Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hog Killing Time

by Jas Faulkner 

Reminder: Next week the ENFM will feature their annual Fall Festival!  Check here on Monday, October 7th for more information.

Readers outside of the Nashville area probably picture my hometown as a more of an overgrown small town than the cosmopolitan metropolis that it really is.  Like many entertainment industry hubs, the best way to describe the population of Nashville is: "nearly everybody here is from someplace else."  

This demographic shift has contributed to some big changes in Music City's culinary diversity.  Are you a displaced New Yorker looking for a taste of home? There's a restaurant near Vanderbilt called Noshville that offers deli food Big Apple Style. Nolensville Road is a culinary UN, with establishments representing the foodways of nearly every continent. No matter where a Nashvillian may hail from, there is something here that will give them a touch of "back home."   My home city's culinary profile is not just about bringing everything from there to here. Nashville Originals is an organization devoted to promoting local restaurants whose chefs work at the edge of the continually evolving definition of Nashville cuisine.

Another aspect of this change can be found in our recognition of the holiday calendar in terms of the accepted wisdom of when and to a much lesser degree what is eaten at certain times of the year. The ways in which Middle Tennesseans eat, especially during the winter holidays, is getting less distinguishable from the rest of the country. What many transplants don't realize is that divergent regional traditions in the holiday bill of fare were still the norm less than a century ago.

Thanksgiving is a classic example of the way regional differences can affect what's on the menu.  The Thanksgiving pictured by Norman Rockwell is a version that has its roots in the Northeast.  While the custom of having roast turkey, dressing and cranberries is pretty common across the US now, in the first half of the Twentieth Century, Thanksgiving was considerably different for many Tennesseans, especially those who still lived in rural areas.

The cooler weather meant that many families were devoting the time off from school and work to prepare for the winter months. The last of the produce was canned, frozen, and stored in cellars and the next step, slaughtering and parceling the meat usually occurred in November.  Often referred to as "hog killing time," the long Thanksgiving weekend usually entailed families gathering to slaughter livestock and then butcher the carcass.

This was, well, actually it is a communal process.  Once the animal is killed and the meat is cut, much of it is either sent into a deep freeze or a smokehouse.  Meals center around this activity and the recreational/subsistence hunting that takes place once the livestock chores are completed.  If there is deer or turkey meat to be prepared, a similar process ensues.

Because of this, many families might enjoy a pork roast and vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner (midday) or supper that evening.  The next day, the traditional breakfast would consist of tenderloin and biscuits, gravy, grits, fried potatoes and eggs. Tabletop condiments for breakfast usually included molasses, apple butter, butter, and home canned or frozen fruit.  For the rest of the weekend, there might be a cookout, but for the most part, meals were made from leftovers.

Did those 20th Century Tennesseans ever feel their holiday was lacking?  Not really.  It was a time for fun, telling family stories and yes, giving thanks.  According to one person who remembers those Autumn days fondly:

"But then we always did that, give thanks.  Getting up in the morning is as much a reason for knowing there  would be food on the table and a roof over our heads.  We were always thankful for both every day!"

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