Hop Sing groaned and rolled over. A loud scraping noise from above his head had jerked the oriental man from deep sleep. Normally, a sound in the night would have sent him scrambling to investigate. This sound, however, was known to him. Little Joe was crawling on the roof above Hop Sing's bedroom in an attempt to sneak back into the house after a secretive night out. The housekeeper raised his weary head and peered blearily at the wind-up alarm clock next to his bed. The moonlight streaming through his window glinted off the metallic hands of the clock and revealed the time.
3:40 a.m. Hop Sing muttered a Cantonese oath. Twenty minutes until he had to get up for the day.
When the alarm went off twenty minutes later Hop Sing rose and began his daily rituals. After lighting his kerosene lantern the small man made his way to the kitchen, which sat adjacent to his room. There, he added some slivered wood to the cook stove, where the coals had been carefully banked from the night before, and stoked the smoldering coals into a blaze. He set the large tea kettle on top to heat and made his way to the upstairs water closet.
Down in his bedroom again, Hop Sing quickly dressed for the day, combed out his black, waist-length hair and rebraided it in his customary que. After retrieving the now warm teakettle from the stove, Hop Sing poured water into the wash basin on his dresser. He washed his face, brushed his teeth with a bit of sassafras root and shaved carefully, all by lantern light. Now he was ready to tackle the day's work. It was 4:30 a.m.
Set into the kitchen floor was a door. It was so well made that, apart form the hinges which sat flush with the wall and a ring set into the floor, it was almost impossible to tell it was there. Hop Sing snagged the ring with his fingers and tugged. The door came up easily on well-oiled hinges. He slipped the ring over a hook set into the wall and the door stood open. A stairway led down into darkness and, holding his kerosene lantern high, Hop Sing descended into his own private kingdom.
Ben Cartwright had planned wisely when building his home and had carefully blasted and pick-axed a large, deep cellar. Hop Sing walked between bins for holding a multitude of harvest vegetables, shallow shelves full of summer preserves and large, round cheeses, deep shelves for the days milk and large barrels filled with pickling brine.
He walked by the butter churn and his own pride and joy; his workbench and shelves holding precious stores of dried herbs and medicinal powders.
At the end of the cellar there was a large, well-built door held shut with a heavy iron bar. Hop Sing slid the iron bar back out of it's bracket and opened the door. The tangy scent of an October morning greeted the housekeeper as he climbed the stone steps into the dim, pre-dawn chill. He scurried through the last, stubborn remnants of his herb garden and across the barnyard. Fog-like tendrils of breath trailed behind him.
Moving into the warmer atmosphere of the stable side of the large barn, Hop Sing gave Cochise a quick pat on the withers before ending up at the back of the stable. There was a man-sized door there, separating the horse side of the barn from the livestock side. Once through the door, Hop Sing found Charlie, an old, retired cowhand that had worked the Ponderosa for many years before cheerfully accepting the role of livestock man and bunk house cook.
Charlie was carefully stripping the last few drops of milk form the udder of one of four milk cows lined up in sturdy stanchion stalls. Two satisfied looking barn cats lay nearby, attesting to the fact that Charlie had shared a little of the mornings milk with the wily mousers. A few of the ranch's chickens strutted curiously about the interior of the warm barn but the majority had gone out the little door on the far side of the large room to have the grain that the old ranch hand had scattered earlier. That was the best way to remove the chickens from their cozy nests every morning. Opposite the cow stanchions were many wide troughs filled with hay, nests and fresh eggs for the gathering.
"Good Morning, Mister Charlie." Hop Sing greeted his bunk house counterpart.
"Good Mornin', Hop Sing!" Charlie greeted the little cook. "Had us a fine milkin' this mornin', we did. Filled me my two big buckets and almost got my milkin' pail full, too. Seems like the gals, here, know that winter will be settin' in soon and want to give the last of their summer milk while they can. They's good girls." He patted the rump of the nearest Jersey cow and stood with a stretch to relieve the kinks in his back. Normally he would use the milk pail for the milking and pour it into two large buckets but this time he handed the full pail to Hop Sing. The large buckets were already full. He pointed out a reed basket near the entrance to the stable.
"Chicken's gave almost four dozen this mornin'. Should be almost enough to fill 'ol Hoss up." Charlie joked. He took a shoulder yoke off the wall and settled it on his shoulders. Hooking the chains from either end to the handles of the large buckets of milk, he carefully rose and lifted the heavy buckets. Hop Sing carried the other pail and, quickly scooping up the basket of eggs, preceded Charlie back through the stable door and across the barnyard to the cellar way.
Once in the cellar, Hop Sing and Charlie quickly strained the milk. Normally, the milk would then be poured into large, clean milk pans to let the cream rise but there had been so much milk over the last two days that Hop Sing decided it was enough to make a batch of cheese so he had Charlie leave it in clean buckets. Charlie filled one large, metal pitcher full of fresh milk and one basket full of potatoes from a bin close to the upstairs steps. He carefully set half of the eggs on top of the potatoes.
"Hop Sing, I m takin a hunk o bacon outta the smoke house fer the boys this mornin , would you like anything outta there while I m at it?" Charlie asked thoughtfully. He liked the little Oriental man. Hop Sing was an efficient and meticulous housekeeper but was always willing to help out when Charlie needed it.
"Not this morning, Mister Charlie, thank you. I use barrel ham for breakfast today."
"Ok. Sounds good. I gotta couple guys that need some of yer special magic, too, when ya get a chance. Danny s been complainin of an earache lately and ol Hub says he s had a belly ache fer a coupla days." Charlie shuffled his feet a bit. "This colder weather is kinda kickin my rhumatiz up a bit, too. Iff n ya don t mind, I could use some o that tonic ya made up fer me last winter. I be real appreciative."
Hop Sing nodded enthusiastically. He was proud of the fact that his skills were appreciated and needed here. "I do it this afternoon, Mister Charlie, when cheese is done."
Charlie smiled in satisfaction and, toting his breakfast goods, departed. Hop Sing filled a smaller pitcher with fresh milk, placed a dozen eggs in a small basket and scurried up the stairs. Time was wasting and there was so much to do.
After depositing the milk and eggs in the kitchen he quickly dashed back down to the cellar to fish a large ham out of the brine barrel. The pork-pickle brine was a mixture of salt, maple sugar, saltpeter and water boiled together. Brine preserved hams were a nice break from smokehouse hams. Grabbing up several large potatoes, Hop Sing made his way back to the kitchen and lowered the cellar door.
Soon the cook had two large skillets on the stove full of good things to eat. Sliced ham sizzled in one while in another fresh potato slices fried. Coffee perked next to it. Hop Sing took down biscuits from the keeping cupboard and placed them in the oven section of the wood stove to warm and quickly mixed together the ingredients for flapjacks. Next he put a large teakettle of water on to heat. Snatching up dinnerware, the harried cook raced to set the table. He pulled a loaf of bread from the keeping cupboard, sliced it and set it on the table along with plum preserves, grape jelly and strawberry jam. The pitcher of fresh milk was set out, too.
