Supper Done Et
Late one evening, fifty or so years back, riding horseback I approached one of the tenant houses, where a couple was sitting on the porch. To Henry Marks and his wife Sadie, I called out, "Is supper ready?" Henry grinned and replied, "Supper done et." I rode on. We shared a secret: when I was about four years old I ran away from home. Beyond the windmill in the back yard of Grandma's house was a large wooden gate at the edge of the mule lot. Crawling under the gate was easy for a small child, but half way across the lot geese, honking and flapping, chased me to the far side of the lot. Just as I crawled under the second gate one bit me on the butt. I ran down the lane and clambered onto the porch of Henry and Sadie's house. They dried my tears, sat me at the table, and served me corn bread and turnip greens, then, I heard later, Henry carried the sleeping prodigal home. As James Baldwin has pointed out, it was not unusual for a white boy to get in trouble and run to the blacks for help.
Having non perishable food was imperative and not only for the pioneers, as there was no refrigeration in the country until the late 1930's when REA reached Penhook. Corn meal, molasses, and salt cured meats were the staples. Milk and other dairy products were kept cool in cellars or lowered down the water well in summertime.
The first local grist mills, were powered by a mule. The corn was used to make such dishes as cornbread, grits, and corn meal mush. About a half acre of corn should produce enough meal for a family for a year, but the miller kept about half for his share. Corn mash could be turned into whiskey, which was an important trade item. But to make whiskey, you would need much more corn than could be raised on a half acre. One problem raising corn then and now is raccoons; they know exactly when corn is ready, and make midnight requisitions. In 2009, I harvested one ear of corn from my garden; the rest went to the raccoons. Although, I constructed a two wire electric fence, three inches and six inches off the ground, around the corn, the coons still beat me.
The mill pictured here is at The San Jose Mission, San Antonio. Until I visited the Mission, I was not clear how such a mill worked. The grain is fed from the top into a hole in the center. Water flows under the mill, providing the power and the groves in the two wheels move the meal out and towards the bucket. The leaver adjust the water flow.
Folks in Georgia wax philosophical about grits, but here in Arkansas we are more particular about our cornbread.
There are different recipes for cornbread, but the two most important components are the corn meal itself and the skillet used for cooking the bread. The meal should be from white dent corn grown by yourself or somebody you trust; that way you know the shelled corn is free of trash and weevils. The meal should be ground a bit on the coarse side, meal that is too finely ground does not chew well. I am unable to detect any difference in stone ground and metal rolled, as long as no part of the grain is removed in the process.
The iron skillet should be one handed down from generation to generation. If you have to start fresh with your own skillet, purchase a heavy iron skillet and then season it. Seasoning a skillet usually involves coating the skillet with lard, inside and out, and placing it the oven, set at on low heat, for several hours. Finally, wipe the skillet clean - never, never wash the bread skillet - then place the skillet in a special place, so as not to confuse it with any other skillet in the pantry. The bread skillet is only used to make cornbread.
A friend of mine prefers cornbread made with water instead of milk or buttermilk. He says water bread will not crumble and he can place a slice in his shirt pocket for a mid-afternoon snack or like Rooster Cogburn, toss it into the air for target practice.
My father's favorite supper dish was cold crumbled cornbread in a glass of buttermilk. He was from Mississippi, which is further south.
"The first little mole came to the top of the hole and said I smell beer. The second mole squeezed himself to the top of the hole and said, I smell beer. The third mole could not find any room left and said, all I smell is molasses." -19th century country humor.
Sweet sorghum used for making syrup is taller than grain sorghum, which is grown for its seed heads. Some farmers grew sorghum as a cash crop, while other planted only enough for their own use. Several farmers around Penhook had mills and copper evaporator pans. To make syrup, the farmer would harvest the cane, cutting the stalks near the ground, and then strip the stalks of leaves. The seed heads of would be removed. At the mill the cane would be run between rollers to press out the juice.
of sorghum was often a community affair. Boys hauled fire wood to the
furnace, women took turns skimming, workers paddled the syrup, and a
skilled syrup master oversaw the process. The workers would use paddles
to move the juice along from one section to the next to
move the product. Skimming removed the foaming impurities that rose to
the top. The syrup was cooked for two or thee hours at about 210 degrees. About eight
gallons of raw juice made one gallon of syrup, which was drained off and
cooled before being placed in jugs or gallon cans.
