Author
Publisher
Date
30 Sept. 1921
Page Range
27
Genre
Exhibit
Document Type
Work

Plain Pig

Pig day on the ranch! The women folk have got to step lively. That mountain of pig must be disposed of. All other household duties with the exception of the three square meals which our men demand, are to be held in abeyance while we tackle that pig.
The kitchen—indeed the whole house—is odorous of pork. Heaped on tables and boards in pails and tubs, steaming away in vessels on top of the stoves, and sizzling in pans in the oven, are great and small pieces of pig—plain pig.

Must Have Pig

First thing in the morning, the men bore the fat load into the kitchen, having butchered it the night before down at the farm on the prairie where we raise things. On a cattle ranch we raise only cattle and horses; nevertheless our men must have their pig to eat. Their expertise in cutting up the two animals fills us women with awe and admiration, me with awe, and Nellie with admiration. Inside of a few minutes, as it seemed to me, they were through with their end of the job, had washed up and departed barnward. We could hear them singing, shouting, or cussing as they started off for the day’s work.

Felt a Bit Rattled

Nellie and I look at each other and then at that pig. She is very solemn. I feel a bit rattled and just for a moment I try to figure out some way of escape. There is none. That pig has been confidently placed in my supposed competent hands, and if anything goes wrong with it the blame will be mine. I know that my cook is more capable of bossing the pig job than I, but fate in this case has assigned the disposition of that pig to me. There lies a job before us that bids fair to carry us into the night, unless we do some tall hustling. I am convinced that no mere woman could tackle it alone; besides I do not lack experience in this particular work.

Looked Wise

Aforetime I have had the out of doors call to me and have sought to shake responsibility to supposed more competent shoulders than mine, but when I yielded to temptation, the results had been disastrous. So I bustle about the kitchen now, look as wise as I can under the circumstances, and lay out our campaign of work. Nellie is to run the grinder, putting through the fat for the lard and then the meat for the sausage and scrapple. She is to clean the head and feet, render the lard, make the head cheese and clean up the mess as we go along.

Pickling the Pork

Meanwhile I am to put down the bacon and hams and shoulders in brine, which we have already boiled over night; I am to take care of the fresh pork, and when the grinding is done, I am to make the scrapple and the sausage meat. I start in on the pieces to go into the brine, a fragrant mixture of salt, saltpeter, brown sugar, molasses, and spices. I rub my pieces all over with salt and brown sugar, and pack them tightly into the barrels, laying the bacons flat against the sides, and the big pieces in the middle. Small pieces are laid at top. Over this I pour my brine, first having tested it by putting an egg in it. As the egg remained on top, I perceived I had put in enough salt. So I set a board, with a huge flat stone on top to hold the meat under the brine and smoke it. Then it will be put in cheesecloth sacks, with clean straw packed around it and hung in the meat house, to be used as needed.  

Some in the Oven

While I have been putting down the big pieces, and Nellie grinding the small, my three long fine loins of pork have been roasting in the oven. Our men like fresh pork, but even in the fall we do not take the chance on keeping the fresh pork. So, instead of putting the loins in brine, I cook them, pack them in crocks and cover them with lard. When the lard is cold, it makes an air tight protection for the meat, which is ready for use any time.

Sausage Meat Ready

Nellie by this time has her lard rendering on the fire. Her sausage meat, too, is already for me, but lunch catches up with us while we are in the midst of our work. We scurry about the kitchen intent upon having the meal on time, for that high priced haughty help must be fed well and on time. The old hired handy man who gave a hand in the farm kitchen is a thing of the dear past. Now we have among those present, in the big wash room adjoining the kitchen, fence riders, bronco busters, cow boys and fellows whose main job is to break horses, brand and dehorn cattle, ride the range, and in the slack season, just prior to the fall round up, condescend to give a hand with the haying, and in the period when labor was scarcely to be had for love or money, the riders scorned to hay, and claimed that was a farm hand’s job, and not a cowpuncher’s. Of course, on a cattle ranch our men never put their hands to such menial toil as chores. A modern cattle ranch does not include among its itinerary, and many indeed do not have milk, but to use a colloquial expression of cowboy-dom, they just tickle the tin—meaning they used canned milk.

