Sunday, April 7, 2013

Helping Hands and Simple Fun... Another "Little House" Lesson

When I was growing up, my grandmothers, my Mama, and my aunts all gathered together to can... "many hands make light work." And it almost felt like a party, except for the hard work, but even stringing and breaking bushels of green beans or peeling peaches until the juice ran down and dripped off your elbows, became fun with all the talk and laughter around the table or sitting in the shade of my Nanny's apple tree. These times of hard work have become some of my most treasured memories.

Having family or neighbors to help with the "big work" was even more important in the "Little House" days...

From Little House in the Big Woods...

Uncle Henry came to help Pa butcher the hog. He brought Aunt Polly's sharpened knife.  They made a bonfire and heated a big kettle of  water over it.  The pig pen was nearby.  Laura plugged her ears with her fingers because she didn't want to hear the pig squeal as it was being killed. "After that, Butchering Time was great fun."
Uncle Henry and Pa were "jolly".  There was spare ribs for dinner. Pa promised the girls they could play with the bladder, which he blew up like a balloon. They played games like volley ball and kick ball with the blown-up bladder. He also gave the girls the pig's tail, which was roasted, sizzled, fried and sprinkled with salt. They ate all the meat off the bones, knowing there wouldn't be another pig's tail until next year.
The hog was scalded in hot water.  They laid it on a board.  Then it was scraped with knives until all the coarse bristles came off the skin.  Then the hog was hung in a tree.  The insides were taken out, and it was left hanging to cool.  Then it was taken down, and cut up.
From this hog came: hams, shoulders, side meat, spare-ribs, belly, heart, liver, tongue, and headcheese.  The dishpan that was full of bits and pieces would be made into sausage. The meat was laid on a board and sprinkled with salt. The hams and shoulders were pickled in brine, then smoked.
Pa said, "You can't beat hickory-cured ham."
Uncle Henry went back home after dinner.  Pa went into the Big Woods to do more work.  Laura and  Mary helped Ma with carrying wood and watching the fire. Ma put lard in big iron pots on the cookstove.  Ma skimmed out brown "cracklings"....she would use them to flavor "johnny-cake" later.
Ma made headcheese. She scraped and cleaned the head carefully.  She boiled it until all the meat  fell off the bones.  Then the meat was chopped into fine pieces and seasoned with pepper, salt and spices.  It was mixed with pot-liquor and cut into slices after it cooled.
The little pieces of lean and fat that  came off the larger pieces were made into sausage.  Sausage balls were put in a pan out in the shed to freeze.  These were good to eat all winter.
When Butchering Time was over there were:  sausages, headcheese, big jars of lard, a keg of white saltpork out in the shed, smoked ham and shoulders in the attic.


  1. We homeschooled our kids for twenty years and read through all the Little House books, out loud, four times. I tried that pig bladder thing. Got one from the butcher, took one look at it and thought, I ain't blowing that thing up! It did NOT look all clean and balloony like in the Garth Williams illustration. It was revolting. Other than that, we learned lots of wonderful things from the Ingalls family and tried many of them over the years.

    --Julie Hamilton

  2. I also loved reading the books and I loved Little house on the Praire with Micheal Landon. I always wanted to have the recipe of the "Jonny Cake" Laura talked about in the book. Any Idea?

    Amy Renfroe

    1. Make your cornbread recipe but a little more watery. Fry in a hot skillet like pancakes.

  3. Isn't Johnny Cake just corn bread?

    1. My mom made Johnny Cakes and it was cornmeal pancakes. They were so good.

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  7. This post makes me smile. I grew up on a farm, and love the Little House books. I remember this passage clearly! Love your blog!

  8. on the pig bladder soccer ball theme, if you happen to have Amazon prime and are interested, A Cooks' Tour with Anthony Bourdain touches briefly on the pig's bladder thing. Apparently the one they used was smoked or cured. in the program, it looks clean and translucent. Season one, episode 10.

  9. I've just realized that I can trace my desire to learn the art of home cooking and preserving directly back to The Little House books :) That's where it all started!


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