Cold weather beckons desire to make bacon

BY BOB WACHS, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/15/19

The recent downturn in the temperature tells us that summer has spent its last days, but you didn’t really need me to inform you of that.

Add in the recent “fall back” of the clock and …

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Cold weather beckons desire to make bacon

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The recent downturn in the temperature tells us that summer has spent its last days, but you didn’t really need me to inform you of that.

Add in the recent “fall back” of the clock and you’ve got days that get dark much earlier than they did just a few days ago.

All of that, plus the falling leaves that go along with the falling temps, tells us autumn is and has been in full bloom and pretty soon Ol’ Man Winter will be around for his annual visit.

Such things are unavoidable, these comings and goings of days and weeks and months as they morph into the changing of the seasons. Since we can’t avoid it, we can do one of two things: dread it and moan and groan about it or anticipate and prepare and enjoy.

The changing of the seasons is, to me, one of the special things about living in North Carolina. In addition to the old line that we’re near the mountains and the beach, things that people in Colorado or Kansas or other places can’t say, we’re also blessed to usually notice when one season changes into another. Now it does get hot and humid around here but I’ll put up with that to get the rest of the stuff.

Occasionally we miss one and go from winter to summer or summer to winter or whatever but most of the time we can tell the differences. It’s not like it is in, say Chicago. The late great Southern wise man Lewis Grizzard referred more than once to the time when he was a sportswriter for a Chicago newspaper as a period in which he “was held prisoner in Chicago.”

“In Chicago,” he said, “they have two seasons – winter and the Fourth of July.”

Although it’s been in the 60s and even a few 70-degree days recently, we’ve had some cool ones. That, combined with the coloring of the hardwoods, tends to put me into a mellow mood. Sometimes “mellow” can be dangerous because it’s only a short progression between ripe and mellow and rotten and I want to avoid the latter.

Lately, as I see the golds and yellows and reds in the trees and feel the 40s on my tender cheeks and smell the hickory in the wood heater, my mind wanders back to the annual swine harvest that our family did when I was a little fellow.

My father, not the best of agrarian practitioners, nonetheless was determined that we would have pork for the winter each time it came around. All throughout the summer of many of my growing up years I was a victim of the lack of child labor laws, as it was my lot to haul water in giant (to me then) 5-gallon buckets to our group of two or three hogs. Dad always told me at least several times a day that two or three of those critters would do better (that is, eat and gain weight) than one by himself...kind of like me and my brothers.

So, I carried (“toted,” we’d say) the water to mix with the dry mash and turn it into liquid meals, complete with table scraps. Nothing was wasted: the pigs got the tomato peelings, the okra tops, the corn shucks, the stale bologna, whatever there was that wasn’t in store for human consumption was, in my daddy’s eyes, fit for them.

All summer and fall I labored much as an indentured servant would. My pleas for a hose to run from the house to the pig lot went unanswered. My father said something about I was building character as well as muscle.

As soon as the thermometer hit the temperatures we’re starting to have, it was time to move the herd from the ground to the freezer. I was allowed to do some things; your services aren’t all that much in demand when you’re 7. Mostly it was done by my folks and Sol and Juanita Milliken, who doubled as the custodian and cook at my little school. It was, shall we say, an all-day-and-into-the-night event.

But also, shall we say, it was worth it. That first night the table was covered with eggs, biscuits and tenderloin. The only bad thing about tenderloin is that there’s not 600 pounds of it per pig.

We ate well all winter, needless to say. And sometimes today I wonder if there’ll come a time when more folks will be going back to living off the land. I don’t think I could be trusted to harvest two or three swine without making a mess but I think I could learn if I had to...ditto with poultry and so forth. And the gardens and farmers’ markets provide their own bounty.

Sometimes I wonder, if all that becomes absolutely necessary, what folks who live in the high rises and condos will do. They can’t grow their own and if they get hungry and desperate enough, will we see thievery increase?

All I know for sure is that the temperatures lately make me want some of my mama’s fried tenderloin with biscuits and gravy and a platter of eggs and some coffee.

Forget the diet...


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