Our foremothers never got a break; they were always keeping one step ahead of the next meal. They made premade gravies, sauces, jellies, bread to go stale for crumbs, among other items to have on hand to add to the fresh meat, fish, and vegetables they would have for dinner. To prepare for my hearth cooking classes I have to do the same thing.
I needed to have pig’s leaf lard to fry with and trotters for jelly. From the lamb came the caul and the lard and marrow bones from the cow. So I called Lemay’s Butchery in Goffstown and placed my order. Within a few days I picked it up. It’s amazing how many parts there are to farm animals and the foods that can be made from them
I chopped the suet and leaf lard in pieces. I put just a little water in the suet to get it started, and gave the leaf lard a good four cups to boil in. These were both simmered, as the water evaporated from the suet, it melted nicely. The leaf lard took a bit longer yet when it was strained and cold, it was a lovely white, soft paste that looks like Crisco. After sitting in the refrigerator overnight, the melted suet was white and hard as a rock, perfect for coffin dough.
Allan cut the pig’s feet in half. They were so long they would not fit into the pot. I scrubbed in between the pigs toes and took a knife and scraped the skin to remove all and any residue. After giving them a good wash into a large pot they went. They simmered for 5 hours then cooled overnight, and then simmered for 3 more hours the next day. Then the liquid was poured off into a clean towel, placed in a strainer, and then the jelly was poured into a jar with a good tight lid. The pig’s feet jelly will be added to gravy.
I rinsed and rinsed the caul and picked the small veins out. I wrapped it in parchment paper and froze it. It is a really nice piece and will be used to wrap forced meat to be fried in the leaf lard and placed in the coffin made with the beef suet. With the marrow bone roasted and browned, I scooped out the inside and saved them for the Lumber Pie. I also made two gravies to have for the two coffins. Thankfully, I have refrigeration to be able to keep these food items in a healthy manner.
The day before the class I walked the farm market in Exeter to find the best carrots, beets and apples for our carrot pudding, the fried beets and custard apples.
There is a lot of preparation needed to have a group come and cook at the hearth. It’s not just preparing some staples ahead of time. There is also the decoding of early receipts that are written in a narrative form that need to be transformed into modern-day measurement, and sometimes food substitutions. However, I enjoy sharing my experiences with others, and though it can be messy and challenging sometimes, I love the connection with the cooks of the past and the present-day participants who come to hearth cook for the day.
“To speak then of the outward and active knowledge which belong to our English Houfe-Wife, I hold the first and most principal to be, a perfect skill and knowledge in Cookery,”
Gervase Markham – The English House-Wife 1683