Looking at the clock, Hop Sing scurried to take the boiling teakettle off the stove, snatched up a bucket of cold water from the pump over the sink and raced upstairs. He placed the bucket next to the basin in the bathroom and poured the boiling water into a ceramic pitcher on the other side. Now, when the Cartwright s came in to wash and shave, they could mix hot and cold water in the basin.
Next he quickly swept out the ashes from the large fireplace in the large common room and put them into the ash bucket. Hop Sing piled logs onto the log cradle and started a new fire with practiced ease. The room began to warm up.
Hastening back to the kitchen, the cook stirred the frying potatoes then removed the ham slices to a platter in the oven and replaced them in the skillet with new ham slices.
He pulled out another large cast iron skillet and set it on to heat while he broke eggs and mixed them together for scrambled eggs. There were sounds coming from upstairs. Soon it would be time for breakfast.
When the ham was fried, Hop Sing put the slices on the platter in the oven and made ham gravy in the skillet. He stirred the scrambled eggs once more and began to make flapjacks. He stacked the flapjacks on a warm plate on the back of the stove. He could hear footsteps on the stairs and men s voices. It was time to serve breakfast. The clock read 6:00 a.m.
Hoss Cartwright loved breakfast. He loved his other meals, too, but breakfast was his favorite. A chance to start the day with good food and good company. He smiled appreciatively at Hop Sing as the cook bustled out with the mornings fare. There was crisp ham slices, fluffy biscuits with rich ham gravy, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs, golden brown flapjacks with brown sugar and maple syrup, sliced bread with jams, jellies or preserves and plenty of fresh milk or hot, aromatic coffee.
Ben Cartwright looked up the empty stairs with a small frown on his face.
Where s Joe? Isn t he joining us this morning?
Adam Cartwright looked up from his breakfast, sniffled a little, then smiled caustically.
Since when is Joe ever on time, Pa?
Hop Sing, with another plate of flapjacks in his hand, stepped into the dining room as Adam spoke and caught sight of Joe descending the stairs. He thought it was about time to put his two cents in. Speaking in his native Cantonese the small Chinese man broke into one of his favorite rants.
Little Joe is always too tired to come down to eat. My food isn t good enough to get him out of bed. Mister Hoss gets up in the morning just for my food, but does Little Joe? NO! He is too busy running around all night and crawling over my roof to come down to eat on time. Does he worry that he wakes me in the middle of the night? Of course not!
Hop Sing continued in a similar vein as the three older Cartwright s chuckled. They were used to hearing their cook rant and rave at the drop of a hat. Joe, however, blushed slightly. Unlike his father and brothers, he could understand some of what Hop Sing was saying. He was just glad that he was the only one. He glanced guiltily at the little man and shoveled scrambled eggs onto his plate in an attempt to appease the frustrated cook.
Joe was immensely relieved when Adam spoke up.
Hop Sing, I almost forgot. I brought down a nice buck last night on the way home. I bled it and cleaned out the entrails. He sniffled again and Hop Sing looked up from placing another helping of flapjacks on Hoss s plate. Adam continued. It s hanging in a tree just a mile or two away so I ll bring it in later today. He cleared his throat and sniffled once again. Hop Sing looked meaningfully at the dark haired man.
Is that where you get cold? You wash deer belly out in creek and get wet?
Adam colored slightly. I guess I got a little wet. I ll be fine.
The little cook glared at the oldest Cartwright son. You be fine when I say you fine. When you get home tonight you take medicine I fix. He stomped off to the kitchen, mumbling as he went and leaving a contrite looking Adam behind. The other men seated around the table simply shrugged and grinned. They knew better than to get in the way of Hop Sing and his nurturing ways.
The rest of the meal was finished with happy gusto by Hoss, enjoyment and conversation between Ben and Adam and quiet grumblings from Hop Sing whenever Joe looked like he was beginning to pick at his meal. After the Cartwright s had departed for the morning s work, Hop Sing ate his breakfast, cleared the table, boiled water on the stove and filled two large dishpans with warm water. He washed the dishes efficiently and scrubbed the wooden counters down with a mixture of sand and lye until they gleamed.
Now it was time to make cheese. Once again opening the door and ascending into the cellar, Hop Sing made his way to a small sack hanging from the ceiling. In it was stored the dried stomach of a calf that had been salted and hung in cheesecloth to preserve it. This would provide the rennet necessary for forming cheese curds. He carefully opened the sack and broke off a portion of the stomach. Placing this in a bowl of water to soak, he moved about the cellar collecting the other things he would need and took it upstairs to the kitchen. The ranch s cows produced enough excess milk for him to make a batch of cheese every other week or so and that meant he could keep the family and ranch hands in cheese almost year round. It was a good, nutritious addition to their meals and traveled well when wrapped and placed in saddlebags.
Next, Hop Sing skimmed off the cream from the previous evenings milking and set that aside to add to the cream from other milkings. The cream would eventually be made into butter but that was a project for tomorrow. He took the skimmed milk and the whole fresh milk from the morning milking upstairs and poured it all into a big, enamel kettle on the stove. The milk was heated thoroughly. Hop Sing then took the small piece of calf stomach out of the water, being careful to squeeze every last drop of water from the lining, and poured the rennet-filled water into the warm milk. Then the milk was stirred and pulled off the heat to sit on the back of the stove while the little cook prepared for the pressing.
Back down in the cellar, Hop Sing pulled the cheese bench away from the wall. It looked like a normal sitting bench but one end was shorter than the other and it had three grooves that ran down the middle of the seat . He set a pail at the shorter end and lined four wooden cheese hoops up on the bench, fitting large, wet cheesecloth squares in each one. The hoops had a round, wooden lid that was slightly smaller than the circumference of the hoop. These lids would have weights put on them later. Hop Sing had seen some cheese hoops with fancy presses that were tightened down but he thought that it was just as easy to use the large stones he had found years ago. They were just the right size and weight for his needs. Upstairs again, the milk had thickened almost to a pudding-like consistency. Hop Sing took a long knife and cut deep into the mass several times over, then let it sit. The curds and whey began to separate. He place a large cheesecloth in a colander and poured the curds and whey into it until all the whey drained away into the sink. After it was all drained he put the curds back in the pan and salted them, turning and mixing as he went. Then the cook took the whole pan down to the cellar and filled the four hoops to overflowing with salted curds. Carefully pulling the ends of the wet cheesecloth up and over each cheese, he placed the round lids over each hoop and placed a heavy stone on top. They would settle slowly all day, squeezing the remaining whey out of the cheeses and compacting the curds into a solid, round cheese. Sometime tomorrow he would be able to take the cheeses out, trim them, sew cheesecloth around each, dip them in melted paraffin wax to seal, and store them on a shelf until they were cured enough to eat. Hop Sing was very pleased with his morning s work.
Now it was time to think of dinner. Hop Sing had packed a lunch for Hoss and Adam, for they were going to be up in the north pasture all day, so he would only have to feed Joe and Ben. An easy prospect, considering Hoss s normal appetite. He went out to the smokehouse and, taking a large meat cleaver, chopped a nice hunk of beef from the flank of a hanging, smoked side of beef. With a few carrots, onions, potatoes and dried peas from the cellar added to the cut up beef, Hop Sing soon had a hearty beef stew simmering on the stove. He mixed cornmeal, baking soda, salt, eggs, lard cracklings and buttermilk left over from the last butter churning. Pouring all this into a greased pan he set it in the oven along with a pan of halved apples sprinkled with cinnamon and brown sugar.
