Copyright Linda Marcas 2004 - All Rights Reserved
Crank's Corner April 29, 2004
A Very Bad Idea
With the various versions of "CSI" being the most popular program
currently on television, I've heard that many young people are considering
careers in forensic science. It's a pity that broadcast television doesn't
include an olfactory element, some sort of Smell-O-Vision, to give the
ambitious youngsters an early idea of what they might expect from the
floaters and bloaters and corpses-in-a-can that make such regular, graphic,
gruesome, but ultimately scentless appearances on their tellies.
I'm bringing this up because, very recently, I got myself into a smelly
project for the sake of Art. In my frequent dark moments, I get quirky Ideas
about mordant and morbid projects, projects that any sane person might
reject out of hand. Following my principle of "if you're going to kill it, use
it all," I make meat stocks from leftover bones, and then I use the bones for
odd, wired-together, minatory hangings with odd bits of junk jewelry, beads,
and maybe an aluminum tag with "Trespassers Will Be Soup" appended.
People who've seen them either love them or hate them; I have plans to put
them on eBay, and have actually sold one, a "Trespassers Will Be
Barbecue," to a friend, who reports that someone offered him $50 for it.
I had been contenting myself with using only bones that came from
meals I'd shared with family or friends, but those tended to be mostly turkey
or pork bones, often small ones. I needed bigger bones, if only for the main,
base bone of the hanging. On a recent trip to our friendly neighborhood
abattoir, in search of a pot roast, I asked the butchers if I could get some
bigger, beefier bones. "Oh sure! Leave your phone number, and we'll call
you." Okay. A week or so later, the phone rang, "You wanted some bones?
Come and get 'em." There was some miscommunication; I'd wanted five or
ten pounds of bones, but they had forty-two ready and waiting. I could have
turned some of them down, but I had a sudden attack of greed, so I hauled a
large box of bloody beef bones home in the trunk of my car.
All might have still been well, if I had not become overly ambitious
about boiling the bones clean. I thought I might make beef stock from them,
but I never reckoned with the smell of the tallow. Tallow is beef fat, and,
way back when, folks used to make candles from it. As I learned later when
I looked it up on the Web, tallow stank when it was first rendered from the
bones, then it stank when one formed it into candles, and then it stank a third
time when the candles were burned, particularly if the wicks were made
from twisted wool. So much for Colonial recreation, and never mind
skimming the tallow fat and using the stock; I was sick of the smell and
wanted no part of it.
It was still chilly outside when I began the project, and, instead of
sensibly freezing half of the bones, I undertook to clean them all at once. In
my two largest pots, I began boiling the bones that I could fit. When hubby
came home, I started the two largest bones in the pot that came with the
turkey fryer, but I made a mistake, and put the pot and bones on the stove
before adding the water to the pot. Later, I realised that the pot, with water
in it, was too heavy for me to lift off the stove.
A couple days and a frightful stench later, the weather warmed up,
and I decided that boiling off the bones indoors had been a bad idea. I
moved the pots to the mud room, with the idea of finishing the boil-off on a
propane burner out on the deck. They cooled and gelled somewhat, and I
scraped about a gallon of smelly tallow fat off the top of the bone swill,
hoping to avoid the majority of the stench when I went to re-heat them.
With hubby's help, I fished the bones out of their original pots and poured
the remaining jellied swill into five-gallon buckets, so I could throw it away.
I put as many bones as would fit into the big pot, added fresh water, and
continued the boil. A pot of bones and swill was still sitting in the mud
room, awaiting its turn in the turkey pot.
Bones in, bones out, spill the swill, fresh water, return to boil. Repeat,
repeat, repeat. My litany through all of this, while hubby helped me with
heavy pots and smelly, greasy water, was "This was a Very Bad Idea. I will
never do this again. This was a Very Bad Idea." All the while, I was afraid
that the Entire Mess would go sour and begin to rot, becoming even smellier
than it already was. Between re-heating and adding fresh, chlorinated water,
this never happened, but a partial bucket of discarded swill did turn, after
sitting, covered, in the sun for a couple of days. I was lucky; Hubby Dearest
dealt with it, and fished the bones from the pot for me after the final boil.
So today I spent a couple of hours standing at the sink and scrubbing
off whatever slime and marrow and cartilege remained on the bones after
their multiple immersions; tomorrow we'll put them on the roof to dry out
for a few weeks before I drill holes in them and wire them up into creative
junk. I've learned a lot about beef bones: they're large, they're heavy, and
they don't smell nice when heated. The good part is, I now have enough big
bones to last me for a good long while, as bases for multiple bone hangings.
They might eventually become Art, of one sort or another, but I'm never,
ever, going to attempt to clean off forty-two pounds of bones at one swoop
again. I have a lot of good ideas, and they usually turn out well, but when I
have a Very Bad Idea, it really stinks.
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