Family Table of Preserved Stories
After fall when they are fat on dropped acorns and from freely gleaning in the fields, the family pig, who depending on “wealth” could often be a solitary representative for the annual slaughter that would "during the next twelve months give body to soup, flavor to potatoes, stuff cabbages, fill sausages, and get salted and dried and suspended from the ceiling.” (John Berger) The animal became an important part of the story of survival for the family, especially as the thinness of winter settled in. The significance of the pig was well understood throughout the months prior as they were often treated as a member of the family and would eat just as well.
Over in some parts of Spain at the pig harvest time of the year the rear leg is heavily salted to draw out moisture and then carried to the ceiling of the sky- into the nearby mountains, away from the year-round warm oceanside climate where cooler temperatures will cure the meat for another year or so in a wonderful example of harmonious adaptation with the natural landscape. This version of uncooked ham is called serrano ham with the name serrano meaning “of the mountains,” and it was there that were built secaderos, or drying barns, who used the dry air of the region to gracefully carry the ham through their curing process to be preserved for time to come.
Late fall and early winter always stir these thoughts and tales of pig harvest traditions as this cold post-farm moment invites the perfect time to stuff, smoke, and cure meat for the year- especially in accord with the season of holiday feasts that follows in tow.
For those who have always been curious about venturing into the world of preserving meat there is included in the monthly featured recipes the technique for making your own bacon. It’s a perfect first-go as it's easy, safe, and as deliciously rewarding as a homemade treat should be. This recipe is the one I’ve used and tweaked for many years for well over a hundred batches of bacon I’m sure. For me this belly is destined to enliven this winter's miso soups.
Somehow the often money-buy-stuff event of gift-giving that comes around this time of year has threaded its way into a prominent part of the land-based traditions that anchor our calendar. A story about that is shared among the featured recipes and possibly told here before that explains a little about how. It involves starting traditions from scratch for those who like me were handed a certain amount of multi-generations-old cultural erasature. The story centers around kielbasa and a stand off with the oldest member of the family who can still recall some of the dissolved traditions.
The continued commitment to the resulting kielbasa recipe that my loved ones now receive as a gift every year, that I hope they may recognize now as our family's own, has after enough years come to feel like a member of the family itself to me. The recipe has become an heirloom because it accumulates our stories over the years. This sums up well the hopes behind why we share these techniques and ideas in this monthly cycling of virtual word soup. In these times when legitimacy is mistakenly sought through flimsy disposable things like social media platforms, we have greater hopes that these "skills" can turn into reoccurring gifts, traditions, and stories that become woven deeply into the every day writing of your life's unique epic poem that inspires natural beauty into the unseen future.
If you're feasting sometime in the coming weeks, may your table be full of great stories from the past year or years.