About Sacred Food

When I was a smart-mouthed youngster (as opposed to a smart-mouthed elder, I suppose), on a hillside on Uncle Ed’s ranch up the Little Chumstick out of Leavenworth, Washington, The Old Man said something that has never left my mind.

It was the first deer hunt I’d been invited to tag along and observe. I was ten. My father had just taken a nice fat doe – meat much needed by our three-growing-boys family. He was starting to field dress the deer – with which he was demonstrably pleased – when I uttered some inane off-the-cuff comment.

He turned to me and tried to hand me the knife. “Maybe you’d like to do this very important job, Jimmy.” I hastily demurred, suddenly wishing I knew how to keep my mouth shut. “No… Sorry,” was about all I could manage.

The Old Man looked at me with his patented, somehow-all-at-once angry, patient, kind and loving, look and said, “This is sacred meat, son. Any meat taken with respect and prayer and prepared with love and offered as life-giving food is sacred. No different from the plants we grow and take from our gardens and the orchards. Sacred.” As he turned back to the deer, clearly about to demonstrate a process I had best never forget, he said, “Now, we can laugh and have a little fun, but we damn sure hafta treat this beautiful animal as if we were going to feed it to your mother and brothers and our friends.”

Over the years, many foods became sacred in my family, along with certain “sacred and traditional” meals. As son-in-law Chris and I headed to Denver from Rochester, Texas, “sacred food” was bouncing around my mind. We had about 2/3 of the meat from the two wild hogs son James had taken at the very last possible moment of our long-anticipated hog hunt (thus, saving our bacon – and our hunt). We had discussed how those pigs would become sacred meat.

We had ribs and loins and shoulders. We had meat for chops and BBQ and sausage. And we each had at least one hind quarter – one ham. Those hams were fodder for anticipation.

James, once he returned home to Paris, Texas, would take the meat to Detroit Processing, a nearby small-town company, owned for more than two decades by a Mennonite family. The family has an outstanding reputation for game cutting and wrapping, sausage making and ham curing/smoking. James had tried several of their products, and they would prepare the hog meat for him and Candy and family.

Chris had found a cure he intended to use for the ham his family would enjoy for Easter.

I had made arrangements for Eric Burvee (he and wife Shannon are Cascade Mountain Grilling) to play with whatever ham(s) I might somehow bring home from Texas. I’ve enjoyed any meat Eric has cured and smoked, and we thought it might be a kick to see what could be done with a wild hog ham.

Chris and I hit Denver Friday evening and sorted out pig meat. Saturday morning, before I pointed my rig back toward Paradise, Central Washington, daughter Tena prepared the traditional sacred family hunters breakfast: sourdough waffles, game sausage patties, eggs.

We have made the game sausage for many decades. The sourdough starter we treasure is at least 150 years old. I got it from mom and my Dad Ray more than four decades ago, and it now resides with a handful of us “sourdough keepers.” An old Alaska gentleman brought the starter to Seattle “sometime around 1900.” He passed some of the culture on to a young couple there in about 1915, telling them he had no idea how long it had been since an old “sourdough” handed him a crock of it back in his youth. My folks got it in 1960, and passed some on to me in 1965.

This is sacred stuff. Odes and essays have been written to celebrate the wonders of sourdough (including some to my own). Brad Johnson, editor of the south-of-Denver daily rag for which I first wrote this weekly column back in the 1980s, once wrote a remarkable piece, “The Sourdough That Took over Castle Rock.” Impromptu poems written in celebration of my high-country elk-camp sourdough pancakes, while inappropriate for a family paper, were creative, reverent and exuberant. Now and then, in the midst of such a breakfast, there are spontaneous outbursts returning us directly to the timeless joy and nurturing of our parents.

Oh yeah, those hams. James reports his ham steaks are delicious. Tena told me that their Easter dinner was built around the ham Chris cured. How was it? “Awesome!” The wild hog ham Eric Burvee cured here in Paradise? It is exactly as I hoped it would be – perfect.

We are all making plans for how we will deal with the wild hog meat to be collected on our next trip. Given what we have learned from this first hunt, we will have a lot more meat next time. It will all be exactly what we wish to use in sustaining ourselves and our communities – after all, this is sacred food.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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