I cooked pork chops last night for me and my pork eating, secular Jewish husband. Clearing up the dishes, inasmuch as I do: it is usually done by this same husband, I carried the pan that these chops were cooked in to the scullery. In it a layer of soft white fat with caramelised specks of meat juice had already formed. I found myself hesitating discarding it as I started scraping out the pan, the distinctive smell and texture bringing up a memory from my far away childhood.
I remembered how my grandmother, the one who lived in a town adjacent to us and whose kitchen I can still recall in great detail, used to make pork scratchings: except it was called “kaiings” in Afrikaans: my mother tongue. I grew up with grandparents and parents who ordered their meat from the butcher, and sometimes from a farmer: the back quarter of a cow, a whole lamb, a whole big fat pig. The carcass or part there-of would be delivered on a Friday afternoon usually, and slapped down on my grandmother’s kitchen table. She and her husband would then systematically start sawing and cutting up the meat, parcelling it out for freezing. And when it was a pig on the table, the skin and white fat would be cut into strips and fried, batch for batch, in a black cast iron pot on the always stoked and ready coal stove in a corner of her kitchen.
I remember always seeing these pork scratchings in her old Fuchs fridge, in mason jars, set in some of the soft white fat rendered along with it. And other jars with fat only: not pure white always but flecked with the pan juices, exactly the texture of the fat that I had scooped out of the pan into a little bowl last night and kept overnight in my fridge.
When I told my husband this morning that I intend having this leftover pork fat on toast for breakfast this morning, he showed disgust, or at least strong aversion to the idea. I was surprised. He loves crackling and he loves schmaltz, which is of course these days vegetarian, and not goose fat rendered by Jews of old. In fact, my one son remarked about 4 years ago that he could tell that I had started dating a Jewish man by the tub of schmaltz which appeared in my fridge almost overnight!
I still had this, this Afrikaans schmaltz, on toast this morning. I set aside my healthy eating plan for ten minutes and savoured the taste which I remembered from that long gone kitchen: cold, soft, white pork fat, spread generously on crusty, warm-from-the-oven baked bread. This morning it melted gently into the wholewheat toast, and the familiar but almost forgotten smell caused a rush of saliva in my mouth and a dart of dopamine in my brain. I had to close my eyes against the sweetness of the memory. Schmaltzy. I know. But real and good. And a part of me forever.