November is leaving us, but in a last good will gesture she is sending a few warm days to welcome December. This is the bridge between autumn and winter, and as we cross over it, we leave behind the brown, tattered remnants of November and greet the white, wintery days ahead.
The chill winds of November have stripped the trees of the last of their autumn finery; their bare limbs shiver in the cold. Gone are the songbirds; gone are the katydids. The melancholy chirping of the crickets is stilled, and woolly worms creep now where their fiddles once played a mournful melody. The landscape is often covered with white frost, and a skim of ice forms in water puddles.
The comforting sight of wood smoke curling above country chimneys attest to the cheery fire burning inside, and the frosty air is scented by the homey smell. We hurry through last minute chores, eager to return to the warmth of the house. It is time to move indoors, and get prepared for the onslaught of winter.
These last few weeks have been spent in preparing for cold weather. In fact, in the country, our summer is geared toward getting ready for the cold winter months. We spend the warm months planting and harvesting food to put up for winter, when the flourishing garden is but a memory. Mom used to tell us youngsters that she was canning food for "the snowy days." We still raise a garden with an eye toward putting away supplies for the winter.
There is nothing to compare with the assurance of a full cellar and piles of firewood, stacked and covered for winter's use. In our own cellar, there is row after row of canned vegetables, potatoes in the bin, and a deep freezer with our own pork and beef.
I can imagine how our pioneer forefathers felt when they were ready for winter. With their log cabins chinked with mud to keep out the icy winds, the backlog cut for the fireplace, and heaps of wood stacked against the cabin wall, they would be assured of life-giving heat.
In their attics, they would hang bunches of dry onions by their tops, sprays of dried herbs for medicinal uses, and leather britches threaded on a string. Pork and wild meat were salted down and hung in the smokehouse, and sausage was fried down, placed in a crock or churn, and covered with melted lard. They had to dry or pickle most of their food for winter. It wasn't an easy life by any means, but it was a matter of survival.
We used to can our sausage, placing it in a quart jar and sealing it with lard. Taken out of the jar and fried on a cold winter morning, along with hot biscuits, it was fit for a king's table. Mom also canned pork ribs and backbones together, and it was country food at its best.
Daddy usually butchered around Thanksgiving Day, and sometimes on that day. I dreaded helping to work up the meat. We ground sausage and lard on an old hand grinder, which was a tiresome and arm-aching job. When Mom rendered the lard, it left a cloying smell in the kitchen and grease was everywhere. She would put the pork rinds in a pan and render them in the oven. Those crispy pork rinds were the best thing in a hog-to a kid, anyway.
She would caution us about eating too much fresh pork, and would fix cooked apples or applesauce to eat with it. When we finished grinding the pork, she would dig some fresh horseradish and have us grind it. With a little salt and vinegar, it made a tasty condiment. It would sure clear your sinuses when you ground it though!