- CHRISTMAS TIME -
Christmas time at the Tan House was always a busy
I remember when I was about fourteen years old...
First, John would kill the pig about a fortnight before
Christmas in an open shed with a concrete floor which was by the back
door. After killing it, the pig was scolded and the hair scraped off.
It was then rinsed down with cold water, and a potato placed in its
mouth to keep it open. Then 'all hands to the fore' to help lift and
drag the pig on the bench into the back kitchen. It was then hauled
up and hung on to a huge iron hook fastened to a large oak beam in
the ceiling. Its innards were removed, including a large amount of
fat, which was later rendered into lard. The carcass would then be
left to hang for a couple of days to set.
After two days John would cut up the pig. It was lowered on to the
bench again and John would cut down the middle making two sides, or
flitches as they were called. He would then remove the backbone, or
chines as we called them, on which there was quite a lot of meat.
Then underneath the backbone he cut away a lot of lean meat, which
the shops call undercut and charge the earth for. We always enjoyed
supper the evening when the undercut was cooked. The flitches would
then be carried into the dairy ready for salting, and were placed
on a large stone slab.
John was very good at killing pigs and dressing the carcass, he was
so clean and careful about cutting it up. His knives were like razors,
he was quite well known amongst his farmer friends for doing a good
job. He was good at other skills too taught by Grandfathers and Dad,
such as castrating lambs and docking horses' tails (which is illegal
today, but in the days of horse drawn vehicles their long tails became
entangled with the reigns and so were docked).
Dad taught him a few veterinary skills too, such as removing warts
from cattle with a secret recipe passed down the generations to the
eldest son to Dad's father. And although Dad was not the eldest son,
his elder brother John passed it on to him as he was not at all interested
in farming and did not have a son. And so Dad passed it on to my eldest
brother, John. The recipe was good and proved successful removing
very large warts. Again, John was well known for providing this service.
Grandfather Davies as a blacksmith and wheelwright attended to horse
aliments such as lampas, fistalow, treating horses with colic and
drenching them, coldshoeing and repairing carts, which he taught to
Dad and so it was passed on to John.
In the long winter evenings he was taught how to weave baskets and
make walking sticks. He would search the hedges for a young hazel
branch and train it by tying it to a stronger branch to grow tall
and straight, long enough to make a stick. The root formed the handle
which he would trim and shape. The baskets were weaved from long straight
hazel wood, split into strips. They were very strong and hard wearing.
He also made large skip baskets for carrying fodder to the animals.
Now, back to the salting and curing of the flitches. First a thick
layer of salt was sprinkled over the stone slab. Then the rind side
of the flitch was rubbed well with salt and placed on the slab, rind
side down. A thick layer of salt was rubbed into the meat side, paying
special attention to the ham and around the ham bone, around which
salt peter was added and rubbed well in and then a sprinkle of sugar
added around the bone. The other flitch was placed on top having had
the same treatment, with a thick layer of salt to cover.
After two weeks the flitches were turned and changed over, and more
salt added, during those weeks always keeping an eye on them, for
as the salt penetrated more salt was added.
At the end of those two weeks (a month in all), the surplus salt was
brushed off. The flitches were tied firmly to iron rods and taken
outside and washed down with cold water to remove any salt left. They
were wiped dry and taken into the kitchen and hung on hooks in the
My parents were very good at salting, I don't remember us having any
bacon turn bad, ever. When my mother began to ail and couldn't help
Dad, I helped him and so learned from him.
Then there was faggot making using the pig's liver, which was quite
large. Mam would use other ingredients: bread, onions, apples and
herbs too, and so would be able to make three to four dozen faggots.
They were lovely.
Next came the rendering of fat from the pig into lard. It was placed
in a large crochon, or pot, with a handle over the top, which sat
on the fire hob all day to melt slowly into lily white lard for making
cakes and general cooking.
After that came steaming the puddings, using the crochon again sitting
quietly on the hob all day.
Christmas Week we would be feathering the poultry, hoping the weather
would be frosty to keep the poultry fresh, there no fridges around
at the time.
The winters seemed much colder in those days. The mats were taken
up in the living kitchen and feathering was done besides the fire.
Dressing the poultry would be done in the back kitchen. Next day,
Mother would insist on papering the kitchen for Christmas Day and
all the brass on the wall of the chimney breast would be cleaned and
polished. Fortunately the room was panelled half way, which left only
half the wall to be papered.
Christmas Day after breakfast and the usual chores done, the brass
spit was clamped to the mantelshelf. It was wound up with a special
key which made it revolve, so many turns to the right, so many turns
to the left. This would rotate the goose and cook it slowly. Underneath,
a large dish was placed on top of a brass stand to catch the goose
grease. John would supervise the cooking with a long handled toasting
fork and a glass of Mam's home-made orange wine at the ready.
Some of the goose grease was saved for medical purposes, such as a
cold on the chest. I remember as a child having a tight chest, so
mother would smear the grease on brown paper and place it on my chest.
If we had a sore throat or nasty cough she would put a small ball
of butter in a cup, roll it in sugar and a tiny spot of vinegar and
we were made to swallow it. The alternative was having to swallow
a spoonful of goose grease, or a spoonful of fat when frying bacon,
which always seemed to sooth the trouble.
During World War II, Stan my brother was with the Eighth Army in Italy.
He became friendly with a local farmer who was elderly and suffered
with his chest. Stan sent home for some of his favourite cure, goose
grease, to doctor him. Mam sent him a tinful. Stan had great faith
in the grease. He was always 'doctoring' himself, and would swallow
it by the spoonful. We never heard whether the poor man recovered!
We would be all morning preparing vegetables etc. I can remember about
twelve to fourteen sitting down to dinner which was laid in the dining
room on the large table.
Auntie and Uncle Powell came for Christmas and stayed for a couple
of weeks. They came for Michaelmas too, when we always had goose.
After dinner was over and the table cleared it was a route march to
the kitchen, no dish washing machines about at that time! We usually
finished in time to hear King George V on the radio at three o'clock.
At four, Mother and Dad would go to milk the cows. Tea was laid, a
waste of time as everyone had eaten a big dinner, no room left for
tea, but we all enjoyed a cold meat and pickle supper. It had been
a long day for the women folk.
Some years later Stan and his wife and six children came for dinner
on Boxing Day. Cecil and Winnie usually joined us for Christmas Dinner
plus Cecil's two boys, Terry and Martin.
Dinner was laid in the kitchen and the children served first. Auntie
Powell was so taken at the sight of seven little boys all looking
so innocent and cherubic, hair parted and rosy cheeked, sitting all
in a row, on the bench at the table, eagerly awaiting to be served
with dinner. After dinner the children went into the dining room,
which they had to themselves, with plenty of fruit, nuts and sweets
to romp and play at will, and have a happy time. Whilst next cleaning
the room one would find nut shells everywhere. I think they had a
happy time and enjoyed themselves. It was lovely to see them happy,
but rather tired, as they left for home.