When Joe and Ben came in from a crisp morning spent mending corral fences they were greeted with a savory beef stew, crackling cornbread with sweet cream butter, baked apples, fresh milk and good, strong coffee. It was just what they needed to take the chill off and give them the energy to finish their afternoon s work.
Hop Sing, this is mighty good stew. Ben remarked. I ve been meaning to tell you, I saw the Widow Petrov after church yesterday and she said she would have the rest of the harvest ready to deliver sometime this week. I told her you would stop by to see her on your way home from town on Wednesday and arrange a time.
Very good, Mr. Cartwright. I will have cellar ready for all the good things! Hop Sing beamed.
This was one of his favorite times of the year. Harvest. Ben Cartwright had a very handy arrangement with Widow Petrov. Her husband had been a good cowhand for Ben before a stampede had taken his life. Ben had offered her enough money to take her and her five children back east but the stubborn and proud Russian woman had come up with a better solution. She had asked to sharecrop a run down ranch that belonged to Ben and sat on the edge of Ponderosa land. It was only around thirty acres but it had a good stream flowing through it and several fruit trees. With her stamina and the help of her children she had turned the ranch into a produce farm. Ben had also given her children free roam of his lands to hunt berries for jams and preserves. Her rent to Ben was half the produce and fruits she raised. The other half was more than enough for her family with enough left over to sell in town. With her profits she had bought a boar and several sows. She now sold the Ponderosa and several other ranchers pork as well as produce. Hop Sing was very happy with the situation. Already this summer and fall Widow Petrov had sent over fresh peas, beans, cabbage, sweet corn, new potatoes, watermelon, and several dozen jars of pickles, jams, jellies and preserves. Now that harvest season was almost done it would be time for the keepers to go into the cellar. Pumpkins, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, apples and pears. Hop Sing loved having all of natures bounty at his fingertips. With his weekly Wednesday trips into town for staples, he felt that they were very well stocked, indeed.
After Joe and Ben left Hop Sing cleaned up and headed for the cellar once more. Lighting two kerosene lanterns on each side of his work bench, he sat on a stool and carefully reviewed the items he would need.
For Danny s earache he lit a candle and brought forward a small beaker. Dr. Martin had presented Hop Sing with an assortment beakers and vials for Christmas two years past and they were among the housekeeper s most prized possessions. Pouring a measure of mineral oil into the beaker he heated it to just shy of the smoking stage. He reached up to a shelf above him and retrieved a small, covered basket. Scooping up the heads of several dried calendula flowers from within, he dropped them into the hot oil and stirred. He set this aside to cool. He would strain the oil and instruct Danny to soak a bit of cotton in the oil before bed and pack it in his painful ear overnight.
Hop Sing knew Hub suffered from a touchy stomach. Dr. Martin had never found anything serious but the little Oriental man was sure it was simply a dietary imbalance. He had had good success with a remedy in the past and he thought it was a good bet to try it again. Reaching up once more, Hop Sing brought down a tin filled with the leaves and roots of the herb angelica. It was a great all-around stomach tonic for stomach ache, cramps and indigestion. Carefully measuring out an ounce of the crushed roots and leaves into a small mortar bowl Hop Sing then took a pestle and ground them even finer until he had a powder. Then a measured quantity of brandy was poured over the powder, resulting in a tincture. Hub would be given a spoonful of tincture three times a day.
For Charlie s Rheumatism Hop Sing made a decoction by boiling devil s root, cleavers and meadowsweet together and straining the mixture into a large mason jar. He would have Charlie drink a cup twice a day.
Now he was
ready to concentrate on Adam s sniffles. He knew that they were a
precursor to a cold, so he was going to try to treat the cold beforehand.
He made another decoction, this time boiling together yellowroot, elderberries,
peppermint leaves, the flowers and roots of the yarrow plant and the leaves
of the purple cornflower, which Dr. Martin called echinacea. Hop
Sing made a large batch, straining and filling several large mason jars,
for it was the beginning of cold season and he knew Adam would not be the
first. He would give Adam three cups of the bitter medicine three
times a day, whether Adam wanted it or not. Satisfied with his medicinal
efforts, Hop Sing cleaned up and brought his potions up stairs. It
was time to think about supper. He would drop all but Adam s medicine
by the bunk house on his way to the chicken coop. There were a few
too many roosters about and Hop Sing knew just what to do with a couple
Ben, Adam, Hoss and Joe trailed wearily into the warm, cozy ranch house and hung up hats and coats. It had been a long day. Hoss and Adam had stopped on the way home and brought the deer on in to the smokehouse, where it would hang for a few more days until it was properly seasoned and tender enough to finish butchering. Unbuckling their gun belts and placing them on the credenza, the tired ranchers moved into the sitting area. The table was set and ready. Good smells wafted from the kitchen and Hoss began to noticeably perk up.
Somethin sure smells good. I think I ll just go take myself a look see. The big man moved to the small pantry way that separated the kitchen from the dining room. On one wall there were floor to ceiling shelves filled with various types of cutlery, dinnerware and special occasion glassware. It also had small kegs of molasses, syrup, tins of baking soda, salt and other spices. On the other side of the pantry way was a counter for holding food when not on the table. The space below the counter held barrels of flour, sugar and cornmeal along with sacks of beans and dried peas. The screen-doored cupboards above the counter held the weeks baking. Cakes, pies, bread, biscuits, rolls, cookies and doughnuts. Hoss was sure that Hop Sing wouldn t mind him having a doughnut. He was almost ready to swoon with hunger. He reached for the large jar holding the crisp, brown pastries.
Mr. Hoss! You spoil your supper if you eat sweets now. I bring supper out, you eat good food before sweets.
Hoss reluctantly trailed back toward the sitting room.
The Cartwright men lounged happily around the roaring fire. Supper had been consumed with gusto and now they were taking their coffee in the sitting room. The checkerboard sat between Hoss and Joe. Adam held a book in his hands and Ben relaxed in his favorite chair, soaking up the heat and the company. He noticed Adam s attempts to quiet a cough between sniffles and was just about to comment on it when Hop Sing appeared by his elbow with two cups in his hand. The little man glanced knowingly at the patriarch of the Cartwright clan and was reward with an equally knowing smile. Hop Sing moved toward Adam.
Mr. Adam. I have cold medicine for you.
Adam looked up in alarm. Hoss and Joe looked up in eager anticipation, grins spreading across their faces. Their older brother had placed his book down and was trying to put a stern face on before the little housekeeper.
Now, Hop Sing, Adam began, holding up one hand to halt Hop Sing in his tracks. It s just a little sniffle. Nothing to be concerned about. You can take the medicine back and . . ."
"The medicine go right into your mouth, so drink." Hop Sing demanded in a no nonsense tone, thrusting one of the cups past Adam's upraised hand and placing it squarely before the startled man's face.
"But . . . I really don't think . . ." Adam looked imploringly at his father but found no sympathy there.
"Drink. I wait." The diminutive Oriental stood unmoved and unmoving in front of the oldest Cartwright son, holding the cup steadily in place. Adam could hear the stifled giggles of his two younger brothers. Rolling his eyes and sighing in a martyred fashion he reluctantly took the cup and downed it with one swallow.
