Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Smokehouse Time

Daw Collins stopped by the cabin long 'bout 10:00 in the mornin' on a Tuesday. It was late fall and the weather had turned right cold. Even at 10:00 they was frost still on the ground under the shade of the big ol' cedar trees over to the side yard. The grape vines wrappin' themselves along the split rail fence still had some leaves on 'em and a few wizened grapes hung kinda lonely like from the vines. Birds will eat them soon enough.

Daw called to Uncle Billy a couple of times as he walked into the side yard. He knew Billy wouldn't be in the house, even though he saw a little smoke comin' out the chimbley. He called again and Uncle Billy answered and appeared at the door of the barn, coffee cup in hand.

Uncle Billy carried a cup of coffee with him 'bout ever where he went on the farm these days. He said he needed it to keep his blood warm.

Daw and Uncle Billy talked for a while and Uncle Billy showed Daw the pile of apple wood he was workin' on. It was hog killin' time round there and folks would start comin' with their sides of bacon, shoulders and hams for Uncle Billy to hang in his smokehouse. Fact is, Daw had stopped to see if the smokehouse was goin' yet.

It was for a fact and both men walked over to stand and jaw a while. Each drew in the sweet smell of smokin' apple wood. When the door was opened a feller could smell the hams and bacon hangin' inside. The smokehouse was dark and wispy smoke came from a raised area in the middle of the buildin'.

In the center was the bottom of a 55 gallon drum with smolderin' sticks of apple wood. Uncle Billy soaked the wood in water and a little cider before he would add it to the pit. Some small splits of hickory were on the side and occasionally would flare up with a small flame. Uncle Billy had rigged a lard can over the smokin' wood. It was on chains so he could raise it up an' down. He would fill the lard can with clear spring water. A few little bitty holes poked into the sides near the bottom of the lard can would weep and drip now and again onto the wood. It would hiss and smoke would rise in place of the flame.

None of the meat was directly over the raised wood pit. Indirect smoke for days made Uncle Billy's smoked meats the best in the state, or least that is what folks claimed.

Daw worked it out to bring over his meat the next day and him and Uncle Billy shook hands on it. When he asked Uncle Billy about makin' sausage, Uncle Billy told him he was a makin' one batch this year. It was a lot of work for an ol' man, even with help. Sometimes he would get a tear in his eye an' tell folks sausage makin' time was when he missed "the ol' woman" most. He would laugh and tell ya that was what they called each other the last couple of years, ol' woman an' ol' man. He would find some good reason to walk away 'bout then and not say much more for a while.

Some of the ladies over to Booger Holler Holiness Church had sewn the muslin sleeve/bags he would fill with his special blend of sausage meat, salt, pepper and spices. They would stop by on sausage makin' day to help Uncle Billy fill the bags and tie them shut at the open end. The strings would be long enough for hangin' from the nails on the long wood timbers on one side of the smokehouse.

On sausage makin' day folks would come with their meat and Uncle Billy would weigh it, write the weight on a paper sack he used for figurin' and put it through the grinder.

Everbody's meat went in together as he added spices, salt and lots of pepper. He worked it with a paddle an' his hands till it was ready. He then put it into the grinder with the filler fittin' on the end. He would turn the crank as someone held a muslin bag over the filler end. When the bag was near full it would be tied off and hung right away in the smoke house.

Days later Uncle Billy would dole out the sausage by the amount you brought. Say he took in 100 pounds of pork meat and y'all brought 10 of that. In the smokehouse they was 50 rolls of smoked breakfast sausage...you folks would get 5 rolls. That was how he worked it.

Folks could hardly wait to get home to fry some of his sausage up. They would pay him way more than what he asked and he would make a fuss an' all, tryin' to give it back to 'em.

His clothes would smell like sweet smoke for weeks as he worked his smokehouse. Since he had to get up a couple times a night to tend the smoke his cabin smelled sweet and smoky for months after. Womenfolks would hug him and tell him he smelled better than the hams. Uncle Billy would slap at 'em with his hat and tell 'em to get on now.

Know what? I reckon I would give 'bout anything right now for a big ol slice of ham from Uncle Billy's smokehouse. It is gone now. Just a pile of broken logs and rusty tin layin' in the weeds over on Arnett's Fork. I would give 'bout anything to see him standin' there in the door of the old barn, coffee cup in hand, wavin' shy like to folks who stopped to see if it was smokehouse time yet.

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