Salt Cured Meat
The main seasoning in salt cured meat is, unsurprisingly, salt; but obtaining salt was not always easy in the old days. Near Mineral Springs, Arkansas was a spring of salt water. Those settlers coming from a distance would load wagons with firewood and bring along large iron cooking pots. They would pitch camp near the salt springs and begin work. The pots were filled with salt water and boiled until all the water evaporated, then the salt would be scraped from the pots and stored in a wooden barrel. For a week or longer, this process would be repeated until enough salt was secured to last through the year.
|What's past is prologue. This new cast iron 28 gallon pot is offered for sale on the Internet for $415.||Cast iron pots were used in securing salt, making lard, and to wash cloths. This is a early 19th century version.|
| After the first
very cold spell of the year, usually around Christmas, somebody would
announce, "Hog killing time." A date would be set and early on the
appointed day neighbors would arrive and get things started. The process usually
took place near the well, as the pots had to be filled with water before
fires were built around the pots. Next, the hog was killed and the
jugular vein cut so the blood would drain away. A block and tackle was
attached to a large limb on a nearby tree and the hog was hoist, back end first, to
hang from the limb. After the hog was high enough, a 55 gallon barrel was placed underneath and filled
a little over half full with hot water. Getting the temperature of the
water just right was very important. Usually an old timer could
pass his fingers through the water and tell if the water was hot enough.
Scalding loosened the hair making it easier to remove. So the hog
was lowered into the barrel and left for a minute or two, raised, and
scraped. The men used butcher knives to scrap off the hair, taking
care not to cut the meat. This scalding
be repeated until all the hair was removed.
Young boys were kept busy carrying water from the well to the pots to be heated and then,
pots to the barrel. |
Next, the hanging white carcass was carefully gutted so that the entrails could be removed. This was tricky, as puncturing the entrails made a big mess. My father had a special curved knife for this procedure.
Next the hog split down the back, lowered and placed on a table. Using a meat saw and a butcher knife, the carcass was cut into sections; hams, shoulders, sides, and the head. The shoulders were deboned, seasoned, and set aside to make sausage. When the butchering was done the helpers went home, carrying away the head (hog's head cheese), the cleaned entrails (chitlins), the feet (trotters), the maul (maul), and finally the heart. The liver was negotiable; sometimes it was divided.
A few day later, shoulder meat would be ground with a hand cranked sausage mill into casings made of cloth or entrails and then smoked.
The next day or so, all excess fat was cut into small pieces and cooked in the iron pot to make lard. When the pot filled with grease, the pieces of skin were removed, squeezed dry, and placed in a barrel. The resulting cracklings were used to season corn bread or as dog food. [I can no longer find real cracklings around here, but meat markets in France still have them.] The grease was poured into gallon cans and turned to pure white lard when cooled. Later, some of the lard might be put back in the wash pot, heated, and mixed with lye to make soap.
After the hams and sides of bacon were trimmed of excess fat, they were rubbed with a combination of salt, salt peter, red pepper, and other seasonings. Next, they were placed in the smoke house and hung from the rafters with wire. Later, this meat was smoked with hickory, pecan, or apple wood. I usually build a fire in a black pot placed in the smoke house, then cover the pot with a disc so the burning wood smolders, producing a continuous cloud of pecan (my preference) smoke. Meat cured in this way will last for years, but before eating it should be cleaned with a vinegar-water solution to remove any mold. However, the ham will not have the great taste of grandpa's ham: hogs today are all lean, you need a 400 to 500 pound lard hog to get the original taste.
The most expensive hams today come from Spain and cost about a thousand dollars each.
|After several unsuccessful attempts at curing hams as good as the Spanish jamon de Jabugo, I retired. I have no intention of raising fat hogs.|
|Spinach and lettuce can be grown well into the winter, if covered during cold spells.|
|The fear of the South: night shade.|
|As cows will swipe you with a manure laden tail, do keep your mouth closed while milking.||While churning, chant, "Come butter, come. Come butter, come......"|