Down-Home Country Lore: Crackling Sausage, Sweet Potatoes, Brining Vegetables and More

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MOTHER brings you useful tips from those who know.

Cracklings–the crisp chunks of meat and skin left over from a lard rendering–are fun to eat “right out of the pot”. But have you ever made them up into crackling sausage? Diane Sleger (of Kewaskum, Wisconsin) does . . . and she uses this recipe handed down to her from her great-grandmother:

Mix one cup of grated potato with each cup of fresh cracklings and season the mixture with grated onion, salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs (thyme and marjoram are good). Bake the mixture in bread pans in a medium oven (about 350° F) for one hour. Then cool and chill. To serve the loaf, cut it into slices and fry them. They’re especially good for breakfast!

And set at least a few cracklings aside so you can try the idea sent in by Mrs. Glen Farrell of Middlebourne, West Virginia. She substitutes one cup of cracklings for the shortening in her favorite corn bread recipe . . . and then just bakes the bread as usual.

At some point on many larger construction projects, you may find that you need a “cant strip” . . . one of those long, thin, triangular pieces of wood used to fill in a corner before some material (such as asphalt roofing) is laid down inside the bend. And there’s no need to tediously rip such strips from 2 X 2’s if you follow the lead of Jan Bevan, who lives up on Hornby Island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. “Hie yourself to the scrap pile of a small sawmill,” he says, “and salvage some of the edge trimmings that you’ll find there. Even a well picked-over pile should yield a supply of the triangular strips, since most mill heap scavengers are looking for larger stuff.”

Jane and Joseph Bewsher of Watervliet, New York have a clever way of skimming mold from their crocks of sauerkraut and other brined vegetables. They fit a piece of cheesecloth right down on the top surface of the fermenting brine. Then, when they want to clean away the scum that has formed on the brew, they remove the cloth, rinse it thoroughly in warm water, and replace it.

It’s easier than you might have thought to fix that leak in the side of the stock watering tank. First find a fully threaded stove bolt that will fit snugly through the hole (you may have to enlarge the opening a little so the bolt will go through). Next find two flat washers that just slip over the bolt’s shank, and cut two circles of rubber–each slightly larger in diameter than the metal washers–from an old inner tube. Snip holes into the middle of each circle of rubber so they’ll snugly grip the threads of the bolt . . . and assemble the bolt, washers, rubber seals, and a nut as shown in the accompanying sketch. Then tighten the whole assembly down until the circles of rubber are firmly pressed against the sides of the tank, and you’ve just fixed the leak . . . thanks to Lynn Klaiber of Tampa, Kansas. Lynn also writes that a leak from the bottom of a tank can sometimes be repaired by draining and cleaning the container and then spreading a quarter inch of concrete over the entire bottom. Refill the tank with water once the patch has hardened and, if the concrete cracks, just repeat the process and smooth on another coat of the same material.

LARD DEPARTMENT: (Watch this space for the latest lard lore!) In MOTHER NO. 39 we asked, “How do you know when the lard’s done?” And the answers are still coming in. Here are two useful additions to the basic information we printed in MOTHER NO. 40:

Becky Deibler of Dauphin, Pennsylvania says that lard is properly rendered when the cracklings are an even brown and you can pick them up without burning your fingers. And Pontiac, Michigan’s Theodore Villella (who helped his folks make lard when he was a youngster) states that, “A strip of cloth soaked in the melted fat should burn with a steady flame. If the blaze spits and sputters, there’s still water in the lard.”

SWEET POTATO ANNEX: We also asked, in MOTHER NO. 39, “How can you store sweet potatoes so they’ll keep?” And here are more answers to that question:

Since Bill Lopez–of Narrowsburg, New York–keeps his sweet potatoes well into the next harvest, his advice is worth heeding: “Because bruised and cut root crops spoil quickly, your sweet potatoes should be free of injury. They should also be cured before they’re put into storage in order to eliminate excess water, to change some of their starch into sugar, and to encourage the ‘corking over’ of any small cuts on their skins. This curing is done by spreading the potatoes out where they’ll be warm (75 to 80 degrees), dry, and well ventilated for ten days to three weeks. After which they may be stored in a moderately humid (75 to 80%), warm (50 to 60 degrees), well ventilated room.”

“And to prevent unnecessary injury to your crop of sweets, dig the potatoes from the side of the row as you harvest them . . . rather than spading in between the plants,” adds Mrs. Homer Darling of Dunedin, Florida.

Folks who live in a dry, light-frost area may want to try storing their sweet potatoes in a well ventilated outdoor bin like the one used by L. Tournat of Wikieup, Arizona. Make an “inverted V” rack out of slats and place it in a slat-sided building that’s about four feet high and constructed on a firm, slightly elevated mound of earth. Gently pile your spuds over and around the rack, spread dry vines over the sweet potatoes, and top the bin with a metal roof.

Of course, no matter how you root-store your sweet potatoes, there’s always the chance that something–a drastic change in the weather, too much or too little humidity in the storage room, a “poor keeping year”, etc.–can cause the crop to start to spoil. “If that happens,” says Lucinda Hampton of Holtwood, Pennsylvania, “boil the whole potatoes for about 10 minutes or until their skins can be removed easily. Then cut them in half, place the halves on a cookie sheet, and set the sheet in the freezer. When the pieces of potato have frozen solid, you can dump them into plastic bags, seal the sacks, and store them in your frozen food chest. It’s one way to save the crop.”

And an elderly couple has shown Emily Emerson (of Phoenix, Arizona) an entirely different way to preserve sweet potatoes: Dry ’em! Peel the spuds and immerse them in a mixture of one part cider vinegar and four parts water in a stainless steel or crockery (never aluminum or plastic) container. Then cut the sweets into 1/8-inch-thick slices and return them to the vinegar-water solution as you do so. Finally, thread the chips on a sturdy string (use a heavy yarn needle to pierce them, if necessary) and hang the threaded slices in a hot attic to dry. Soak the shriveled chunks in water to reconstitute them when you’re ready to bake or fry the chips.