Published in the Rains County Leader on July 21, 2022:
The two most often-asked questions in our house are “What’s for dinner” and “Are the dishes in the dishwasher clean or dirty.” The answer to that first question, if it doesn’t include fast food or prepackaged heat-and-eat meals, involves a lot of time and work.
David and I recently made a trip to Greenville, and one of our stops was at Aldi. He rarely goes into the grocery store with me, but this time he made an exception rather than sit in the car in triple-digit temperatures. Besides, he likes to check for sardines and a few other favorites as well as scout out empty boxes for me. On the way home, we discussed how many times you have to handle the groceries – shelf to cart, cart to check-out, check-out to box or bag, bag to car, car to house, house to pantry, fridge, or freezer. It’s no wonder that many of us have become spoiled to home delivery.
As tiring as that first step can be, that is often only the beginning of the work. Several years ago we suffered through an infestation of moths, and I ended up discarding the majority of my pantry stock. After that experience, I store any non-frozen and non-canned food in plastic containers or plastic bags. I’m also a bit OCD about rotating my stock so I use the oldest items first, so putting away my purchases can become a bit of a production.
Preparing meat for the freezer can be an even bigger job – or at least a messier one. I don’t put most meat into the freezer in the original packaging. For one thing, the plastic wrap used by the store isn’t sturdy enough to protect from freezer burn; and for another, most packages contain more than David and I will eat at one meal. I divide the meat into meal-sized portions, wrap them in foil, put them in Ziploc bags, and label them before putting them in the freezer. That last step is super important. It’s amazing how similar a frozen pork chop and a frozen chicken breast look when wrapped in foil.
One of the messiest parts is disposing of the original packaging. The Styrofoam trays and the packaging can be easily rinsed, but those little “diapers” in the bottom really develop an odor quickly. So if it’s several days until garbage pick-up, those items are wrapped in the leftover grocery bags and stored in the freezer for several weeks until I remember to put them in the trash barrel on the right day. The really messy process is preparing chicken leg quarters for the freezer.
From time to time Brookshire’s offers ten-pound bags of chicken leg quarters for $.49 a pound. In this day of $10 a pound beef, who can pass that up? Of course, unless I’m planning to take barbecued chicken to home group, I have to make smaller packages. But first I have to deal with the skin. I usually fix baked chicken, and we don’t like the skin, so I remove as much of it as I can before I wrap the pieces. I understand that modern methods produce much larger birds, but where does all the skin come from? At least a three or four pounds of the ten-pound bag was made up of skin!
Removing the skin without taking some of the meat with it is a rather slow, mindless process, so my mind wanders. I often think about the time and work involved in raising a garden. Back during my years of planting and harvesting, I was surprised at how much work was involved even after the crop was harvested. Peas had to be shelled, blanched, and packaged for the freezer; okra had to be pickled or breaded and frozen for later frying; tomatoes had to be canned or made into salsa. And all this had to happen quickly while the produce was still fresh.
Caring for my small garden and preserving a few jars was exhausting for me, but I can’t imagine what it was like for my grandparents who depended on what they grew to feed their families through the winter. My Aunt Fay recalls being sent to the garden in the rain to dig around and see if there were any potatoes left. She also remembers hearing her mother pray, “Lord, what am I going to feed all these children for dinner?”
That kind of need is beyond my experience, and I really have trouble picturing what Granny went through to prepare dinner for her family on the rare occasions when they had chicken. She had to catch the chicken, wring its neck, drain the blood, and pluck the feathers. I’m sure she left the skin in place to add a little extra nutrition.
But I’m very blessed and very spoiled, so I still whine about how hard I have to work to answer the question “What’s for dinner.” The last time I was dealing with chicken pieces, David added yet another point of view. I was tugging on some particularly stubborn leg skin when he walked into the kitchen. I looked at him and pouted, “Not the funnest job.” He looked at me with one raised eyebrow as he pulled several paper towels off the roll. “Well,” he said, “Kitty just threw up in the living room.” I guess it’s all in your perspective.