Pastry and Soap

My mother made a good pie crust.
She also make a good laundry soap.
Okay, you shrug. What do those two things have to do with each other?
Well, they share an ingredient – LARD

When we lived on the farm and it was time to butcher a hog for our own eating we’d call the butcher associated with the local locker plant. He would come to the farm, kill the animal we selected, and do a field dressing sort of procedure before he took the remaining portion of the animal to the locker plant.
It was at the locker that the animal was cut into the various chops, roast, and steaks plus portions ground into sausage. The customer selected according to general guidelines how they wanted it cut and wrapped. A flash freeze was included in the price. Then, either you stored it in a rented locker or transported it to your home freezer.
One question the locker always asked: Do you want the leaf fat and trimmings?
Most years my parents requested them. They would bring them home in large, waxed boxes. Then mother would set about rendering down the lard.
It took a day and both of her large stock pots to do a good job of it. The house filled with the scent of hot fat. The cracklings (bits of skin and cellular material) were scooped out from the bottom of the liquid lard in the pot, drained and strained through a cloth for every drop of good lard before they became a treat for the chickens. The rest of the lard was strained and set to cool. Much of ours in later years was stored in wide mouth quart jars. Some, mostly for soap, was poured and cooled in an earthenware crock with a tight lid.
Creamy white lard gives a fine texture and taste to pie crust.
And the soap???? That story’s for another day.


Coffee for a Large Group

Are you hosting Thanksgiving? Lots of coffee drinkers in your family?
Allow me to introduce you to Boiled Coffee a.k.a. Crew or Church Coffee.
You’ll need a large pot. The ones I remember were enamelware – the gray speckled or white – with the slightly tapered body and a spout near the top. The volumes referenced here are from a 1961 edition of Betty Crocker’s Cook Book. Method is combination of memory and print.
Place 7 quarts of water in pot. Heat just to a boil.
Place 1 pound coffee and 1 egg (including shell) into a mixing bowl with one cup cold water. Mix.
Pour grounds into heated water, mix, and bring to a full boil. It will foam, be prepared to stir.
Boil one or two minutes.
Remove from heat.
Allow time for grounds to settle. The egg will collect little bits of debris and make for a clearer coffee.
Pour into serving pot for ease of handling and serve.
This should satisfy a dozen men that drink coffee with their meal with plenty of refills.

Perfect for Boiled Coffee
Perfect for Boiled Coffee

Eggs, eggs, and more eggs

Chicks. Pullets. Laying hens. Roosters.

The chickens arrived at our farm as “day old chicks” in the spring. It’s still chilly in Wisconsin then and head lamps suspended in the brooder shed (small tight building, ours was movable via skids).
They ate, drank, and grew. Yellow down was replaced with white feathers. They got over their panic and didn’t go fleeing into a corner (sometimes smothering their companions) each time the door was opened or a car drove past.
Soon we could tell the roosters from the hens by the size and shape of their coombs. We ordered all hens, but determining the sex of a chick a few days before hatching is not a perfect science (and we owned a frying pan).
By autumn the hen became pullets and began to lay eggs. This was the product our family was interested in. We gathered eggs several times a day. Most were in the nests we provided, but a few were in other favorite places in the chicken coop.
Every day or two we washed and packed them. Of course, the more hens we had that year meant more eggs to gather, wash, pack, and store for the Saturday morning trip to the buyer. We had a lot of hens. The most was the year we had 600. We were thankful for our egg washer that year. It was a counter top machine that we hooked up to the water supply – utility room sink. A long brush rotated on the top. A rubber coated auger moved the eggs along on the bottom.
My brother and I often worked the job together. Putting eggs into the washer. Then removing the clean eggs and packing them into the cases.
A case held 30 dozen. A corrugated cardboard divider separated the two “stacks” of lighter cardboard flats and uprights. Six by six in a layer. Then a new flat and upright to pack the next.
Thirty dozen equals three hundred and sixty eggs. Most weeks we transported five cases to the buyer, sometimes six. One thousand eight hundred eggs — touched by human hands to gather, place in washer, remove from washer and place in case.

We needed the protein in the cracked, checked, and rejects to maintain our strength!!!

