Nutrition as fine art
THE university has a professor of nutrition. I was unaware that this oblique branch of the liberal arts and sciences had been elevated to academic refinement, so upon hearing this I sat right down and gave the matter as much thought as it deserves. I thus thought about Sarie Dingley and the time she got grammar. Sarie and Paul lived over on the Hardscrabble Road, nigh side of Starvation Corners, and although they had to get along on the products of their own farm, Sarie was a genius with pots and pans, the best cook in Sagadahoc County. She brought nutrition up to a fine art, and every meal at her table was a banquet. She could take dried-up pea beans left over from Spanish War surplus and tip them out into a tureen so Ol' Zeus himself would have scooted from his nectar and ambrosia and tied right in. Come haying time, or ice cutting, when the men helped one another, dinner at Sarie's was the high point of the season, and up in that section of Maine they still talk about her green tomato pies. Then one day the boy, Mordecai, went off to Or'no to college.
Mordecai was their first-born, their pride and joy. Ever since he had come along, Sarie and Paul had skimped and saved to have tuition, and then he got a scholarship in contour plowing, so off he went. At the end of his first semester, he came home, and Sarie and Paul and all his brothers and sisters were eager to see what an education was doing for him.
Come suppertime, Sarie put the food on the table and she sings out, ``All right, now - everybody set!'' After supper, Mordecai took his mother to one side to explain to her that ``sit'' and ``set'' are two different words, and he gave her the benefit of his first semester. This pleased Sarie, because it showed they hadn't wasted their hard-earned money, and the next morning when Sarie put breakfast on the table she says, ``All right, now - everybody sit theyselves!''
Which proves that nutrition does have its cultural side. The greatest single support of prosperity was always the hog barrel. Out of his hog barrel the old-time farmer fed his pigs, which in turn larded the lean fare of subsistence and made everybody glad. The hog barrel stood handy to the sty (or sties) and might or might not have a cover - those were different days and it probably didn't. It was never failing, like the Widder Cruse's oil bottle, because as often as its contents were lowered to feed the pigs, they were built up again with skimmed milk and table scraps from the house.
It was a put-and-take program, allowing time for the milk to sour. And no matter what the milk barons and the professors of nutrition tell you, milk was meant to sour, and the best authority on this was the pig. On the Eastern family farm we knew that without a cow we couldn't grow on a pig. The cow's bounty kept pitchers full on the table, and ``risin' pans'' full in the butt'ry, and after cream was lifted for buttermaking, the skimmed milk went in pails to be dumped in the hog barrel. (That's bar'l, really - throughout.) Milk for cream churning would already have started to flex its enzymes, and there was no hesitancy from then on. I have personally polled numerous pigs, and without exception they have commended sour milk.
From the time a piglet was weaned, it got some feed grain mixed with the milk and scraps, but our Eastern farms didn't have those amber waves and we had to buy the stuff at a feed store. Bran, shorts, and middlings - all byproducts of flour milling - and, for ``fattening off,'' good corn meal. Plus spare pumpkins, apples, turnips, and whatever cobs of sweetcorn we found after a frost.
But that skimmed milk was the foundation, and without a cow the pig's board ran costly. The one thing to know best about feeding a pig is to give him no more at one time than he'll clean up. Never give him so much that he leaves some food in his trough. Feed him just enough and feed him often. So every time anybody went past the hog barrel, he would pick up the paddle, stir the mixture, and dip with a pail to put just the right amount in the trough. One of the happiest sounds in nature is to hear a contented pig eat.
I was maybe 10 or 15 years old when our ancient Uncle Timothy, who considered himself the official family pig custodian, got a bundle of farm bulletins in the mail from the county agent. It was his introduction to the professorial lingo of the Extension Service and the USDA, and he was much impressed. It had long been his custom to go to the barn just before suppertime and feed the pigs, coming back to wash up and sit down. But now, erudite with a new knowledge, he'd go to ``administer nutriments.''