Monday, March 2, 2009


Yikes! March 2nd. Where does the time go. Count your blessings . We had overnight company after a weird weather day a few days ago. Rain, sleet, snow and wind driven hail hitting the windows which sounded like pelting rice. I didn't have time to bemoan and woe-be-tide the weather. I've been in the land of Puerco.

Dawn gave me this furry creature. She says it looks like a pig. The ears are a tad long for a pig. At least, the one Titus and I butchered last Monday. Dawn's pig is an addition to my pig collection. It sits in a ceramic bowl in the bedroom. Most of my piglets are boxed and stored in the barn. The kitchen renovation, required that everything in the kitchen be moved to the living room.The pigs had to go. This morning they are resting comfortably in cold storage. The pre-dawn temperature was 3 degrees. It's a respite from Sunday's 20 mph skin searing winds and 7 degree temperatures. The lids from the recycling bins are tossed about. It you walked in the barn after walking through ice on the road when the sun rose high enough to melt small pools, your feet stuck to the concrete slab. March you say??

The 250 pound hog gave us 165 pounds of usable meat and by-products. The Amish took the fat and rendered it for baking. Several days later Wilma hands me one of my recycled Cole slaw containers filled to the rim with scrapple. It's the meat and some fat mixed with onions and spices. It's an Amish specialty and another variation of what my Dad salvaged out of meat scraps called Sulze. The difference is that Sulze has a gelatin base from the slow cooking of bones which were part of the scrap. I also gave Titus a side of bacon and created a sausage bank in their name. When I asked about paying him for the help with the hog, he quips, "Pay me in sausage." I have included them as tasters for my wurst maching process. I know, I know, the pronunciation is wrong and so may be the spelling. So the Yoders have been eating Italian sausage, three experiments with varieties of polish and chorizo. Each recipe for sausage has Uncle Bob's fingers manipulating herbs and spices. I have a basic recipe handed down from my Dad before he died in 1979. When I read a recipe calling for a crippling amount of fresh garlic, I compare it to the basic recipe. From an original figure of 125 pounds of meat, I reduce the garlic measure to grams. I'm suspicious of recipes calling for 3, 5 or 6 cloves of garlic. In nature cloves of garlic are unequal in size.

The sausage list extends to hot Polish, hot Italian, andouille and boudin bon blanc. I made a major mistake in wurst maching after our company departed on Sunday afternoon. The pork and beef I mixed with marjoram, black pepper, kosher salt and fresh garlic is sticky. It takes three hours for a normal 90 minutes process. The kitchen is a mess. I make a mental note to never add water. Never.

I grew up in a city famous for German beer. My mother's childhood acquaintances still run a family business making sausage. The Usinger name is synonymous for high quality sausage. My step Dad worked in the meat packing industry all his life. Before he migrated to the big city, his parents owned 100 acres of land in Northern Minnesota. Staying alive and raising your own food were priorities. Over the weekend my step sister and I compare memories and share stories. A central focus is our Dad. In a moment of startling clarity, I realise my affinity for my Amish friends is a recreation of my past. The photographs are sentimental memories of summers in the woods of Northern Minnesota. In an album my sister brings out Saturday night, I've got my trusty six shooter aimed directly at the photographer. We made a fire pit, take walks in the woods looking for blueberries, wade in the shallows of the Little Fork River catching crabs and are standing beside the old Model T Ford which a cousin, not yet 16, rolls into the ditch filled with kids in the front and back seats. The neighbors-the Cussons and Roms form a chorus line-arms over shoulders, with the same expressions and postures I remember. Max, slightly hunched because of an accident with a gun. His brother in the adjacent bedroom is careless with a .22 rifle and shoots him in the back through the wall. Joe, the logger, balding with a slight grin stirs my imagination-me sitting on his lap driving his 52 Chevy. Uncle Bob. chubby cheeks and wide grin looks down from the picnic table where we sit. 30 years later at another picnic, I hardly recognize the man. Curious. Eight sisters and brothers. There are ten total, in Titus' family. Wrapping a a batch of fresh sausage for Titus to take home after a final measurement of cabinets for our kitchen, I ask for a family count since I've yet to see the whole family assembled together .

In a parting ritual my sister and I exchange gifts. You never left the family empty handed after a visit. Dad would go to the basement and bring sausage. So, I give her an assortment of a week's sausage making. She makes a pecan pie and fresh strawberries with rhubarb. I hand her one of my rustic American flags made from our old pine plank fence. She makes me a crocheted quilt. To compliment to apple decor in her kitchen, I find a nicely rounded apple gourd which is painted bright red and resembles a large real apple. Dawn gives her bars of homemade soap. I learn there are more than seven roads to home from this visit.

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