Uncle Henry went home after dinner, and Pa went away to his work in the Big Woods. But for Laura and Mary and Ma, Butchering Time had only begun. There was a great deal for Ma to do, and Laura and Mary helped her.
All that day and the next, Ma was trying out (separating) the lard (pig fat) in big iron pots on the cookstove. Laura and Mary carried wood and watched the fire. It must be hot, but not too hot, or the lard would burn. The big pots simmered and boiled, but they must not smoke. From time to time Ma skimmed out the brown cracklings (crisp bits of cooked fatty meat). She put them in a cloth and squeezed out every bit of the lard, and then she put the cracklings away. She would use them to flavour johnny-cake (corn bread) later.
Cracklings were very good to eat, but Laura and Mary could have only a taste. They were too rich for little girls, Ma said.
Ma scraped and cleaned the head carefully, and then she boiled it till all the meat fell off the bones. She chopped the meat fine with her chopping knife in the wooden bowl, she seasoned (added spices/flavouring) it with pepper and salt and spices. Then she mixed the pot-liquor with it, and set it away in a pan to cool. When it was cool it would cut in slices, and that was headcheese.
The little pieces of meat, lean (not fatty) and fat, had been cut off the large pieces, Ma chopped and chopped until it was all chopped fine. She seasoned it with salt and pepper and with dried sage leaves from the garden. Then with her hands she tossed and turned it until it was well mixed, and then she moulded it into balls. She put the balls in a pan out in the shed, where they would freeze and be good to eat all winter. That was the sausage.
When Butchering Time was over, there were sausages and the headcheese, the big jars of lard and the keg of white salt-pork out in the shed, and in the attic hung the smoked hams and shoulders.
Read by John Larrysson, from a book called The Little House in the Big Woods.
The Little House in the Big Woods
Chapter 1 - Part 1: Introduction
Chapter 1 - Part 2: Wolves in the Night
Chapter 1 - Part 4: Smoked Meat
Chapter 1 - Part 5: Food for Winter
Chapter 1 - Part 6: Butchering Time
Chapter 1 - Part 7: After Butchering Time
Chapter 1 - Part 9: Winter Night
Chapter 1 - Part 10: About the Author & Where to Find the Book
A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.