What Ho! Spare Ribs

Pig day, much as it is dreaded by the women of the ranch, is always a day approved by the men, as is evidenced by the relish with which they put down incredible quantities of spare-ribs, that are the first day’s offering. They feed away with noisy and hearty enjoyment. I, however, have no appetite for pig, but munch in preference on dry toast, a poached egg, buttermilk and jam.
Lunch out of the way, we are back at our pig. While Nellie is doing the dishes, her pig’s head is boiling away on the stove, and I tackle the ground sausage meat. I know Nellie considers the grinding the hardest part, but indeed there is a bit of art and work in the mixing. I add the right proportions of sage, summer savory, bread crumbs, pepper, salt and paprika. I test a piece on the frying pan, and find it good. Then I pack my mixture down tight into small stone crocks, pour melted lard over the top and my sausage meat is done and ready for future use. Nellie, strong of arm, carries the crocks to the store room, and I attach part of the pig’s head, the heart and other small pieces that have been boiling on the stove. These I run through the grinder, and put back on the stove in a double boiler, with an onion, a carrot, salt and pepper and cayenne, and a pinch of thyme and savory. To this is added an equal proportion of corn-meal as the meat, and half a cup of oatmeal. When this mixture has boiled to the desired consistency, it is poured into the bread pans, and put away to cool. In the morning, it will be set in firm loaves. Slices about half an inch thick are cut off the loaf, rolled in flour and fried brown for breakfast. This is always a favorite breakfast with our men.

Head Cheese Finished

Nellie has finished making her head cheese with the remainder of the head. She has a dozen little bowls, with slices of tongue at bottom and the head cheese poured on top. Also she has finished her lard. The table is almost cleared, and Nellie is carrying the lard pails off to the pantry. I throw out a pan of the crisp fat rinds to the chickens. Our dog and cats rush up to share the feast, and I prodigally throw forth the rest of the stuff, but am stopped by the almost wrathful voice of Nellie. She shouts that she can make soap from them pieces you are jest throwin’ away. Nellie has never known any other life that that of the farm, and if there is anything in the world that she can not utilize in some way or another, I don’t know what it would be. It is a matter of real distress to her that our nice modern sink swallows up her dish water, for dish water she declares is fine food for pigs and chickens, and I think Nellie secretly disapproves of the manner of life on a mere cattle ranch. She says that a farm is far more sensible and ain’t got so many airs as a ranch.

Now for a Ride

Now we are all through, and I say: Hurrah, Nellie, here’s where I escape. Come along, and we’ll have a ride before dinner.
She stops in her work of scraping her precious pigs’ feet, and gives me a look of half astonishment, half withering scorn. Nellie does not condescend to even reply to my suggestion, but I read in her face her opinion of a woman who will go gallivantin’ about on a horse, when there’s real work to be done in a house. So I run up to my room,1 get out of my greasy duds, and am into a fresh smelling pongee midge, riding britches and coat, pull on my brown leather riding boots, a kid’s tam for my head, and my Indian gaily beaded gauntlets (which one of our squaws——we adjoin an Indian reserve——specially made for me) and am running downstairs in short order, en route through the kitchen, and out through the garden and the barnyard to the corral, where I know Silver Heels awaits me. As I pass through the kitchen, Nellie inquires with elaborate sarcasm:
Ain’t you goin’ to give me a hand with them pigs’ feet?
I should say I ain’t I laugh back. Throw ‘em out, Nellie.
The best part of the pig! grunts Nellie, I’d like to see me doin’ anything so foolish and wasteful.
She stops her work long enough to examine me with a critical and condemning eye. Divided skirts are the proper garb for a respectable woman is the opinion of Nellie, and I have never been able to convince her that my coat and britches are just as decent and far more comfortable and certainly better looking than the khaki skirts that have a nasty habit when you are on horse of ascending to your knee with every breeze that blows, and a woman in the saddle as much as I am does not want to be weighted down with frills on horseback. So ignoring Nellie’s look of disapproval, I trot off jauntily from the kitchen, not so quickly however, but what I overhear Nellie’s remark, intended maybe for me, and maybe for her own consumption.
Says Nellie:
Pretty soft for some folks as takes life easy and can go runnin’ round doin’ nothing.

