essays

All But the Squeal

My father Olaf was one of twelve children raised on a farm outside of Fargo, North Dakota.  I remember our yearly summer vacation trips to my Aunts and Uncles farms. We would set out in the middle of the night with all four of us kids in the back of the car. Sleeping arrangements were as follows: the smallest ones, Vernon and Patricia, each in one of the floor wells; the oldest, Keith, on the seat; and me in the back window. I remember my father trying to make the trip without stopping and my Mother yelling please stop the kids have to use the bathroom. I loved the trip and the anticipation of the farms and the animals, but not the arguments. 

55chevyBack home, one Spring day we set out with my father along with his younger brother, Uncle Rubin in our 1955 Chevy. The destination was the Foulke farm for what I thought was a visit to look at the various animals. We drove on a dirt road past a very old, large oak tree and a white farmhouse in need of paint to the pens just past the rickety faded red barn with its wide open doors. You could smell the pigs right away, and for some reason, maybe all those years in the Dakotas, I knew the difference between horse, cow and pig. My father told us to look at the pigs and have fun picking out the one we liked the very best. The males were enormous and wallowing in mud and slop, AKA garbage. In separate pens, huge females were nursing their litter of piglets. It did not take long to find the one we like the best, and then tell my father and uncle. When we did, they came by and quickly shot the pig in the head.  All of us were stunned, frozen as we watched the animal’s hind legs tied and the carcass dragged to that large tree and heisted high on a branch to hang over a barrel.  It was gutted so the blood would drain and made into “blood pudding” by my mother. 55chevyShe was home preparing the kitchen and sewing cloth tubes that would hold the blood pudding. I really do not remember what took place after that until the next morning. In the basement, we had a large chest freezer. It now was jam-packed with white waxed paper packages full of different cuts of meat. I knew I would not be eating any of it. I went upstairs to the kitchen.  When I opened the refrigerator, (not much bigger than two ice trays in those days) I saw the pig’s boiled head, with its eyes staring right at me. My father said, “Do you want to help pick the head for head cheese?” I was mute. When he removed the head, I could not move. “Remember, we use everything but the squeal,” he said. How could anyone forget that.

Wayne Brokke is a former restauranteur, raconteur, TV chef, and cookbook author (I Can Cook, You Can Cook). He can also drink more than most other humans.

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