I recently posted on Facebook of a visit when my son in law had fixed steak for breakfast on the day I left. Rex, one of my distant cousins on Grandma’s side of the family, commented that he remebered my mom cooking steak for breakfast, and what a good cook she was.
That comment brought back many memories for me. Although I don’t specifically remember steak for breakfast, we did have steak often–deer steak. Deer were plentiful in the area and my dad, brothers and uncles would hunt every year. I remember them coming home at the end of the day, bundled up in coats and ear muffed caps, with their bounty. They would take the deer into the shop, where they hung it.
My dad was of the mind that, at least for the most part, women had certain roles. Therefore, I don’t remember any of the actual butchering of the deer. But I remember the deer, usually 3 or 4 of them hanging in the shop. I know they later skinned them and cut up the meat. Most of it would go into our freezer, or if there was an abundance, Dad would take it to the lockler we rented in town. I remember going with him sometimes, happy to be taking boxes of meat to the locker to be frozen for later use. In the summer, I would go with Mom, taking laundry baskets, to get meat. We would come out of the heat into the main/front part of the building, then through a door in the back and past another door with huge sheets of plastic hanging, into the the cold part. There we would find our locker. At first, it felt nice and cool, but if we were there very long we could get very cold, especially our fingers.
Besides deer, we had other game. Pheasants were usually plentiful in those years. The boys would bring them in and Mom would dress them. Those she would fry and we what we didn’t eat that night, she would send them with Dad for his lunch. And there were rabbits. Dad always said when there were lots of coyotes, there were few rabbits and when there were lots of rabbits, there were few coyotes. I remember there were ususally a lot of coyotes. But at least one year, there were an abundance of rabbits. My brother Dick had been bringing home several every day when he went hunting. One day that winter, he and his friend Ernie went hunting and came back with 30 rabbits! We were astonished and hoped they hadn’t cleaned them out. Not so, as the next day they went out again and got around 50 more. That’s when Mom said, “No more rabbits for awhile!”. I think that was the year Dick tried tanning the rabbit skins. Some turned out kind of soft, but others were stiff. But the fur was still so soft and pretty.
Although I didn’t hunt, or help dress the deer, I did get in on preparing the rabbits. My job was to hold the back legs of the rabbit about my knee high, so the boys could gut and skin them. I liked helping, but by the time we finsihed the 30 and then 50 rabbits, my arms were sore! After they were dressed, I would help Mom cut them up. Most years we would just cut them into pieces at the joints and then she would either fry them or bake them in a creamy sauce. (I liked them fried best.) But that year, there were so many she decided to grind the meat. That was another job that I could do She would cut the meat off the bones and I would feed it through the grinder. I can still picture the meat coming out in long tubes. And then I would help wrap it in the freezer paper, and into into our freezer it went.
We always had meat in the freezer. To us it was just meat. But others were amazed, sometimes not in a good way, of the types of meat we had. I remember one time when Dad came home and told us about his experience sharing his lunch. One of the workers saw Dad eating steak and couldn’t believe it, that this common man was eating a steak sandwich! So Dad offered him some. The man went on and on about how it was the best steak ever. At least until Dad told him it was deer steak. We had a good laugh about that.
Mom usually fixed country fried steak. She would pound the steak and put it in a pie pan of flour where I would drench each side, trying to get it all covered. Then she would fry it in about an inch of fat (probably lard) flipping it halfway through and seasoning it with salt and pepper. She also made roasts, usually with carrots, potatoes, and onions. And she always canned some of the meat, perhaps the tougher cuts. I remember how much I loved that canned meat! She usually used it to make something else with, but she would always let me have some fresh from the jar. And sometimes we would have sandwiches of it for lunch. I still get hungry for it.
As Rex remembered, Mom was a good cook. She could make anything out of almost anything. That year we ground the rabbit meat, she used it in different ways. But what i remember best was the rabbit chili she would make. It was the best chili ever. I don’t know if she put any different spices in it or if it was just the rabbit flavor, but it was delicious! My mouth waters as I think of it.