My grandfather, Lyle Denman, loved food and loved to eat. I think this must have been true all his life. Ok, this doesn’t make him a gourmet but he did like his meals. And was always interested in where food came from and how you used it or preserved it.
He told the story about traveling with his parents as a young boy, to visit relatives in the West, and many of his memories included food, how they got it, what they ate, etc. He said that on his 9th birthday, which occurred during that trip, he came to breakfast saying “Today I am nine years old and I am going to eat 9 pancakes.” And he did!
Because he was interested, he carried the memory of how things about food were done in the early days of his life and he talked about this with my mother during the interviews they did. Here he was describing the cellar that his father had built under a house in Wakeman, Ohio, that he had moved the family into. His father had sold the farm and moved the family into town when his wife’s parents needed care and now they were in a house of their own. These memories would be from about 1907 on.
“And there was ample room there to store crates of potatoes, crates of apples, cabbages, turnips, squash — all the vegetables. Then there was a place that we had big ten gallon crocks for brine to, for corned beef, and to cure hams and bacon. They would be cured in brine and then betaken out and smoked. There was no refrigeration available at that time as we have now. We did have what was known as an ice box which was kept up in the kitchen. And we would get a chunk of ice and I will tell you more about the ice business later. And that we would store milk in up there, and butter and things.
But most things, the meats, were all as they say, “pickled in brine.” And they would be taken out and smoked. We had ham, we had shoulders, and we would have spare ribs and things of that sort. Father would buy half a pig or a whole pig or sometimes a pig and a half depending how many people were to be fed there. At one time we had a man living with us. He helped to build the mill and that will be another story. He would buy a quarter of beef and we would have it cut up and it would be made into corned beef and we would — in the winter time it would be hung out on our large back porch that Father had built on the place. And we had that screened in so that it could be practically fly-proof, or fly-resistant. And we would hang the beef and the raw pork out there from the rafters of the porch during the cold weather until it got warm and it was no longer safe to have meat hanging out there. We would smoke our hams and bacon; we used corn cobs in a metal tray. We had a barrel, just probably a 50 gallon drum of some sort with both ends out. And the bottom end was where the metal tray on the bottom — we would dampen them down, pour a little bit of coal oil or gasoline, just a small amount, to start a smudge. And then we did get the small pieces of hickory bark and hickory to make a smoke there. And we would smoke hams and bacon in that barrel. We would hang them, maybe only two or three at a time inside the barrel on sticks placed across the top of the barrel. And it would take, it would take a week or ten days to smoke them out sufficiently so they would keep through the summer.
Later, those would be taken — after they were smoked and when the weather began to get warm, Mother would slice them all up and place them in jars of lard. She would have these crocks, a five gallon crock — the ten gallon crocks were used for the brine to pickle the meats or to have the meats cure in the ten gallon crocks.
But the five gallon crocks was where she would — sausage that was made from the pork — a layer of grease would be poured in, then a layer of sausage, then another layer of grease and a layer of sausage, until the five gallon crock was filled with fresh sausage, covered with lard, pork fat, rendered. And from time to time during the summer she would dig that out. That would be, that sausage would not be fully cooked. It would be heated through and partially cooked. But it would be so that in the summertime when we wanted sausage, she would take a big spoon or a little trowel of some sort, or some article, and dig out the sausage and we would have sausage and pancakes or sausage and toast, and French toast and things of that sort. And she did the same thing for ham. Our hams, when the weather would get hot and we were afraid of the flies getting at the hams — the meat would become fly-blown and could not be used — before that would happen, she would have the hams cut up, sliced, and they would be packed in five gallon crocks, covered with lards. And when we wanted a meal of ham, Mother would dig it out of the lard there, whatever we wanted for the meal. And then would, if there was any uncovered, she would pour some of the melted fat back over so that it was completely covered at all times. That was the way we lived there.”