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A True Pioneer

Today is special for more than the usual “Hump Day” remarks.
We have a guest writer and she’s brought us a history lesson.
Sandie Grassino, co-author of two local histories — Jefferson Barracks and Sunset Hills — from the respected Arcadia Publishing brings us a tidbit of history – an accidental pioneer.
* * * *
Cathay Williams led a double life in ways that probably no one reading this could imagine.
She was born a slave in Independence, Missouri in 1844. Although her father was a freeman, Williams was a slave because her mother was a slave. While still a child, she served as a house-girl to her owner, William Johnson, a wealthy farmer. The Johnson family and their slaves uprooted to the Jefferson City, Missouri area where Johnson died shortly before the Civil War.
In the spring of 1861, Union forces tailed Claiborne Fox Jackson (Governor of Missouri) and his friend, Sterling Price (former Governor of Missouri) and their Missouri Militia across the state from Saint Louis. Fox, Price, and the militia they trained were Confederate sympathizers. The Union’s Colonel Benton was in charge of this sweep across Missouri to capture them. Cathay Williams was taken under the Union forces and made a cook and laundress for the Union officers as they continued to chase Jackson and the others. In an interview with a Saint Louis paper in 1876, Williams stated that she neither wanted to go nor knew how to cook. She next was employed by Philip Sheridan, who was, among other things, the quartermaster for Jefferson Barracks . She remained his cook for the duration of the war, as he completed assignments throughout the country. Cathay Williams returned to Jefferson Barracks before the war was over.
Jefferson Barracks was one of the military sites that formed a segregated Army regiment of African-American soldiers following the Civil War. Unable to find suitable work, Williams enlisted in that newly formed regiment, which would become known as “The Buffalo Soldiers” She enlisted as William Cathay on 15 November 1866. Evidently, the physical was somewhat lax, because she was accepted as a private in Company A, the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment. At 5’9”, she was one of the tallest privates in her regiment.
Before the regiment deployed, she contracted small pox; and, like other soldiers at JB who also contracted the disease, William Cathay was sent to a hospital in Illinois. After her health improved, she rejoined her unit. . After two years of primarily moving on foot to new locations with her regiment, William Cathay again took ill. This time, she was in a barracks hospital in New Mexico. And this time, her secret was discovered.
She was discharged. She moved eventually to Colorado. Around 1890, again ill and in the hospital for a while, Cathay Williams applied for a military disability pension . The pension doctor did not find that she qualified for the pension, despite the fact that she had lost all of her toes to diabetes and could only walk by using a crutch. Although the exact date of her death is not known, it is believed she died sometime in 1892.
Cathay Williams holds the historical distinction of being the only documented female African-American woman to have served in the US Army prior to the 1948 law which allowed women to join . She was – whether it arose from necessity or choice – a true pioneer.

Sandi Grassino
Sandi Grassino


Feast, then Fly

The airlines are not serving much food or drink included with your ticket these days. Perhaps we need to look up into the sky on a clear fall day for a reminder of flight protocol from those that have been doing it best for centuries.

They flock together near food sources. They know where every grain elevator or field with gleanings is located in their neighborhood. Are they urban or suburban? No problem. Plenty of seeds in the bushes and trees the humans use to landscape. Or in the little strips and patches of untamed vegetation.

Cheep, cheep, cheep. Chatter, chatter. They are always on the look out for threats, ready to flee a predator in a heart beat or a wind flap.

Eat first. Fly later.
Eat first. Fly later.

Special blog guest tomorrow: Sandie Grassino shares a history tidbit.


Dog Cake

Our family always had a dog – for short times more than one – when we lived on the farm. I doubt if my parents ever bought a bag of dog food at the store in their lives. They just didn’t do it.

Now don’t get me wrong. We didn’t feed the dogs at the table. They ate scraps and leftovers out of their own dish after the people ate. And outside -or barn – dogs got food in a dish in addition to a portion of milk twice a day. (Cats were all barn cats. They got a pan of very fresh, warm milk morning and evening. They hunted additional protein. Think rodent control.)

The first few years we lived on the farm we owned a German Shepard. (At the insistence of mother.) He was a house dog and took his duty of protecting my mother from strangers serious. He also was a large dog with an appetite to match.

Mother’s solution to feeding him became Dog Cake. We didn’t measure a lot with this recipe and things varied. But here are the basics.
Chicken mash — 1 quart
White flour –
Baking powder
Bacon drippings
Eggs — the ones that could not be sold due to cracks, etc.
Milk or water
Pour into greased 9×13 pan and bake.

I’m sure I tried a few crumbs on occasion. I don’t remember the taste as either good or bad. Certainly nothing in here that would hurt me. And it was not near as dry as the Milkbone biscuit I ate on a dare years later.

