I be­lieve in evo­lu­tion … of ‘crack­lin’ bread, that is THE BACK­YARD FARMER

Westside Eagle-Observer - - OPINION - By Sam Byrnes

When I was a boy we al­ways butchered a hog or two as soon as the weather turned cold. And by “we” I mean my fam­ily and a few other fam­i­lies work­ing to­gether.

My great-un­cle Bill Nolan usu­ally per­formed the coup-de-grace on the hap­less hog. The hog or hogs would be fat­tened for slaugh­ter by hav­ing all the corn they could eat for a cou­ple of weeks be­fore butcher­ing day. They were kept in a small live­stock trailer un­til they were ready. Un­cle Bill would climb into the trailer and strad­dle the hog from be­hind. With one mas­sive swing of his sledge­ham­mer, the hog would be dis­patched and the work of butcher­ing would pro­ceed apace.

Dress­ing the car­cass was done quickly and ef­fi­ciently. Not much was thrown away. The in­ter­nal or­gans and in­testines were cleaned to be used later. The in­testines were used to make cas­ings for sausage while some of the old folks en­joyed mak­ing chitlins out of the large in­tes­tine. I never liked the smell of chitlins cook­ing.

The head, of course, was still at­tached to the car­cass at this point. Later it would be boiled and pro­cessed so that al­most all of it would be used for some­thing. The jowls were choice meat for fla­vor­ing beans, and greens and were es­pe­cially good when smoked. Plus, we al­ways made some souse or head­cheese with trim­mings from the head.

We had a large black pot that had three lit­tle legs on it. These pots were made es­pe­cially for pro­cess­ing hogs and such. The pot would be placed over a hot fire and, when the wa­ter be­gan to boil, the hog would be dipped into the pot, but only briefly. Then the men would lay the car­cass on a piece of ply­wood and com­mence to scrape the bris­tles from the skin. They were care­ful to keep the skin from get­ting too hot, so the car­cass was dipped re­peat­edly and the scrap­ing con­tin­ued un­til the skin was white and clean as a whis­tle — or mostly so. I can re­mem­ber eat­ing many “crack­lins” that had a few bris­tles on them. We didn’t fuss about such things when we were boys.

I still like a good “crack­lin,” es­pe­cially if it is a real “crack­lin” and not one of those blow-dried pork skins you see ev­ery­where nowa­days. A real “crack­lin” has three dis­tinct lay­ers con­tain­ing skin, fat and meat. If that is too much fat for you, just trim the fat off and eat the skin. If you’re into low-carb (which I am not), “crack­lins” make a good snack. Or if you are into good fla­vor (which I am), “crack­lins” make for a won­der­ful snack. Linda can’t stand to be around when I am eat­ing “crack­lins,” but that’s OK. I don’t like to share them any­way.

When we were young, we of­ten made “crack­lins,” and when we trimmed the fat off we didn’t throw it away. Mama would take those pieces of fat and mix them into a batch of corn­bread to make “crack­lin” bread. That was al­ways a real treat for us, but you had to be care­ful be­cause “crack­lin” bread was pretty rich. Eat­ing too much could make you sick.

Nowa­days “crack­lin” bread has evolved, with most peo­ple us­ing ba­con as a sub­sti­tute for chunks of fat in their “crack­lin” bread recipes; and I must say ba­con works well in this role. It sup­plies that won­der­ful fla­vor I re­mem­ber so well from my boyhood. If you would like to make a batch of “crack­lin” bread for your­self (or for some­one you deeply love), sim­ply fry sev­eral slices of ba­con to a crisp. Crush the ba­con into bits and add them to a batch of corn­bread bat­ter. Stir well. Use some of the grease from fry­ing the ba­con and a cast iron skil­let to bake the corn­bread. Place the skil­let with grease in it in a hot oven while you mix the bat­ter and, when the grease is re­ally hot, but not smok­ing, re­move it from the oven and pour some of the grease into the bat­ter. The grease should siz­zle when it hits the bat­ter. Stir the grease into the bat­ter. Pour the bat­ter into a hot skil­let and place in the oven. The “crack­lin” bread should be ready in 20-25 min­utes in a 400-de­gree oven. When bread pulls away from sides of the skil­let, it is ready. Or if you stick a tooth­pick into it, the tooth­pick should come out clean.

I think ba­con-fla­vored “crack­lin” bread has evolved to a good place. In fact, this bread is un­beat­able and is es­pe­cially good with a lit­tle but­ter spread on it right out of the oven, or with a cold glass of milk. Of course, reg­u­lar corn­bread is good this way, too. Linda prefers to eat it with mo­lasses. Our bluet­ick coon­hound, Blue, loves corn­bread of all stripes ev­ery bit as much as we do.

Sam Byrnes is a Gen­tr­yarea res­i­dent and weekly con­trib­u­tor to the Ea­gle Ob­server. He may be con­tacted by email at sam­[email protected] Opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the author.

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