We lived just outside of town and perhaps our life was a little different; part city and part country; semi-farmers.
I guess most folks think of turkey for Thanksgiving but that was not our way. We usually had a retirement party for the old Rhode Island Red Rooster. He was the center of attraction after being properly undressed, eviscerated, boiled, then baked with heavy sage dressing. Around his throne were baked sweet potatoes, baked beans, peach cobbler, and a three layer chocolate cake.
As we consumed this feast and a few days of leftovers, the weather turned cold and our minds turned to Christmas — and the hog pen.
A hog would sometimes be sold as a source for a very limited number of Christmas gifts, food that we couldn’t grow ourselves, some winter clothes, and grain for the mules and cow. We also sold frying chickens and hens for the same purpose. That left another hog in the pen.The remaining swine was wined and dined in splendor with copious amounts of corn on the cob and excess milk and buttermilk and it responded by growing fat and lazy.
A large mulberry tree in our back yard had a pleasant and innocent air in the summer but now, barren of leaves, a more sinister purpose was revealed. A single tree, removed from the wagon tongue, was tied to a rope suspended over a sturdy branch. After much preparation with firewood, and a barrel of water for scalding, we butchered the hog and processed the meat; salt pork, fresh and smoked ham, pork roast, and country sausage (with heavy sage and red pepper). Some was made into a product I never learned to care for; minced meat. It was a very popular pie but I much preferred just plain raisin pie.
Christmas morning was very exciting to us, but by today’s standards it would be very disappointing. One of the nice things about never having a lot of things is that you don’t know to miss them.
If we had a tree it was plain and scraggled and decorated with homemade or natural ornaments. The comics (we called them the ‘Funny Papers’) were used as Christmas wrapping paper. In a good year, each person received one gift from the family tree.
For Christmas dinner a nice ham took center stage on the table with another three layer cake and praline type icing, baked potatoes with plenty of home churned butter, baked beans, minced meat pie and raisin pie, and sitting on the back of the stove were fried pies made from dried apples, dried peaches, or dried apricots.
All of that smelled too good and was tantalizing to the taste buds. But what was that other odor? Unmatched to anything on the table? What did it smell like? Nutmeg? Could it really be my most favorite pie, still lingering in the oven? Egg custard pie! How could it not be?
A very Merry Christmas to everyone.