"Gaahh!!" Adam tried not to make any noise. He had had the medicine before and knew it was unpleasant. He swore he would drink it down in stoic fashion to show his brothers that he could take it like a man.
Unfortunately, his body
had other ideas. His face screwed up, his eyes squeezed shut and
his tongue stuck out. "Ack! Gimme!" the dark haired man
gasped as he extended his hand out for the second cup Hop Sing held.
He grabbed the cup of warm honeyed brandy and gulped it in one swig, sinking back with relief into his chair now that the torture was over.
Joe and Hoss were howling with laughter. Adam just glared at them menacingly.
"Your turns are coming, little brother's. This is just the beginning of cold season. You're bound to have at least one before springtime." Adam had the satisfaction of seeing both his brothers sober up immediately. Hop Sing took his cups and started off toward the kitchen again.
Mr. Adam. I give you another dose at breakfast, dinner and supper
tomorrow." He did not have to look behind him to see the look of
horror on Adam's face.
Hop Sing had retired to his room with several items of clothing that needed mending. Socks that needed holes darned, seams that had split and most noticeably, a pair of Joe's pants that had a hole in the seat. If Hop Sing were a betting man, he would wager that the hole had come from a certain backside sliding on the roof over his head. Now the mending was finished and the weary man was settling down for sleep. The last thing he did before resting his head on the pillow was to wind the alarm clock and set the alarm once again. He blew out the kerosene lantern and snuggled down with a sigh. It was 9:00 p.m.
the night he once again heard the scuffling noise on the roof above.
He promptly covered his head with a pillow and went back to sleep.
Following his morning routine, breakfast, and dipping the green cheeses in wax, Hop Sing prepared for the weeks washing. He always washed on Tuesday's, just as he always, weather permitting, went to town on Wednesday's and baked on Saturday. It was easier to arrange the busy workings of homelife if there was a schedule to follow. He hauled the large, copper washboiler up from the cellar, followed by 2 round, tin washtubs and a large, wicker clothesbasket. The washboiler was designed in a long oval shape to fit over two of the cookstove holes. He hoisted the copper tub onto the stove and filled it with pail after pail of rainwater from the outside barrel. Hop Sing stoked the stove with lots of hardwood to bring the heat up high enough to boil a large amount of water. He then placed the round tubs on the floor next to the stove and filled them with cold water.
While Hop Sing waited for the water to heat, he collected all the laundry for the week and sorted it. Then he took the items of clothing that needed special attention for stains and spots, placed them in the sink and wet them thoroughly with water from the hand pump. He placed a washboard in the sink, dipped his hand in a bowl of lye soap, spread the soap on the spot he wanted to work on and began to scrub the articles of clothing up and down on the washboard. This was the only way to remove the really soiled spots on clothing. Good old elbow grease.
Laundry was something that he knew well. His father ran a laundry in town and Hop Sing was raised working in one. Some women preferred to shave lye soap into their water but Hop Sing was a strong advocate of using the new Borax soap that could be bought at the store. He was fortunate that Ben Cartwright was a wealthy man and could afford to buy soap. The little oriental man liked lye soap well enough for the tough stains but he thought the new Borax soap kept the clothing brighter and newer looking. He carefully scooped up a measure of his precious Borax laundry soap from it's paper sack and poured it into the boiling water.
Taking an armful of clothing, Hop Sing fed them into the washboiler, now bubbling happily on top of the stove. He took up a paddle that looked somewhat like a smaller version of a rowboat oar and, pulling a chair over to stand on, began to stir the contents of the washboiler in vigorous circles. After what seemed like a reasonable amount of time to the housekeeper, he lifted on piece of clothing after the next out of the washboiler and dropped it into the nearest round washtub below.
Climbing down from his chair, Hop Sing knelt beside the tub and swirled the clothes vigorously around in the rinse water, scrubbing them against each other to release all the soap. Then he transferred the clothes to the second washtub for a second rinse. He repeated the process to get every last bit of soap out, wrung each piece out as thoroughly as he could and placed it in the wicker basket. Then he took them out to hang on the clothes line.
He refilled both rinse waters in the round tubs before the next batch of clothes. When he came to the whites, Hop Sing added to the final rinse tub a small packet of bluing to help brighten the whites. When all the clothes were hung out to dry and the washtubs and boiler had been rinsed and stored away it was time to make the noon meal. Washing had taken all morning.
That afternoon, after the Cartwright's had ridden away again and Hop Sing had cleaned up, it was time for one of his twice weekly butter churning sessions. A large ranch such as the Ponderosa went through a lot of butter. While the bunkhouse had access to the smokehouse and it's own pantry for dry goods such as flour and beans, Charlie depended on the main house for the vegetables and cheese from the cellar, the strained milk and eggs he brought in every morning and the butter that Hop Sing churned.
First he scalded all his utensils with boiling water, for you could never have everything too clean for making butter. Then, with his clean paddles and utensils, and a large bucket of cold water, the little man made his way down to the cellar. Hop Sing had a large, barrel-mounted churn from back east. He made too much butter for a smaller crockery butter churn.
Skimming the cream from the previous nights milking he poured it into the top opening of the barrel churn, where it joined the cream skimmed from previous days. The skimmed milk then went into a large pitcher on the shelf for use with the day's meals. Between baking needs, the occupants of the main house and all the bunkhouse boys, milk never lasted long enough to go sour as long as it was kept in the cool cellar.
Hop Sing closed the little door on top of the barrel churn and began to rock it back and forth. It sat on curved wooden rockers like a rocking chair and the liquid inside sloshed back and forth with a loud splashing sound. After a while the sound changed and it sounded like something thumping back and forth in the liquid. After a little while longer, Hop Sing opened the top and skimmed out the butter grains into a large enamel pan. They looked like little yellow grains of rice. He unplugged the bung hole at the bottom end of the barrel and let the rich, acidy buttermilk flow into another large pitcher. There would be buttermilk biscuits and pancakes for the next couple of days for everyone.
Taking the grainy butter over to a work shelf he poured cold water over it and slowly worked the butter with a wooden paddle, letting the cold water wash away the excess buttermilk. He rinsed and refilled the bowl many times, washing the butter and working it over and over until the water ran clear and there was no buttermilk left in the butter. He salted the butter and packed it into several bread pan shaped tubs, covered them with a clean cloth and stored them on the shelf next to the milk.
After the butter was churned, Hop Sing opened the cellar door and threw out the rinsing from the slop bucket, then went upstairs to clean the bucket thoroughly. He brought boiling water down in the bucket and cleaned out the barrel churn. After letting it empty he repeated the process until he was certain that the barrel churn was completely clean and scalded before he cleaned the other utensils just as carefully and put them away.
By this time, the washing on the line was dry so Hop Sing gathered it up. He folded and put away everything that did not need ironed, sorting as he went for items that would need to go in his mending basket. He brought all the shirts and linens to the kitchen for pressing. The flat iron went onto the stove to heat while Hop Sing placed the ironing board between the kitchen sink and the table. Next the little man sprinkled each item of clothing with water, rolled it up tight and put it back into the wicker basket. They would stay damp until he needed them. By this time the flat iron was hot. Placing the first damp shirt on the ironing board, Hop Sing tested the flat iron by spitting on it and proceeded with the ironing. He had to return the flat iron to the stove after every shirt to make sure it stayed hot enough to do a proper job.
