I have eaten my fill of meat this week. We have put our garden to rest. My cellar shelves are loaded with jars of pickles, beans, tomatoes, grape juice, jelly, relishes, applesauce and peaches. There are baskets of potatoes and boxes of apples stacked on the floor. Normally I would also have strings of onions dangling from the ceiling, but this was not a good onion year. Although the fresh fruits and vegetables have petered out, the season of meat has begun. We had squirrel gravy a couple of weeks ago and now we are eating venison. I recently read a book by author/historian Warren Blackhurst who chronicled the lives of settlers in this area. In one chapter of his book, A Mixed Harvest, the main character, Andy, notes that the weather is finally cool enough for the family to hunt some venison and hang it in the meat house. The season of meat was dependent on weather cool enough for the keeping.
Although we have a refrigerator and a freezer we, like those settlers of old, still focus a portion of our menus around what’s available. And what’s available right now is deer meat. We have cut up the hams for the freezer, fried the tenderloin for supper and breakfast, and processed the shoulders into jerky. Even the dogs share in the feast. Joe drags the remains over to their houses and they disappear so deep into the carcass that only their wagging tails are visible. They won’t eat dried kibble again until they have stripped the last of the scraps from the bones. I’m hoping for at least two more deer before the season ends because canned venison is my go-to for a quick supper. Then after hunting season, we will have a hog butchered and, after that, a beef.
Joe still remembers his family doing all of their butchering on the farm. In fact when I met him, the pole and barrel for scalding hogs was still out in the barnyard. Joe doesn’t miss the killing and hard work of getting the meat wrapped and salted and ground, but he does miss dipping cracklings out of the rendering kettle and the resulting cans of pure white fat that were perfect for popcorn. No matter. Some of our neighbors still butcher on their farms so we can visit them and lend a hand for some lard if we’ve a mind to. For these families, meat season is a season of in-gathering. The kids and grandchildren are drawn back to the farm each November to hunt deer and then again in January to butcher the hogs. In this way, traditions and skills are passed to the next generation.
I had a friend who moved to the county from the city and immediately acquired a flock of fat breasted chickens and a mob of meaty rabbits. I still remember her amazement as she described how the butchering was for her five-year old. Elizabeth was afraid that her very girly girl would be offended or frightened by the process. Instead, her blond headed cherub squatted over the offal and dug through it, asking questions and watching with interest as the chickens ran around like chickens with their heads cut off do. I know some people are offended by the idea that meat once ran around, but for this little girl, it was just a part of the circle of life. Hakuna Matata and all that. Our ancestors were not vegetarians. They couldn’t afford to be. There was a season for fresh fruits and vegetables and a season for meat. It’s the same on my farm.