April 8, 2015 — Leave a comment

A friend and I were talking the other day discussing the reality that kids today probably don’t really know where their food comes from except Krogers. This conversation started a long thought process about what kids today and perhaps their parents as well have missed because everything they need comes from a store. It is time, perhaps, for enlightenment.

As a youngster, I was blessed with having both full sets of Grandparents and a full set of Great Grandparents and a step-Great Grandmother who lived with us for about 8 or 9 years.  They were all farmers so it is no accident that my roots go back to the soil. I have wished many times that I had been a farmer, but it was not to be!

My parents were kids, 6 &7, when the Great Depression struck. They were lucky that they lived on farms. The kids in the cities and towns did not fare so well. Time were hard and the old saying “waste not want not” was lived every day. Shoe laces were sewn and socks were darned because there was no money to buy new ones. My Grandpa Isley burned ear corn in the stove because a bushel of corn would not buy a bushel of coal.

Like most farmers, both of my grandparents had milk cows, pigs, chickens and a huge garden.  Summers were full of time spent canning vegetables and fruit and making pickles and jelly. The women worked as long if not longer than the men practically every day.  And, my grandmother Sandifur had Gooseberry bushes.  And, as part of the Isley lore I love Gooseberry pie!

In the winter and always it seemed the coldest day you could pick, they butchered. All the kids and grandkids came home as well as the neighbors to help with the butchering.  Butchering beef was a week long process because the beef carcasses had to hang and “age” to firm up the meat so it could be cut up and packaged. Before freezers, beef had to be consumed rather quickly. Pork, on the other hand, was completely taken care of in one day. The hogs were killed, scalded, scrapped, cut up, and processed.  The hams and bacon (Pork bellies) were rubbed with salt and sugar and other spices (trade/family secret) and hung in the smoke house and the fire lit to begin that process. The other cuts of meat were salted in crocks to eat much later.  I remember Grandma scrapping and turning the intestines to be used as the casing for the sausage. The women would grind the meat by hand and mix the spices for the sausage (again a family secret) and then stuff the casing and tie off the individual sausage links and these were hung in the smoke house also.

Now there was one part of this whole process that only a few could and do well. Render lard. Today no one uses lard except cake bakers because lard makes the very best icing. However, 60 years ago everything fried or baked used lard. The hog fat was cut up into about 1 inch squares and that was my job when I got old enough to be trusted with a sharp knife. Then these squares of fat were put in a large kettle with a fire underneath, too hot and the lard would catch on fire, too cold and the lard would not melt from the fat. Also, if it got too hot the lard would not solidify when it cooled. Then at just the right time (this is where the expertise came into play) the pieces of hog fat were removed from the kettle and put into the, guess what, lard press and squeezed to get all the lard out.

We are now at the crux of the story, what remains are called cracklins. Fresh hot cracklins made the cold fingers and feet seem to go away. I don’t think there is anything that tastes as good as fresh hot cracklins on a freezing winter day! Nothing! They were so good!  I remember my dad telling me over and over again year after year, “now don’t eat too many of those because they’ll give you the runs” The “runs”? In today’s speak it’s diarrhea in case you didn’t know.  You know what? I didn’t care. You know what? My dad was right! You know what? I didn’t care. And if I could get some fresh hot cracklins today, you know what?  I wouldn’t care!

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed fresh hot cracklins and I probably never will again, but these memories and experiences have helped shape me into what I am today.

Thanks for listening,

Richard Isley

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