Pig's Tail Supper
As a kid on the farm about three times a year a meat cutter relative from Burns Packing outside Calgary would put on his famous 'Pigs Tails Supper'. Spring, summer and fall. On the south side of the Ghost dam (you can't drive across the dam anymore) is a nice big beach. The land is/was owned by the Stony indians around Morely. They let us use the beach free for years. As we lived so close to the 'Stoneys' sometimes when things were tough for them they'd send someone to our place sometimes in the middle of the night. One regular was 'Moses-Jimmy-John'. He'd show up after supper and just stand there and not say a word. My dear mother would greet him cheerfully and suggest that we couldn't use all this elk meat and would he be so kind as to help us out by taking say a quarter? He'd tie the quarter onto his horse and without saying a word walk off. That's why our family were the only 'Whites' who were allowed access to the beach. I digress.
Back then the beach was covered in silver skinned popular driftwood. There would be about fifty of us, mostly family but as with every other special occasion some families who were struggling were always invited.
Picture a ten-twelve foot diameter bed of glowing embers about a foot thick. The meat cutter relative would have already slow cooked the pigs tails in a huge twenty or so gallon stock pot I suspect at the meat plant. Back them employees could do that sort of thing. The cooking took a couple of days or more.
There were maybe hundreds of little pigs tails in a delicious tomato sauce with all sorts of "secret ingredients". Then the 'dish', I'll call it, was transferred into two eight gallon stainless milk cans. These were brought out to the beach early on a Saturday morning and set on the edge of the embers to keep hot. There was also two same sized milk cans with peeled potatoes to be boiled and another milk can of peeled carrots and another of peeled/cubed turnips. Another couple of milk cans for hot water. A couple of empty tin five gallon Rogers syrup tins to use for washing up. Another milk can for the evenings most special treat: Hot chocolate made with lots of rich farm cream. And even marshmallows for toasting when after diner. Someone had made a handy rig for two women to safely lift the milk cans by their handles on and off the embers. Like a long pole with a woman at each end with the rig in the middle. Like what 'cannibals' used.
About mid afternoon the ladies had organized the supper. Everyone brought their own bowl and cutlery and mug and GOD HELP YOU if you misplaced any of it! I remember kids with small flour sacks holding all their 'gear' tied to their belt. Drift wood benches were everywhere. When it was time to eat there was an unwritten 'pecking order' about who the ladies would ladle out the meal to first. The oldest women who were too old to be helping were first. Then the oldest men. Then all the children were served and basically told to "go away and leave us in peace". The older girls were tasked with caring for the younger kids. No "mommy come sit with me" business. Then everyone else. You'd walk up to where all the milk cans were lined up on a big low plank. A ladle of 'pigs tails' then a big boiled potato then some carrots and turnips then a couple of fat slices of home made bread with lots of homemade butter. Find a bench and start in on the pigs tails. Unbelievable flavor! Gelatinous floppy things about six inches long. Fatty with a series of little bones end for end. In between the slightest suggestion of meat. We'd slurp and gnaw and spit out the little knuckle-like bones. Tomato sauce dripping off ours chins. Dripping fingers to be cleaned off simply by using your mouth. No napkins. The glacier fed freezing water was right there for a final clean up for those who dared.
For us kids there was never any need to line up for 'seconds'. There were always some kids who weren't finishing their supper. Just walk around and ask "are you finished with that"? The big sin was to ever leave food on your plate and GOD HELP any kid caught throwing any uneaten supper in the bushes. So the hungry kids were happy to 'clean up' someone else's bowl.
After supper the 'men' would all take a walk AKA walk around to the next beach where they could enjoy some 'quite time' with a few bottles of one of my uncles moonshine. Us kids were NOT welcome! We instead were given 'marshmallow sticks' whittled out of willow branches. (All the sticks were later gathered up and taken home by someone to be used at the next 'Pigs Tail Supper.' Such was the frugality/conservation practiced in those days.). The mouth burning molten marshmallows and a hot cup of creamy hot chocolate. The fire was built up and gradually the kids were taken to the cars and trucks and laid down under home made comforters and told to go to sleep. Which we did. The adults stayed up and then they too one by one gradually drove off for home with any leftovers in pots brought from home for such a hopeful eventuality. The women had washed up everything before dark and stored things in cars and trucks. The fire was extinguished with gallons of water. The dead embers were shoveled into the lake.
Our family went to that beach a few times a week for 'camp fire supper' for many years. That was where my mother and a few aunts learned to love fishing for rainbow trout. Spin casting rods and a worm and a bobber. Later they would travel all over Alberta on their 'women's only' fishing trips.
The railway tracks were only a hundred yards from the beach. Every evening at the same time a freight train, I guess from Vancouver, heading to Calgary and beyond would go by. At that point the train was always going very slow. The engineer would wave and smile. Us kids would make a motion like we were blowing the train whistle. When we did that the engineer would blow the whistle until he rounded the next bend. Whenever we had 'Pigs Tail Supper' everyone would stand near the tracks and wait for the train to arrive. Sure enough it always rounded the corner on time and about fifty men women and children would all make the whistle blowing motion and the engineer would blow the whistle.
What wonderful times those were
The attached photo is of me and my sister now departed at a 'Pig's Tail Supper'.