Sunday, July 3, 2011

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter 36

The first step in curing meat is to put the meat on a table in the smoke-house. You must wait until the body heat of the hog has left the meat before you apply the salt. It was fairly cold and it hardly took anytime for the heat to leave. In the afternoon, while I cleaned up some of the implements and put beans on to cook, the men used a family sugar cure and salt recipe and rubbed the mixture into the skin side of the meat. Then they turned each piece over and rubbed the other side.

The salt mixture should cover the meat entirely and should be a thin layer about an eighth of an inch thick. It usually takes about a pound to a pound and a half of salt to ten pounds of meat. That’s a lot of salt. Dino and Alec have it shipped in barrels. For the next two or three weeks the meat has to sit to take the salt. This more than anything is why you can only butcher when it is cold weather. Gone are the days of the big warehouses with huge walk in coolers for this kind of work. When the meat is finished curing, the excess salt will be washed off of the meat and then the meat will be hung or stored. It should then be properly cured.

You can also pickle some of the pieces. Most folks are familiar with pickled pigs feet. I’m not partial to them but when you are hungry as I’ve been a time or two in my life you get over not being partial to something real fast.

While the men cured the meat I went to town making the sausage. I made it in five pound batches because if I made any more than that at a time I couldn’t work it very well. AJ eventually came out of his dungeon and looked like he hadn’t just told me about his heart getting shredded. He wasn’t quite the same as before but I don’t know if he’d changed or if my understanding of him had changed. His leg was paining him but he was able to sit at the table and holding the casings while I fed the hopper and cranked the handle of the extruder.

I made salami, summer sausage, kielbasa, what passes for hot dogs these days, andouille, and smoked chorizo. I made a bologna because I like it though from the look on other people’s faces I must have been showing my slip or something. Guess they never had the pleasure of a thick slice of bologna with lettuce and tomato on homemade bread that had been slathered with homemade mayo and mustard. Reckon that just means more for me when the time comes.

Dino had me save back a good bit of the scraps and he made a bunch of long skinny smoked sticks of meat. I have tasted the ones he made from the deer and I would say they were kinda similar to the old Slim Jim type things. I still prever jerky myself but that’s just me. Dino loves to stick one of those meat sticks in with a pack when he knows he might miss a meal or will be doing a lot of hard labor where the extry will help carry him over to when he can set to the table for some real food.

As the temperature continued to drop I stopped working the sausage for a bit and started filling containers and moving them to the basement. AJ asked, “What are you doing?”

“I think we’re gonna go right on passed frost into freeze tonight. I don’t know how bad it’s gonna get and in case the pipes freeze I don’t want to be without water.”

He nodded and then put on a jacket and went back outside. I was trying to decide whether it was worth the trouble to put water on the porch to freeze overnight to start building the ice room back up when AJ came back and announced rather importantly, “I’m going to fix the men some mulled wine.”

I looked at him and said, “And?”

He kind of deflated before saying, “You must drive Dino …”

I interrupted to remind him, “We’ve been through this already. Dino was nuts when I got to him, I just made his brand of crazy more interesting. Now how did I smash the bee in your bonnet? Is mulled wine something important?”

I could see he looked astonished for a moment before shaking his head. “Obviously Papooh got to me more than I thought.” I stood there pumping the water handle waiting for him to make his point. He shook his head. “Yes, mulled wine is a tradition in the family.”

“Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place? Dino seems to think a lot of the Pappas family traditions. Alec as well. Seems you take after them in that way.”

His lips twisted. “Perhaps.” While he searched the cabinets and eventually pulled out a large pot and some of my seasonings he said, “Dino said that you don’t care much for wine or the wine making business.”

“Is that what he really said?” I asked. “Because that isn’t what I’ve meant when we’ve talked about it. More along the lines of he tries to give me too much information too fast for me to absorb it. I’ve got a lot of my own irons in the fire and he’s been at this stuff for a while … and Alec for longer. I’m not going to catch up to him with just a couple of weeks or even months while I’m busy doing so many other necessary things at the same time. The wine business has become his passion but the homemaking is mine. The two things overlap but they aren’t the same thing. I don’t ask him to know the ins and out of everything I do I don’t know why he expects me to know all the ins and outs of what he does.”

He tilted his head and I could see he was really listening. “An interesting way of putting it.” Then he shrugged it off. “The mulled wine is something my grandfather would do. By rights it should be Alec making it.”

“Why isn’t he?”

More than a hint of nasty ol’ sarcasm came through when he asked, “Would you like to drink something a man up to his elbows in animal intestines made?”

It was true so I gave him a pass though I was real tempted to point out that I was sometimes up to my elbows in dirty nappies and they still expected me to get their food on the table on time.

