Our fresh beef arrived from The Royal Butcher LLC a few days before my family was to arrive for Thanksgiving. The Royal Butcher packages our beef to sell (purchasing information at underorionfarm.com) and it also fills our own freezer for eating during the year. And even though I send my cows off for butchering today, fall was always butchering time at my childhood dairy farm. My uncles would be there to help and we would butcher a couple of “cull cows”, animals that had finished their productive milk years or had problems settling (not becoming pregnant).
As a kid I remember being caught between sadness and fascination with the process. On one hand, I liked many of the cows we milked over the years. They all had names — Budgy Face, Hannah, Damn it, Judy and Sophie — and you formed a relationship to some extent with every one of the 40 cow herd, so shipping or butchering these cows was difficult. On the other hand, I was captivated by the butchering, when you could see the four stomachs, and how the tendons held things together, and the bones underneath. The meat from these cows filled our freezers for the year.
“The men” as my grandma called my Dad, grandfather, and uncles when they were working together, were in charge of the process. The youngest uncle, Norman, was the one who shot the cows, the worst part. After that moment, something clicks and you can stop seeing the cow as a creature you knew and get to the business of butchering. The kids helped “the men”, who were patient while we cut the hide away from the body (one of the easier jobs, with less of a chance of cutting into something useful) and hollered at us if we started poking at a stomach with a stick (they really smell when punctured). With all the insides out, the hide, head, and feet off, we would split the carcass and hang it in the shed for a week before the cutting and wrapping.
While the beef was hanging my brother and I would cut off some of the thin muscle on the outside of the beef, fold it over a sharpened stick, and cook it over a little fire we made beside the shed. I remember it being very tasty!
One of the cuts from the cow is suet, the hard white fat that grows around the kidneys. My grandma always fed the birds suet during the winter months, often mixed with bird seed. That’s the way that most people are familiar with this fat. But she also fed us suet pudding once a year at Thanksgiving – which tastes nothing like bird food.
This spring I’d been experimenting with some very old, unusual recipes from the Lobscouse & Spotted Dog cookbook, and many of them reminded me of that suet pudding. So, for Thanksgiving, I pulled out my grandmothers round suet pudding mold / steaming tin and found her recipe still inside. I shredded some suet, added to it some flour, molasses, soda (baking), walnuts, raisins, milk and spices. Then I poured the mixture into the steaming tin (a cake mold with a lid that fastens on top), and after three hours of sitting in a boiling pot of water on the wood stove, it was finished!
I served the pudding to my family on my farm at Thanksgiving. I served it warm, sliced thin and topped with maple whipped cream; it was delicious. It tastes like a cross between gingerbread, brown bread and little bit like an old fashioned fruit cake, but without all the candied fruit. I served it with the crabapple brandy we’d made in the fall.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Vermont in the 1960’s and 70’s, I am realizing now, was a pretty unique upbringing. This holiday season when family comes together, and the kids run to another room to escape the “when I was your age” stories, I realize how fortunate I am to have the stories and family close by.