S.E. Livingston: The merits of a holiday 'meat day'

Two days before Christmas I wandered through the meat department at Sam's. I stopped a busy butcher to ask a question, but, without even looking at me, he said, "Yeah, yeah ... the prime rib is right over there."...

Two days before Christmas I wandered through the meat department at Sam's. I stopped a busy butcher to ask a question, but, without even looking at me, he said, "Yeah, yeah ... the prime rib is right over there."

"Oh," I exclaimed, "you've mistaken me for a prime rib kind of girl. No, I'm looking for pork butt. Forty pounds of it, please!"

The butcher looked at me, raised his brows and pointed me to the family economy section of the meat department.

I always love a little first-impression mix-up, and it was this prime rib vs. pork butt case of mistaken identity which first warmed my heart to Ernie's upcoming Christmas Eve "meat day." Usually I spend Christmas Eve in a frenetic, competition-style shopping trip -- which I absolutely hate. But Santa won't deliver, so it's up to me to get the goods.

This year, however, Ernie planned to spend Christmas Eve smoking meat and making sausage. Ernie bought himself a smoker this summer. For the sadly uninitiated taste buds in the audience, a smoker is like an all-day grill. You load it up with special wood, such as apple; set it on fire; and then load it up with pounds of meat. Then you have to stoke the fire all day and watch the meat as it gets smoked. For my husband, the combo of fire, meat and long periods of tending is a beautiful thing.


Because he is too busy in his regular life to spend an entire day devoted to meat, he set aside Christmas Eve as the day to "get 'er done."

We bought the supplies, finished the Christmas shopping a few days early and planned to devote the entirety of Christmas Eve to producing food instead of consuming it.

After he got the fire going, Ernie plunged into the business of making sausage.

Now, Ernie and two of our boys are deer hunters. They brought home about 100 pounds of venison, but 40 of it was set aside for making sausage. A couple of years ago, Ernie figured out that if he mixes venison with pork, adds some tasty Fraboni's seasoning mix and bacon grease, the result is wonderful breakfast sausage, Italian sausage and hot Italian sausage.

When our backyard began to smell like Famous Dave's, Ernie began feeding 40 pounds of venison and 40 pounds of pork butt into the KitchenAid meat grinder.

Actually, I don't know what Ernie was doing, because when I looked it was 10-year-old Danny feeding the meat grinder. Danny found the process fascinating. So did Windsor, the Great Dane we were babysitting for Christmas. Windsor is so large that, when she sits on the kitchen floor, her head is even with the meat grinder. She had infinite patience (and drool) watching chunks of meat become enormous pans of ground meat.

Ellen wandered in and began bagging up meat. John had his hands in the middle of a big pan, mixing up sausage. Will wandered in and out of the house, checking the progress of the fire in the smoker.

That was when Veronica, our 20-something, cosmopolitan friend from Washington, showed up at the house. She was in town for a short time and wanted to chat for a bit. She was dressed for an afternoon at the mall, but we handed her an apron and told her to roll up her sleeves and help us pack up sausage. Veronica, always a good sport -- but armed with a sneer -- avoided touching the slime while she flattened and filled Ziploc bags.


With some Christmas music playing, fresh coffee in our mugs (after I dropped raw sausage mix into my mug, I felt inclined to start over with the coffee) and bloody bits of meat clinging to our forearms, the conversation flowed.

When Ernie first suggested "meat day," I felt primal and overly rustic. Who wants to spend Christmas Eve elbow deep in ground meat?

But, I have to say, it was one of the best Christmas Eve days I've ever spent. We were productive without being on the treadmill of mall shopping. There actually was no talk of "What'd I get?" until that evening. It was work within a community. We were producing not more sweets (not that I'm against Christmas treats), but stuff people could use to make family dinners with.

Plus, I was the only one at church that evening handing out raw meat with our Christmas cards.

Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at .

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