Apparently there are a couple of different recipes for making mulled wine but since we didn’t have any oranges AJ a recipe that didn’t call for it. Two bottles of red wine, two and a quarter cups of good water, two sticks of cinnamon, and a half-cup of cognac were the ingredients. You start with a simple syrup of the cinnamon, water, and two tablespoons of sugar which you bring to a boil. Then you add the wine. Simmer it until it is all warm again and then add the cognac. AJ left this to stay warm on the back of the stove and went over to the fire place to try and get the heat to take the ache from his leg that he had been up on too much.

Alec came in and AJ said, “Test it. Something is missing.”

Alec didn’t have to taste it, “It’s just the lemon twists. We don’t have any but this will still warm everyone up. Thanks for thinking of it.”

AJ stared at Alec’s back in such amazement I had to turn my head away to keep from laughing. AJ had mastered himself by the time I had to turn around and answer Dino’s call from the door for warm water so the men could wash up.

The mulled wine apparently hit the spot for the men and they made it out before dark though they wouldn’t be getting back to their place before having to rush through evening chores.

AJ and Dino both were tired, Dino from being out in the cold all day and AJ because it was his first day really back on his leg. Due to the work none of us really felt like a dinner of meat though our bodies could have probably used it. It’s just when you are looking at the inside of an animal all day you kinda grow a bit of a prejudice against for a day or so.

So for supper I made the old standby; white beans, stewed potatoes, and cornbread. Dino and AJ made sure Kerry got his share while I made sure Pita got hers. I love my baby girl but I get so ever-loving sore and tired. I knew there was going to be a change to my freedom when I agreed to marry Dino and when Pita came along but even though I’m over the baby blues and my hormones are mostly straightened out I’m still learning what it means to be tied down. I can no longer simply think of myself when I want to do something; I can’t even leave the house without making sure Pita is looked after. No matter what it is I need to think on how it is going to affect three or more other people.

I wanted to try that mulled wine so bad but I still had a long way to go and getting warm and relaxed wasn’t going to help. Not to mention that I didn’t know how it would affect Pita. It really wasn’t that big a deal in the big ol’ scheme of things but at the same time I was just so tired of forever having to give stuff up. I must have dozed a bit because the next thing I realized that someone was tucking the blanket I used to cover myself when I was feeding Pita. I jumped and then noticed how dark it had gotten.

“Oh Lord, what have I done?!”

“Shh, unless you want to wake up the eating machine,” Dino said. I could hear the smile in his voice but I wasn’t in the mood to join in.

“How long have I been asleep?” I was already thinking of ways to cut the time it took me to do my normal chores.

“Nearly two hours. Just take it easy; kitchen is done, Kerry is clean and playing quietly and AJ has his leg propped up by the fire. I just came in here because I knew it would be getting cold. Besides, have a surprise for you.”

I was still trying to get over the two hour thing and hadn’t even drawn in that my biggest night time chores were finished and here he was telling me he had a surprise for me?

“Oh Dino … I … I … I’m so sorry. I don’t know how I could sleep like that and here you are, after a long day doing dishes and …”

I felt him reach over and nibble my ear to tickle me and heard him whisper, “Don’t turn me into a saint woman, that’s not what I’m going for here.”

Well, I was getting that message pretty doggone loud and clear all right. “Some surprise,” I told him laughing finally just accepting that Dino wasn’t upset about any of it.

“That’s not a surprise, that’s a promise. Here’s your surprise.”

Eggnog. The only time I ever got any was at Christmas and there weren’t enough eggs last year to do it. The hens had all stopped laying due to the cold weather and because Mr. Bly had been forced to cut back on the feed a bit. “Oh Dino,” I said again at loss for anything else.

He asked suspiciously, “You aren’t going to cry are you?”

I shook my head and when I remembered he couldn’t see any better than I could I gave a watery chuckle and said, “No. But I am going to call you sweet … and be grateful.”

“Wellllll,” he drawled. “I might let you get away with that this time.”

That eggnog was so good … and rich … and filled a spot I hadn’t even realized was missing. You beat together six eggs, a quarter cup of sugar and then stir in two cups of milk. You put this in a saucepan and cook it on low until it turns into a thin custard … or thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Then you take it off the heat and mix in a quart of milk minus the two cups you’ve already used and a good dose of vanilla. Some people like more vanilla, some less, and sometimes the quality of your vanilla makes a difference but basically about one teaspoon. Then you need to cool it and chill it. Dino said he put a lid on it and set it outside for a bit. It left a bit of skim on the top because there was a lot of air in the pot and the skim is where the milk dried out but I guess he gave it to Ol’ Tom who has taken up with AJ … figures.

Tomorrow is our Thanksgiving celebration. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit nervous. It has been a long time since I’ve been to a real family celebration like that … not excepting our marriage of course but I wasn’t exactly thinking of food on that day. Hopefully everything will turn out and there won’t be any ruckus. I worry about living the house for long but a couple of the field hands are going to be patrolling. Dino says he refuses to live his life in fear because that isn’t really living. I think that is true, but a good bit of caution has never hurt.

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