While grocery shopping the other evening with my husband, I had on my list to purchase lard. “Lard?” he asked surprisingly. “Yes. It is the old fashioned shortening used before Crisco and oil. My grandma Phillips used it for baking and frying. My Dad loved her fried potatoes. Almanzo Wilder’s mother used it and he talked about it in Laura Ingalls’ book Farmer Boy and told of them actually making lard. I want to try using it so I can finally see for myself if it really makes any difference in pie crusts or biscuits as some say it does. ” I turned for his approval and understanding but he had walked off. Obviously he wasn’t into lard but I had an experiment brewing and after reading Farmer Boy I couldn’t wait to try it. Have you read it? If you are into homesteading you will want to read this. Though I have read all of her other eight volumes more than once, I remember I just didn’t want to read about him, I wanted only to read about her. But, the other morning, I began wondering what he was really like. I was pleasantly surprised with my read of his childhood on the farm. Each month had its own chore list. It is totally about homesteading: Surviving on the farm from the fruits of one’s labor gleaned from the farm.
For me, on the farm I had an experiment to complete. And I must say there is something magical about assembling my crock, baking goods, and measuring cups that ignites my pioneer spirit. As I turned on the oven, I imagined my Grandma Phillips or her mother opening the wood stove and adding a piece or two of biscuit-wood also known as hackberry which burns hot and furious then quickly dies out hence its name and use.
Our supper, the last meal of the day defined by Webster became a true living in the moment ordeal. It just kept getting better and better. Something inside of me was resonating. Bubbling up and pouring over with pride and contentment, like the way a man smiles when he opens his paycheck. I think it was resonating from my roots of survival and providing in my farmhouse kitchen.
Together we did unwrap the bone-in ham butt that my husband selected at the grocery store and where I found him after I placed the lard in my basket. He was picking out the ham, like a man going to the smoke house would. I sliced off two slabs with the fillet knife my husband kept sharpened in the drawer for just such occasions and purchased at a yard sale this summer from preacher Ogle who married us. “Is it sharp,” he questioned as I sliced through the ham. Then we agreed it was very sharp.
I thought about my ancestors and their chores on the farm like Almanzo recorded. Did you know that November was usually the time of year to do the butchering on the farm? One of my early childhood memories after moving to the farm as a small child was a cow hanging from the tree in the barn yard. I was fascinated with the whole thing. It was what it was. In the book, Almanzo recalled that they must butcher 2 steers and 6 hogs for the yearly supply of meat. Wow. That is a lot of meat. I suppose they also did chickens, but he did not mention that, only the eggs his mother sold. No wait, it occurred to me, just now that they couldn’t preserve chicken unless they canned it. Hmnn. I suppose they just sent someone outside to catch a couple chickens for Sunday supper.
The ham was browning and the hash-brown potatoes cooking. Honey and butter had been placed on our farmhouse, oak pedestal table inherited from his mother’s kitchen. When I removed the golden brown biscuits from the oven in the black speckled granite ware pan, we were ready to eat. And it was good. The biscuits were delicious.
And next, on another day real soon, I’ll give the pie crust a turn using the lard for some pumpkin pies just like my mom and her mom and probably her mom before her made.
So here’s the thing: Once again I returned to my roots and became wrapped up in the moment. Nothing more was on my mind than that one solitary meal and that moment of time and remembering with gratitude. In essence, I was like a child caught up in the moment. Nothing else mattered. And isn’t it fun being a child again? Though you might be an adult, try being a child once more and just do- just be, be in the moment and you will find it is simply marvelous.