Monday, February 6, 2012

Butchering and Birthdays

It's Monday morning and I'm thinking that my week shouldn't be quite so busy as the last two were. We had butchering days four days out of the last two weeks and that seems to make the whole week seem tied up and busy, and sick children in there too also creates the crazy effect. Despite how much work its is we look forward to our family butchering days each winter, although judging by the amount of meat in  my freezer we may not even need to butcher next year. It's a long time tradition, definitely a Mennonite thing, to carry on a work day like this that feels more like a social gathering with all the hands that take part. My Brother-in-law and Sister set up their garage with the equipment and they graciously take care of most of the prepwork. The equipment has been kept in the family from all the past butchering on the farm with a new addition of a mechanical meat mixer. (so handy, no more cold hands from mixing) The men come handy with their knives and begin the process of making the cuts of meat. We grind the sausage meat, mix the spices, mix the sausage and spices, grind the fat to render the lard and cracklings. A lot of this stuff is done by the ladies, although you can see in this classic photo below, mom is the one who joins the men at the meat table, making sure things are done right! ( these pics are actually from a few years ago as I forgot my camera at home this time around, same idea each year though)

So  here are we novice butchering ladies, learning the tricks from the older ones. I think after the past three years we have earned titles as qualified meat grinders and mixers, although still known to have to start over and recount our pails of meat once in a while.

Thanks to our efficient men the men is generally cut up by lunch and this year we even had most of the sausage mixed and ready to be stuffed into casings. Lunch time first though, this years menu was roast chicken dinner, bubbat and pies. The second day was fresh sausage, noodles and shmaunt fat, third day was sloppy joes and pizza and the fourth one I didn't make it to because of sick kiddos. The food is always as important as the rest of the proceedings and more than enough to go around. Of course my sis opens up her kitchen to us, we bring in messes and more work for her. But the day is not about that but rather hospitality and community. A time of laughter and sharing of ideas, stories and sometimes strong opinions.(that's inevitable in my family :)
The afternoon is the hours of stuffing the casings, this is wear the teamwork comes into play while the guys arrange the sausage on rods to go into the smokehouse. This is also about the time we make sure the schnapps is sipped in moderation, so that the clock is watched and we don't end up with pepperettes in the smokehouse. Always an ongoing joke, due to my Dad coming out out of the smokhouse one year with sausages that were on the overdone side. That's the fun part about traditions likes this event. Each year we reminisce, the stories of old come out, new ideas brought in, the little ones learn (Hanna became quite a adept with the vacuum sealer) It's a passing on of history and culture.

Below is what we call the 'meagraupen' where the lard is rendered, with cracklings and pieces of spareribs cooking. My dad, inventive man that he was, hooked up a washing machine adjitater to the pot so that we no longer have to stand there and stir the cracklings. New inventions make for some ease to the job, so much so that sometimes theres nothing for us to to but sit on a chair, relaxing and generally snacking on more food. The kids did so well, I think a playpen has to be a bout the best baby invention. Jake was happy to play in there with the other kids jumping in too. They were generally just happy to be around and watch the proceedings although I had one little nephew who was so sad that the piggys were getting cut, I'm not sure how he will deal with eating sausage at home :)

At the end, the tables are filled with smoked sausage, red and pungent with smoke and spices. There's usually analyzing going on about why this meat is redder than that, this looks more pepperish than that, should've done it this way rather than that and so on. But in the end we are all happy with the outcome and ready to sit and relax  and gear up for the next day for a day of wrapping and clean up. And that's the gist of it. The freezer is full and ready for another year of cooking with our home made meat. It's a good time.

So during the busyness of these proceedings, we celebrated the birthdays of my sister Katherine and brother Micheal. Of course when I announced birthday greetings to my bro in front of everyone he gave me the 'why'd you have to say anything' grin. But we couldn't let him get away without a loud, sappy rendition of birthday singing. Kathy couldn't join us for butchering this year so we celebrated at her home over coffee and pecan caramel cheesecake.

Had to throw in a glimpse of these two before my time.

I'm so thankful for the family life I share with these two siblings. Kathy is my oldest sister, as a child I didn't really have a sister relationship with her as her daughter is only six months younger than I. It was Cara, her daughter, who I shared the sister (twin like) love with. Growing into my late teenage years was the time I developed a connection to my sister. It began with similar interests in vintage items, country living magazines, gardening, fashion(our own non-trendy sense of it), love of reading, frugal living, sewing,  food and cultural history. Kathy has an incredible sense of creativity and that kind of old soul with timeless character. I have oohed and aahed countless times over her home decor, flower arrangements and plantings, and the charming little summer kitchen in her back yard. Thanks to her I managed to have decor at my wedding. My heart swells at the many times she has brought gifts of love to my doorstep, from vegetable and flower arrangements, cartons of eggs, to vintagey treasures and plant seedlings. Ultimately what I share with my sister is a mutual love of the simple things in life, finding joy and gratitude in not what we strive for but what has already been gifted to us. The best of that is simply being sisters.

My brother Mike is a man of few words, there is a depth that isn't shown too easily. The privilege of being his sister is sharing moments where I see the heart and soul beneath the surface. There aren't many thoughts and feelings shared between us but there is an understanding, a love that just isn't expressed so easily. He was the sibling that I actually kind of got to grow up with even with a twelve year difference. I sometimes felt like an only child but at least I got to be the teasing, bratty baby sister to Mike. He was the brother I watched while he went through some tumultous teenage years, the brother I prayed for and looked up to. We had a practical relationship, he took me along to the coffee shop or ice rink, I cleaned his truck, room and later his house, that kind of thing. I was able to share with him the joy of finding his life partner, we shared the pain and sorrow of losing our Dad, we shared the opportunity to be baptised in our home church, and today we share the privilege of raising children close in age. Mike is the only male to fill Dad's shoes, and I see more of my dad in Mike all the time, in the way he walks, talks, thinks, farms and the way that I see the softer, deeper man coming to light. I love my brother.

So between butchering and birthdays, I'd say it's worth it to have a busy two weeks.


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