By the time ironing was done it was getting late and Hop Sing knew he would have to hurry to have supper on the table in time. He would keep it simple and quick tonight. Jogging to the smokehouse, the cook hastily grabbed several paper wrapped steaks from a steer that had been butchered only days before. The ranch went through a lot of beef and one was killed almost every other week. Along with wild game that was brought in, fish, pork and chicken, the cow hands and the Cartwright's were able to keep themselves in fresh meat fairly often. When there was no fresh meat to be had, there was smoked meats or salt pork or brine ham. Soon it would be cold enough to have a large butchering of hogs from Widow Petrov and several head of Ponderosa Beef. Some of the beef would be smoked and jerked for use on the trail or during roundups. Most, however, would be carefully cut up and wrapped, set in the stone smokehouse to freeze and taken out to thaw when needed. More clever ways were needed during the hottest months of the summer to keep fresh meat but with as many mouths to feed as the Ponderosa had, it didn't seem to be a problem.
Tonight it would be fried steaks and mashed potatoes with gravy. Hop Sing had taken a large pitcher of buttermilk to Charlie but there was plenty left over. He would also serve buttermilk biscuits. Creamed carrots and fried parsnips from an early picking by the Widow Petrov would round out the meal along with the usual assortment of jams, pickles and cheese. Apple pie would finish the supper nicely with coffee. Hop Sing was pleased with his choices and set to work. He didn't forget Adam's medicine, either.
He heard the horses riding up shortly before the steaks were done and was surprised to see Little Joe appear at the kitchen door with an armload of wood for the cook stove without having to be told. The Oriental man looked at the guileless face of the youngest Cartwright with suspicion. Joe just smiled.
"Hey, Hop Sing! I was thinkin' to myself 'boy, I bet ol' Hop Sing needs some firewood' so here I am!" he grinned innocently at the cook.
"Why you feel guilty, Little Joe? You always bring me firewood when you feel guilty. You out every night now for almost week. You play in town and you wake me every night, over my roof, over my roof. I not tell Mr. Cartwright, if that what you think." Hop Sing mock glared at the young scamp and was rewarded with a blush and a contrite look.
"Ah, Hop Sing, I don't mean to be wakin' you. It's just that there's been this poker tournament at the Bucket of Blood and . . . " he trailed off sheepishly and scratched his head.
<" . . . and you don't have enough excitement around here, is that right? I'll give you excitement, young cock-rooster. I won't be telling Mr. Cartwright. Oh, no. I'll handle this my way, young scamp!"> Hop Sing rattled of in Cantonese. Joe made out several words, enough to get the gist of what the little man was saying and began to back out the kitchen door again.
"I . . . uh. . .
I just better see, you know, if Pa needs some help . . . or somethin'.
OK, Hop Sing?" He turned and fled toward the barn.
After supper was finished and the dishes done, Hop Sing took a careful inventory of all the dry goods that were on hand. He mentally calculated the amounts of liquids left in various jars and jugs and went through his sewing box to see that he had enough thread and needles. After his needs were written down he went to the bunkhouse and talked with Charlie, adding the bunkhouse needs to his list. Then he approached Ben to see if the older man had anything he wanted to add. After writing everything up carefully in his fine Chinese script he sought out Ben once again. The silver haired patriarch had told his housekeeper several times that he trusted Hop Sing enough to shop as he pleased but the Oriental man considered it a manner of honor to go over the shopping list with his employer anyway.
Hop Sing carefully read off each item to Ben and waited for the silver-haired man's approval before he went on.
"Mr. Cartwright. If you no have important plans for Little Joe tomorrow or Thursday, may I have some help from him?" Hop Sing asked in his most humble voice. Joe's head jerked up from where he was reading the newspaper and looked wildly at his Oriental friend. Hop Sing continued.
"Widow Petrov have much to bring for the harvest to put down cellar and apple trees over by south pasture need picking. I fear I cannot do all this by myself." Hop Sing slid a glance sideways at the gaping Joe and allowed himself a tiny smile. Ben nodded in happy agreement.
"Of course, Hop Sing. Whatever you need. Do you need any of the hands to help out as well?"
"Oh no, Mr.
Cartwright. Little Joe be plenty of help!" Hop Sing smiled
broadly. Joe paled. "He go to town with me tomorrow, then.
Be up nice and early, Little Joe. We leave right after breakfast."
Hop Sing nodded toward the alarmed young man and retired for the
The scraping noise above his head came just shortly before 1:30 a.m. that night. Hop Sing cursed softly, then smiled grimly. By tomorrow night Joe would be too tired for a poker outing.
After chores and breakfast the next morning, Joe and Hop Sing rattled out of the barnyard in the buckboard led by two good workhorses. It was just past 7:00 a.m. but it was a good three hour drive to Virginia City with a slow team and wagon. A light buggy could make it in a little over an hour and a horse and rider in an hour or less, depending on how much the rider wanted to push his mount.
The two men trundled along in companionable silence, occasionally broken when one or the other would point out something of interest. After an hour they passed the Widow Petrov's ranch, which marked the end of Ponderosa land. At the edge of her sharecropped land there was a marker. It wasn't large or ostentatious. In fact, one could easily miss it. It marked the closest edge of Ponderosa land to Virginia City and the road Hop Sing and Joe traveled on soon joined the main road leading into town.
It was a little after 10:00 a.m. when they pulled the horses to a stop in front of the general store. Joe promptly jumped down and rubbed his hands together in anticipation. He had only gone two steps toward the saloon when a loud "Hrrummph!" brought him around again. Hop Sing's black eyes were boring into his.
"Where Little Joe going?"
"I'm just going to run over and . . . uh . . ." Joe began, pointing off toward the direction of the Bucket of Blood saloon. Hop Sing didn't say a word. His face remained impassive but his eyes never blinked as they looked right through the eighteen-year-old.
"R. . . run and . . ." Joe slumped slightly and swung his finger until it was pointing at the general store. "Run in and tell Mr. Johnson that we're here." He finished lamely.
Hop Sing nodded happily and proceeded to climb down off the high buckboard seat. He joined Joe in the store. Mr. Johnson, the store owner and chief clerk, met the little Oriental man enthusiastically. Hop Sing's status at the Ponderosa afforded him a solicitousness not normally reserved for others of his race. When Hop Sing of the Ponderosa showed up at Johnson's General Store, sales were going to be made in large quantities.
"Hop Sing! How are you this week?" Mr. Johnson beamed.
"Hop Sing very well, thank you. I have list ready." Hop Sing was well aware that he would not be treated in such a friendly fashion by the townsfolk of Virginia City if he was not employed, and protected, by Ben Cartwright. He was forever grateful to Ben Cartwright for the status he derived from that protection. He saw how his friends and relatives in the Chinese community lived and were treated. He knew he was fortunate. Hop Sing pulled his shopping list from an inside pocket and began to read off the items slowly for Mr. Johnson. The store owner dutifully copied the list down in english, neither being able to read or write in the other man's language.
