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