Fit for a pig

After the potatoes were dug, as recently reported, I picked 'em over and stored the good ones for winter. The yield was so good this time that I had but a pail of small ones to heave, and I cooked 'em off for my neighbor's biddies. Hens won't eat raw potatoes, but go for boiled ones first rate, so I stoked my mini-range in the picnic gazebo, set on the lobster-size kettle, and in no time had a rich, ripe, comfortable plenitude of potato perfume that wafted from the gazebo and down the field toward the shore. It is a warming smell, and I wondered if it might reach somebody who wouldn't expect it and cause him to moisten with sudden hunger. And it made me think of Jim Andrews.

Jim grew up neighbor to us at the farm, and during the war he took a job in the shipyard. To be near his work, he moved into an apartment development of some size and we didn't see Jim and Mary for some time. Then, with the war still on and ships still critical, here were Jim and Mary back in town. No, he hadn't given given up his job - he was now commuting - but he couldn't stand living in the apartment house any longer.

On account of the corned beef and cabbage.

Jim said it didn't make one bit of difference what day it was or what time of day or night, somebody in the big apartment building would be cooking off a feed of corned beef and cabbage, and the constant flavor annoyed him. His only recourse was to move, so he moved. Jim said, ''Nobody loves a boiled dinner any more than I do, but not all the time, day in and day out, the clock around. Time came when Mary made a boiled dinner, and I just couldn't take it!'' Even goodness, quoth the Bard, can come too much.

So I asked Jim why a good farm boy like him would be so spleeny, and I said, ''Didn't your mother ever cook off turnips for the pigs?'' Jim said, ''Yes, she did - but I didn't like that, either.''

I don't know if the rest of the world goes for the rutabaga the way we do in Maine and the Maritimes. On Prince Edward Island any dinner plate will offer meat, potatoes, turnip, and ''with-its.'' Whenever a Prince Edward Island farm boy went to Boston to seek his fortune, he'd take two trunks - one for his clothes and one full of turnips. We aren't much on turnip greens, but we like a good purple-top boiled, mashed, and buttered. And always in a soup. And we did boil turnips for the pigs. On a brisk winter morning, with the thermometer down four clapboards, a steaming pail of boiled turnips from the kitchen will gladden the hearts of the most downcast swine and cause them to sing like canaries. Mixed in will be the table orts, some warmed skimmed milk, a touch of salt, and a dipper of meal.

Delivering this confection is a pleasant chore. As the aroma of my potatoes wafted down the field, so precedes the effluvium of hot turnips so the piggies know what's coming. They are gleefully anticipatory and communicate this bonhomie with paeans that cause the barn shingles to vibrate like zither strings. A herd of hungry pigs in full cry is a gladsome thing. The chore boy's efforts are thus rewarded, and the house will smell of boiling turnips until it gets aired out in the spring.

In later times, as refinement accrued, we had a caldron on a stone arch where we could cook anything useful to the stock, so we didn't stench up the house so much. My father used to tell how he drove a horse to tidewater one time and fetched home a pungload of frozen tommycods. These would be in the nets when fishermen brought up smelts, and they made good pig feed if boiled. So all that winter the pigs got hot fish chowder every morning, potatoes and turnips stirred in with the meal, and my father had the job of keeping a fire under the caldron. He'd heat the chowder up every morning, and anybody knows that the longer you cook a chowder, and reheat it, the better it gets.

So my pail of potatoes boiling on the mini-range in the gazebo reminds that the animals made out well. They ate pretty much as well as their owners, and never had cause to feel inferior. The kitchen might stink, but prosperity was afoot.

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