Joe shifted impatiently from foot to foot, anxious to be off to the saloon. When Hop Sing had finished dictating his list Joe knew the little man would leave the loading to Mr. Johnson and go visit his father in the little Chinese laundry that he ran. Hop Sing read off the final item.
"Very good, Hop Sing. I'll round these items right up. It's going to take me a couple of hours to load up around customers, though. As you know, we're shorthanded after Caleb broke his ankle two weeks back. Can you wait that long?" Mr. Johnson inquired.
"No need to wait that long, Mr. Johnson. You no need to load today. I bring Little Joe to help. He very good boy. He load wagon for you." The little man beamed proudly, first at Little Joe and then at Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson was delighted while Joe face crumpled and then froze in a tight little smile.
"My pleasure." He said in a sarcastic tone, darting the mischievous little cook a daggered glare. Hop Sing blithely ignored him and turned smiling toward the door.
"I go shop for herbs, now. Be back soon." And he bustled out the door happily.
A stop at a Chinese herb shop and a visit with his father later, Hop Sing made his way quietly up the alley beside the general store. Stopping at the corner he carefully eased his head around and peered toward the wagon. Joe was settling a 50 pound burlap sack full of cornmeal into the wagon. The little man quickly withdrew his head as the youngest Cartwright turned and jumped down, making his way back into the store. Presently both he and Mr. Johnson appeared again, this time with a very large, wooden barrel of flour hoisted between them.
"This is it, Joe. I sure appreciate the hand. Without Caleb to help out and just me to wait on the customers, I don't know half the time whether I'm comin' or goin'." Mr. Johnson explained. Joe just smiled tiredly.
"That's all right, Mr. Johnson. Glad I could help. I think I'll head on over to the saloon, now, before Hop Sing gets back. Have myself a beer. I think I earned it."
"That you have, m'boy! Thanks again." Mr. Johnson disappeared into the store again as Joe wearily climbed down from the heavily laden wagon and turned toward the saloon once again. That was Hop Sing's cue. He bustled around the corner of the building as if in a great hurry.
"Little Joe! All done? You very good boy. We must hurry now to Widow Petrov's. Mr. Cartwright said to stop and see her on way home." He scrambled up and perched on the buckboard seat expectantly. Joe just stared at him, mouth agape.
"But . . . Hop Sing? We haven't had our lunch yet and it's noon! I was just going to . . ."
give us many eggrolls to eat on way home. They stay plenty warm in
here." Hop Sing held up a lidded pottery dish that his father had
lent him. "Have canteen full of nice, cool water, too." He
smiled at Little Joe, leaning slightly forward as if by mere force of will
he could move the wagon toward home. Joe groaned and scrubbed his
face in frustration. He knew when he was being manipulated but for
the life of him, he couldn't figure a way around this particularly clever
little man. The young man sighed in resignation and climbed slowly
to the seat of the buckboard.
When the team pulled up to a stop before the small ranch house, Widow Petrov bustled out. She was a solidly built woman with obvious Slavic features and a tight, gray bun. The three youngest Petrov children, ranging from ages seven through twelve, spilled out of the house behind her. They loved the visits from Hop Sing. He always made sure to bring them horehound candy from the general store.
"Hop Sing, Mr. Cartwright! I'm so happy to be seeing you both. Come. We have hot tea on stove and jam with biscuits." Mrs. Petrov welcomed them in her heavy Russian accent. "I see you are having little room in your wagon but I send some squash and applesauce home with you for supper."
Joe smiled and hopped down from the wagon, followed quickly by Hop Sing. The strong Russian tea took some getting used to but both men had visited often enough over the years to develop a liking for the black brew. The oldest Petrov child, Alexandra, known to all simply as Al, was a childhood friend of Joe's. He inquired politely on her whereabouts.
"Ah," Mrs. Petrov answered proudly. "She and Alexi are gathering walnuts today from timber stand in your south pasture. They are good workers, my children. Already we have the hickory nuts gathered. I send your half of all the nuts with the rest of the vegetables. We have a very good year! I have enough and more with my half to sell in town. I have enough to buy a sewing machine!!"
The Russian woman's eyes were wide and animated, her face flushed with pleasure. She had shown Hop Sing months before a picture in the Sears Catalog of a wondrous peddle operated sewing machine. She had thought of little else since. Joe grinned in delight.
"Mrs. Petrov, you are a wonder. I don't know how we managed around here before you came. You've turned this place into a great farm. Pa is so pleased. And Hoss, well . . . next to Hop Sing, here, you are his favorite hero."
The widowed mother blushed in pleasure and fluttered her hands a bit.
"I have good help. God has blessed me with strong children and a strong back. He has also blessed me with a good man like Mr. Cartwright to give me chance."
The tea break was finished in companionable conversation on the results of the bountiful harvest and Mrs. Petrov's plans for next year. When the men arose to leave they discovered that the younger Petrov children had loaded the remaining space in their wagon with carefully packed jars of applesauce and several large squash.
"I bring the rest of squash and everything tomorrow if that is fine with you?" The Russian woman looked to Hop Sing.
Little Joe help me pick apples tomorrow morning but we be at house all
afternoon. He be happy to help you unload into cellar." The
little man once again slid an impish grin toward his young friend.
Joe sighed in defeat.
The sun was slipping fast toward the horizon when Joe pulled the team to a halt before the large ranch house. Hop Sing scrambled down and looked up at Joe expectantly.
"We spend too long at Widow Petrov's. I must fix supper. You will unload, please?"
Joe gave the cook a weak, lopsided grin. "Sure, Hop Sing. Why not." He was being manipulated by a master. No use in fighting the inevitable. Hop Sing bustled into the kitchen with an armful of squash while Joe headed toward the bunkhouse. He would find out from Charlie what supplies belonged there. The rest would belong in the house or down in the cellar.
That night Hop Sing served a tender roast beef with boiled potatoes and gravy, baked squash, cornbread, black-eyed peas and applesauce. Joe thought it was almost good enough to make up for the work he had done that day. Hoss was in heaven.
Adam was happy, too, until Hop Sing brought the cold medicine out once again.
"Ah, Hop Sing! I don't need that anymore. I'm feeling much better." Adam tried not to sound like he was whining. He was the oldest and had an image to uphold. He really, really didn't want to take the medicine, however. Hop Sing set his expression in an implacable stare.
"Did Mr. Adam take medicine this noon while Hop Sing was gone?" Adam's guilty silence was all the answer the little man needed. "You take now, please. Must take this medicine for one week or it do no good."
in defeat and snatched the foul-tasting brew from Hop Sing's outstretched
Hop Sing snuggled down in his blankets and smiled contentedly. While in town today he had discovered that the poker tournament was over. The previous night had been the last. There would be no reason for Joe to sneak out tonight and he would certainly be too tired anyway. The Oriental man congratulated himself smugly and closed his eyes.
At 2:00 a.m. Hop Sing's eyes flew open. The roof above him squeaked and moaned, the scraping of a body scrambling above his head causing the freshly awakened man to grind his teeth in frustrated anger. //So, contrary one, you have made this into a test of wills. Very well.//
over an sought sleep once again.