Dog Cake Connoisseur
Dog Cake Connoisseur

End of Season

We’ve all learned the seasons early in our formal education: spring, summer, fall, and winter.

And along the way we’ve picked up the start and finish of others, the ones you won’t find on most calendars. Fishing season, deer season, planting season, jump rope and marbles season as well as baseball and football for an incomplete list.

Today we highlight patio season. Especially, patio dining. It runs parallel to baseball season in St. Louis, yet it has a certain independence. The exact start date is not determined by a conference of sports exectutives in a hotel room months in advance. No, it’s decided by individual managers with an eye to the local weather and perhaps a determining factor of obtaining an extra server or two.

Size varies from two or three tiny tables on the sidwalk to larger areas with boundaries defined by short fences. Many will allow well behaved dogs on an outing with their owners. Some of the sports bars feature one or two screens to watch the game.

Sunset comes early now that we’ve set the clocks back to “standard” time. The number of patrons requesting outdoor seating dwindles to zero. (Unless a very hearty soul with a Saint Bernard in tow walks up.) The umbrellas remain folded. Soon the tables and chairs will be put into storage. We’ll be back. When fresh flowers poke up in the planters and light jackets become warm in the lunchtime sunshine.

See you in the Spring!
See you in the Spring!

Hog Wash

Today we’re going to take a trip into history, 1954 to put a year on it.

This was the year that my father was taking us back into farming. We lived in town during 1954. My father moved the family; my mother and two older brothers, into the village of 350 when he went into military service in WWII. He’d also been working as a rural letter carrier before and after the military.

Finding a farm is not an immediate thing. and my parents had some definite criteria – school district, good roads to read the post office every day, land and building quality, and price. We rented a place that year, purchased a tractor, and raised some hogs.

My oldest brother, finished with sophomore year of high school, decided to enter five of these hogs into the county fair. This became a family project to some extent.

On a summer morning, while dad delivered mail, the rest of the family collected brushes, soap, and filled shotgun cans with hot water. (Only cold water was available to us at the rented place.) (Definition: shotgun can is a pail with straight sides and a lid that fits down like a box cover.)

The five selected hogs were confined in a lean-to attached to an old barn. The four of us – mother, two brothers, and me — scrubbed every bit of dirt and grime we could see and reach off of the hogs. They were used to being “handled” and were generally cooperative. Clean straw filled their area when we returned to town.

We had a thunderstorm that night. Either the lean-to received wind damage or the hogs panicked. Either way — in the morning they were out of their clean quarters and mixed in with the remaining hogs in the muddy yard.

We scrubbed five hogs that day — after they were selected out and confined in a log shed. Rinse and repeat? The repeat was not as much fun.

The hogs did well at the county fair and earned my brother a collection of ribbons and good comments from the judges.

Ready for Wash
Ready for Wash

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Double Duty

Personal fitness gets a lot of attention in America.

Walkers, runners, and bikers use trails in parks and along abandoned rail lines. Many people join a gym. A smaller number use it regular. Another group of people take classes for specific exercises, swimming, or dancing.

Walking is my exercise of choice. I’ve discovered by trial and error that it’s one I’ve been able to maintain for more than a week or two. So six days a week I leave my  home and walk a route of about a mile and a half. This route takes me past a gym. At the hour I pass, several of the treadmills are in use, sometimes a Stairmaster, and other patrons are too deep into the building to see in a casual glance.

At least one patron combines gym time with other exercise. Confirmation? The bike stored between the double doors early one Sunday morning.



Wooden Tale

A large, tidy stack signals preparation for the next season.

How? Why?

As a fiction writer those are two of my favorite questions to twist with a “what if” and embellish.

This is the American Midwest. I’ll start my short, short, short story with a storm damaging a large tree. I’ll add a tree service with their special equipment but the owner makes a deal to have the truck and larger limbs remain on his property, cut into fireplace sized chunks.

Now I see a father and teenage sons moving the pieces and tipping them on end. Wedges. Axes. Learn by doing. Swing into the wood. Release frustration. Work in a team. Work as punishment. In early morning before the heat makes it unbearable. On a crisp early fall evening.

Carry. Move. Stack. Clean up the scrap for the backyard summer fire pit.

Stand on the porch and savor the result of your labors. Enough fuel for evenings around the fireplace. More than enough for one winter of storm caused power outages.

Suburban Wood Reserve
Suburban Wood Reserve