, I think.

Chocolatte and Chocolate – or Chunks and Chips

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Our Siamese cat Chocolatte – who is a Chunk – hanging out in our Japanese maple pot

I’ve been obsessing about our cats this week; Andy – in Andy’s Corner – is thinking about flies.

Two years ago we adopted a tiny kitten, whom we named “Chocolatte” – but we shorten to  “Choco.” We thought that our name was SO clever: a Chocolate Point Siamese named Chocolatte.  Think about it: creamy latte-colored body and chocolate coffee-colored points.  But then he matured  – and became a Seal Point with almost black, not chocolate, markings.  Oh well.

There’s something about Siamese.  You either really love ’em or you really hate ’em.  Yes, they’re often arrogant and difficult and demanding – more so than the average Joe Schmoe cat.  Nonetheless, we fall into the the really love ’em category.  While we’ve talked (incessantly?) about our Aussie(s), we haven’t said much about our history of Siamese, starting out with Zero, whom we have affectionately dubbed “The Prince of Cats.”  We acquired Zero at the pound in Baton Rouge, having left Raggedy to live with my Aunt Helen after our move from Fort Collins to Baton Rouge.  When our precocious little daughter asked how old the kitten was, we responded “not even one yet.”  And she said, “So he’s zero!”

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Zero – the Prince of Cats – and the Princess

After Zero came Jake.  An aside: Jake’s companion was our dog Elwood.  Catch the blues music/movie-related cleverness?

Jake turned out to be a Himalayan, filled with Persian moodiness and lacking the Siamese quirkiness; he didn’t love us any more than we loved him.  But when we sold our home in Baton Rouge to move to California, the new homeowners kept him and loved him – so much that after he passed away his ashes rested on their fireplace mantle.

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Jake – of Jake & Elwood fame

Then there was Trace, a purebred (maybe) Blue Point.  Not too bright but incredibly lovable.  Trace, the name, came from the bit of white he had on his back feet.  That – and the fact that we had a bit of a name-theme going for our cats.  We’d had Zero, then a non-Siamese named Minus, and finally Trace.  We over-emote about pet names.

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Trace – with one of our Aussies and one of our grandsons

The super-nice Humane Society of Sonoma County – in Santa Rosa – was where we found our next Siamese, Ono Moore.  They had dubbed her “Feisty,” which should have alerted us to some personality shortcomings.  We still have her; she’s feisty and fussy, a little unstable and a little mean; we adore her.  Plus, she’s drop-dead gorgeous – with her tabby points.

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Ono’s only true love is Oakley, the Aussie

Which brings us back to chocolate – and Chocolatte, whose feral Siamese father lived near the fire station in Boyes Hot Springs, just a few miles down the road from us.  Choco and his tabby mother ended up at Pets Lifeline in Sonoma and we ended up with him. 🙂

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Chocolatte – as a kitten and before we knew he was a Seal Point – in another Japanese maple pot

That’s the Chocolatte story.  Even if you’re not fond of Siamese, chances are good that you’re fond of chocolate.  And maybe REALLY fond of chocolate chunk or chip cookies.  After a heated family/friends discussion as to which was THE best amongst these three favorites, we decided to offer up all three recipes without ranking but with our personal picks.  And, don’t forget that our Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cake and the World Peace Cookies also make delicious use of chocolate chips. Continue reading

Late Bloomers

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Aster ‘Monch’

I just had an OMG moment.  I had planned to write about asters in my garden, but I got interested in the “late bloomers” phrase and googled it.  The first article that popped up had just what I wanted – a description of some of our more colorful late bloomers.  People – not plants.

The OMG moment hit when I began reading through the posted list.  The average age was probably 58!  Is there a category for Incredibly Late Bloomers? or I-Can’t-Believe-They’re Still-Alive Late Bloomers?

Julia Child was a bit of a late bloomer, at least in regards to her cooking prowess.  She was 49 when her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published, and she was over 80 when her last cookbook came out.  Our daughter was delighted to get to sit beside her when “Julia’s Kitchen,” opened in Napa in 2002.  Julia was about 90 at the time (and we hear she slept through much of the ceremony).

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Julia Child with her husband Paul

The marriage of Paul and Julia Child was described in a great article in Town and Country.  When Paul was 59, he retired from his career in the Foreign Service – just as Julia’s cooking career was taking off.  In one of her cookbooks, Julia described Paul as “the man who is always there: porter, dishwasher, official photographer, mushroom dicer and onion chopper, editor, fish illustrator, manager, taster, idea man, resident poet, and husband.”

Paul, too, it appears, was a late bloomer in many ways.

Of course, early bloomers are adored by one and all.  The spring blossoms pop out – often as early as February or March in our Northern California garden – and give new color and vitality after the drizzly cold gloomy winter.  Mind you, I don’t do daffodils – or any spring bulbs for that matter (too short of bloom time and too raggedy out of bloom, in my opinion), but I do love the deciduous azaleas and geum and euphorbias and hellebores – as well as the plum and peach tree blossoms – that brighten up our spring flower bed.

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Spring brings peach and plum tree blossoms to our garden

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Geum ‘Mai Tai’ looking lovely in April

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the spring-blooming, deciduous ‘Northern Lights’ azalea – almost iridescent

But by the time August rolls around those spring bloomers are pretty much spent….weary from their heavy blooms and the summer’s heat.   It’s just then that the asters and caryopteris and goldenrod begin their display.  Admittedly, the blossoms on these fall perennial bloomers may not be as big and in-your-face as those spring ones, but oh well.  Small can be lovely too.   And they’re there for you when you need them most.  Timing is everything.

We’ve got three varieties of asters just starting to bloom – ‘Purple Dome’, ‘Mönch’, and a purplish one which may be ‘Winston Churchill.’  I was wary of planting them, thinking they were too water-needy for our drought-tolerant garden, but they’ve done beautifully.

Andy (see today’s Andy’s Corner) and I recommend you seek out the late-bloomers.  They have a lot to offer.  And we’re very partial to these desserts from Julia Child too.

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The aster ‘September Ruby’ just barely breaking into bloom – the 1st day of August

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A lovely little aster – most likely ‘Winston Churchill’ (do you wonder, as I do, why it was named that?  Did it have anything to do with Lady Astor? 🙂

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