The sky was bright and the colors of late fall were stunning as Joe guided the buckboard and team once again. Hop Sing didn't say a word about the noises on his roof from the night before. Midmorning found Joe and Hop Sing by a stand of trees down by the lake. Here four apple trees flourished. Ben never knew how they came to be there. Perhaps the same individual that had planted the apple and pear trees on Widow Petrov's place. They had been there before Ben had purchased the land.
Pulling the wagon close to the trees, Joe pulled the brake and slipped feedbags on the two draft horses. He and Hop Sing pulled ladders from the back of the wagon, along with two large woven, wicker baskets. They each chose a tree and went to work. The apples on the tree were carefully picked and laid into the baskets. When a basket was full the apples where transferred with equal care to the bed of the wagon, which had been spread with burlap bags. Every effort was made not to bruise a good apple for one bruised apple could rot and take a whole bin of apples with it. The bins of vegetables where sorted through once a month to weed out potential spoiled fruits or vegetables.
The apples that had already fallen where quickly picked up and tossed into two large barrels in the wagon. These would be pressed for cider and the pulp and cores then used in the vinegar barrels. Vinegar was important to every family. It was used in flavoring, preserving and pickling. Store bought vinegar was not regulated and one never knew what dangerous acids could be in it. Most farm and ranch women made their own vinegar. Hop Sing was no different. He took pride in the excellent quality of his vinegar, using fresh rainwater, apple pulp and cores, molasses, honey and a bit of brown sugar.
When all four
trees had been carefully picked and all the fallen fruit retrieved, the
two men headed home for lunch.
After seeing his father and two brothers off after lunch, Joe set about carefully reloading the apples into baskets and hauling them down to the cellar where Hop Sing transferred the apples to wooden bins along the wall. He would lay down a layer of apples, cover it with an old burlap bag and proceed with the next layer of apples. Kept this way in the cool darkness of the cellar, the Cartwright's could expect fresh apples all winter long. The apples Widow Petrov preserved for them were either made into applesauce or sliced and dried in rings, then strung on long, sturdy twine to hang in a dry place. The dried apples would be used to make apple pies when the fresh apples were gone. In this way, Hop Sing was able to keep apple pie on the table nearly year round.
Joe and Hop Sing had just finished when they heard a strange team and wagon pull up. Coming up out of the cellar they found Alexandra Petrov and her brother Alexi in the barnyard.
"Al! Good to see you! We missed you yesterday." Joe hurried forward to greet his friend. A plain looking girl dressed in boy's clothing jumped down from the wagon seat.
"Joe. If I knew you were going to be with Hop Sing yesterday I would have made a point to be back." Al poked Joe in the ribs good naturedly.
"Ah, Al, I didn't know either. He's tryin' to teach me a lesson. I've been keepin' him awake at night."
"Oh. I see. Cattin' about, are we?" Al smirked mischievously while Joe just blushed.
"No. Just a little poker." He leaned forward a bit and whispered. "Although now it's just to see who wins the 'game', him or me." Joe grinned impishly. Al burst out laughing and strode to the back of the wagon where Hop Sing and Alexi were unloading baskets of produce.
"Hop Sing, " Alexandra greeted the little man. "This isn't all of it, and if I can borrow your buckboard, Alexi and I will go get the rest while you and Joe unload our wagon." Hop Sing nodded vigorously. Such bounty! Joe helped Al unhook her team of horses and put them between the shafts of the Cartwright's buckboard. She and Alexi promptly drove off again.
The two men carried basket after basket of potatoes down to the cellar and upended them into three large wooden bins. There would be enough potatoes to last the Cartwright's and all the cow hands a year. Aside from meat, potatoes and flour were the most important staples. After the potatoes came the onions. Bushels of them. Then the sweet potatoes, turnips, beets and parsnips, all in separate bins. Baskets full of carrots where brought down and transferred into bins full of sawdust. Rows of long, orange carrots were laid out and a layer of sawdust was shoveled over them. Then another layer of carrots and another layer of sawdust. This would keep the carrots from withering. Pears were carried down to the cellar and placed as carefully and tenderly as the apples.
Hop Sing exclaimed in delight when more jars of preserves where found packed carefully in old quilts under the front wagon seat. He had thought that he had received all the preserves for one year. It had indeed been a good harvest. There were plum preserves, grape jelly, spiced apple rings, blueberry jam, strawberry jam, sweet pickles, sour pickles, tomato preserves, beet pickles, and spiced watermelon rind pickles to add to the already groaning shelves.
The sound of the returning Petrov's came to them as they were placing the jars of goods on the cellar shelves. Al and Alexi joined them.
"Everything is here now. We couldn't get the pumpkins and squash on the first trip. Do you want us to pull the wagon up to the barn?" The Russian girl asked politely. Joe nodded and went off to help Al while Alexi stayed to help Hop Sing finish with the preserves.
The pumpkins and squash were not kept in the basement. They would be kept in the loft above the stables, safely snugged into beds of straw. The warm stable below and the insulating straw would keep the produce from freezing. The pumpkin rinds would be fed to the cows after the yellow insides had been used in pies, bread or stewed pumpkin. Nothing went to waste. Two barrels of nuts were also put up in the loft. One held hickory nuts, the other walnuts. Hop Sing would bring in a panikin of nuts at a time to be eaten on cold winter evenings or used in baked goods.
When everything was unloaded, Joe switched the team back to Al's wagon and the Petrov's drove swiftly away, cheerfully waving and calling good bye. They would have to hurry to be home for supper. Hop Sing bustled back to the house intent on his own cooking and left Joe to his evening chores.
That night Hoss was delighted to find the supper table groaning with goodies.
There was sizzling spareribs and fried potatoes, creamy mashed turnips with melting butter oozing over them, yellow stewed pumpkin and mellow creamed carrots. Hot biscuits with preserves and watermelon pickles were the dessert that night. Hoss ate and ate and ate, then sat back with a sigh.
"Hop Sing, that was about the best meal I ever et. You are just plain magic with food."
Hop Sing beamed at the big man. Of all the Cartwright's he struggled hardest in his culinary skills to please this one. It was nice to have his talents truly appreciated. Ben sighed in contentment as well.
"Well, I see we are just about ready for winter. And none too soon, if you ask me. I can feel a cold snap coming. Hop Sing, you were planning to dress out that deer tomorrow if I remember correctly. If you need Joseph tomorrow and Saturday you may have him. We're almost finished with the work in the north pasture. I'd like him to put up the storm windows tomorrow and stock the woodpile on Saturday. I just feel a hard winter coming. I can't explain it. It's just in my bones."
Adam smirked at the disgusted look on his youngest brother's face.
"What's the matter, little brother? Not used to putting in a decent day's work?"
at his older brother momentarily then broke into a delighted grin.
Adam was confused. This was not the reaction he was expecting.
The dark haired man noticed that Joe wasn't looking directly at him, but
slightly above his left shoulder. Adam turned his head slowly and
spied Hop Sing standing behind him with two cups in his hand. The
oldest Cartwright brother just groaned.
Hop Sing had turned in early. It had been a long day full of hard work. He wondered if Joe would finally give in and sleep instead of going out. The Oriental man drifted off but found himself sleeping fitfully, listening with half and ear for the sounds signaling Joe's return from a night on the town. Finally, at half past one, he heard them and drifted off into deep sleep.