Doing Nothing

Doing nothing! I am overcome with indignation. I who have helped to put down about 400 lbs of pig! I am so cross with Nellie that I cinch Silver Heels much too tightly, and he turns about restlessly and noses towards my shoulder. As I throw my leg——I suppose one ought to say limb if one follows the standards of a Nellie——across my horse’s bonny back, and I come out through that barnyard at a neat clip. Before me stretches a wide expanse of rolling meadows, fragrant of new mown hay——for they are still haying, though it is the end of October. Thus it is in Sunny Alberta. I face the beginning of a glorious sunset, lingering in splendor behind that skyline of Rocky mountains. There is a clean, cold nip in the air, a stillness and freshness and fragrance that both charms and exhilarates. As I canter across the country, I forget all about the tiresome day in the hot kitchen, and the mountains and billows of pig. Our dog is leaping around us, jumping up to tease Silver Heels, and I tell him to be gone2 and bring home the milk cows, and I point with my quirt to where a bunch of cattle are grazing on a hill slope. You should see our Patsy then. He is off across meadow and field at a breathless scamper. Now he is on the hill side. That little dog barks at the heels of three of that herd of 20 or 25 head, picking and bunching the milk cows from the rest of the herd and driving them down to the milk shed.
Good old Pat! Nice old Pat! I call at him in reward, but only the wagging tail and lolling tongue and a yelping bark of that small dog reveals that he hears me. Pat is at work, and not to be beguiled by the fair words of a mere woman. Those cows must be taken and driven into the cowshed, and then Pat has a job to close that door with his nose, a trick taught to him by my twelve-year-old boy. Presently as I turn into the path that leads through our woods down to the Ghost River, I hear panting behind me, and lo! Pat, his job done, breathless from his frantic run to catch up with us, yelps for approval. What a dog! A little mongrel cattle cur, with an ugly, shaggy coat, and a comical wise head with one ear everlasting cocked up and two bright intelligent eyes that can fix themselves frightfully upon yours, and makes you think of Alice, Bent Bolt, who wept with delight when you gave her a smile, and trembled with fear at your frown. 3

The Canter Home

We have a dandy canter home, Pat racing and beating us. I don’t have to unsaddle Silver Heels, for by this time, the hands are in, and I am relieved of my horse and bade to skidoo to the house, as the men are hungry enough to eat a horse, and if I don’t have a crackerjack meal for them, there won’t be anything left of Silver Heels.

This is the Life!

As I come into the ranch house, I feel refreshed and hungry, and have forgotten all about being cross with Nellie. She, too, is in fine humors, actually singing indeed as she hustles about getting dinner on time. I see her eye going ever and anon to the window, and I take note that Nellie is singing the same song that that new cowpuncher of ours is whistling over by the corral. She doesn’t invite me to help her get dinner, nor make any odious comments about my lazy life. So I hum the same tune too, swagger upstairs, am out of my riding togs, have a nice cold dip—for ours is a modern ranch, and we like baths just as well as city folk do—am into fresh clothes, and though I have an almost grown-up son (at least he says he is) I feel like a two-year-old as I pull up to the table, smile in approval at the hearty words of that new cowpuncher who says emphatically as he looks at that piece of odious pig’s liver on his plate:
Gee! This is the life!

Notes

1
New sentence in original.
2
be and gone are one word in original.
3
A quotation from Thomas Dunn English’s poem Ben Bolt

People Mentioned

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonym used in this text

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and the User Interface Developer at the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (Simon Fraser University). He is also an M.A. student in English at the University of British Columbia where his research focuses on Indigenous and diasporic Canadian literature; he is currently completing a digital edition of His Royal Nibs.