That morning when Charlie brought in the morning milk and eggs he told Hop Sing that he could feel a change in the weather coming.
"I c'n feel it in my big toe, Hop Sing. Horse stepped on that toe when I was jist a young'un and I've been able ta tell the weather ever since. It's going to be an early winter."
"Mr. Cartwright say same thing, Mr. Charlie. He say it is good thing we have all things almost ready for winter. I dress deer today. You come before supper and get venison. We all have fresh venison for supper tonight."
Charlie grinned in anticipation. There was nothing better than freshly aged venison steaks.
Breakfast that morning was suited toward the sharper chill in the air. Oatmeal with brown sugar and maple syrup, thinly sliced steaks, sunny-side-up eggs, buckwheat pancakes with sausage cakes, hot coffee and hot apple cider. Hop Sing packed a lunch for Ben, Hoss and Adam for they wanted to finish their work in the far pasture today and taking time for lunch was not an option.
After breakfast Joe went to the tool shed to find the storm windows while Hop Sing cleaned up and scrubbed the kitchen until it gleamed. Then the little cook churned butter, cleaned and swept the house, emptied the ash bucket and inspected the upstairs fireplaces. Soon it would be time to use them again. Most of the fall and spring season the Cartwright's made do with the large fireplace in the sitting room. Only during the coldest months did they run the fireplaces upstairs at all. It was a waste to heat rooms that were only used for a small portion of the day.
Noon came and Hop Sing made Joe sandwiches with the leftover steaks from breakfast. The young man had finished with the storm windows. He would help Hop Sing dress the venison.
The two men went to the smoke house. Adam had removed the interior organs and bled the animal upon killing it. Now, after several days of hanging in the smoke house to tenderize the meat and remove the harsher gamy tastes, it was ready to be cut up. The skin had been left on to preserve the moisture in the meat. Hop Sing expertly skinned the deer and handed the green hide to Joe. The younger man took the skin off to the woodshed to salt and stretch while Hop Sing continued.
First he quartered the deer to make it easier to handle. He split in down the backbone before splitting the carcass again between the tenth and eleventh ribs. He took a quarter at a time to the house to finish. The deer offered up the same cuts of meat that a steer offered; steaks, roasts, ribs, chops and variety meats. Hop Sing saved the choicest cuts like the steaks and roasts for eating right away, wrapping all but the steaks that would be used for supper in white paper and tying them securely with twine. These would go back out to the smokehouse to be put on the shelves. They would keep well in this cool weather and be eaten before they had a chance to spoil. He took the lesser cuts, the ones that were tougher or the bits and pieces, and sliced them thinly. A special marinade of 'secret ingredients' Hop Sing had perfected over the years was made up and the slices laid in it. The cook then took all of his packages to the stone smokehouse and laid them on the shelves.
Hop Sing then inspected the smoker. This was a small room in the corner of the building approximately the size of a large clothes closet. It had a small access door down low on a wall that led to the outside. A person could add fresh wood to the smokefire from the outside without opening the large door and letting smoke into the rest of the smokehouse. Hop Sing made sure that the room was clean and strung twine he reused for just this purpose from hooks high up on the wall. When he had large portions of meat to smoke the cuts would hang directly from the hooks. Now he was making jerky and needed to drape the thin strips over twine. When he was done, Hop Sing found his hatchet in the tool shed and went to a small stand of trees behind the house. He chose a young hickory sapling and chopped it down quickly. Taking it to the smokehouse, the cook hacked it to medium sized chips in a mound on the ground in the little room.
Returning to the kitchen, Hop Sing retrieved the large pans full of marinated venison strips and took them to the little smoke room. He hung each one over the wires, then placed a couple pieces of seasoned wood in the center of the fresh cut chips and started a clear, bright fire. Once it was going thoroughly, Hop Sing covered it with the new, green hickory chips and the fire began to smolder with rich smelling smoke instead of burning with a clean, hot blaze. He closed up the room, allowing the smoke to rise up around the strips and out through the little chimney in the roof. The fire would burn slowly, giving off heat and smoke but no flame for the wood was too green and wet. Each morning the little cook would chop more chips and feed the fire until the strips were completely dried and smoked. Then he would have smoked venison jerky to put in the saddlebags of men riding the range.
Joe had finished with the scraping, salting and stretching of the hide. It would be used for various things later after it had been tanned. Perhaps a new spring jacket for Adam.
Hop Sing noted how weary Joe looked and smiled to himself. He was sure that Joe would give up tonight and stay home.
When the rest
of the Cartwright's came home for supper that night there were plenty of
fresh venison steaks for supper with salt rising bread and baked beans.
Joe stole softly down the back stair and out through the door. It locked quietly behind him. Taking his blanket and alarm clock he trudged toward the barn where he had slept for the last two nights. He was going to have to give in after tonight. The weather was turning colder and he was not going to outlast Hop Sing before it became too uncomfortable to sleep in the barn. The impish young man set the alarm for 2:00 a.m. and rolled up in his blankets next to his horse, Cochise. Within a minute his soft snores pricked up the ears of the pinto.
2:00 a.m. Hop Sing heard the scuffling noises over his roof. He silently
shook his fist at the unresponsive ceiling and closed his eyes with a weary
sigh. At least he could sleep now. It was getting to the point
where he could not fall away to slumber until he heard those dreaded sounds.
Baking day was always a flurry of motion for Hop Sing. The entire weeks baking was done and stored away on shelves to be used throughout the week. Only breads and biscuits made from batters, like cornbread or sourdough biscuits, were not made ahead of time. Sourdough had to be fed and used several times a week or it would die.
The busy cook could hear the steady chop, chop, chop of Joe's ax as he filled the woodshed with enough wood to last for a month or two. More choppings would be done throughout the winter but in the Sierra's one never knew when blizzards would hit and keep the ranch snowbound for day's, even a week or two at a time. Having a good supply of firewood on hand for the bunkhouse and the main house was a matter of life and death.
Hop Sing began with the bread. He knew Charlie was mimicking his movements almost to the letter down the hill at the bunkhouse. Several batches of dough were made using whole wheat flour. Hop Sing would also make one batch of white bread using the expensive bleached flour but that would only be used if company came. If they had not used the white bread by the end of the week then it would be special treat on Saturday night. The hard part came after the dough was mixed. All that dough had to be kneaded and this required a lot of strength. Hop Sing stood on a stool to gain height when standing at the table. This allowed him to get his back and weight into the kneading, saving his arms from tiring too quickly. He pushed the dough away from him and folded it back onto itself, twisted the mass a bit and did it all again. Over and over and over until the bread dough was satiny smooth. He divided the dough up and put it in several large, round enamel pans to rise. This would take a little time so the cook moved on to the next project.
Hop Sing made up pie paste enough for a sixteen pies. Apple pie was eaten just as frequently at breakfast as it was for supper, so he would make eight apple, four pumpkin and four vinegar pies. Hop Sing thought the name 'vinegar pie' was silly since they only had 3 tablespoons of vinegar in a pie. Mostly they contained butter, eggs, brown and white sugar, flour and a dash of nutmeg. The vinegar gave the pies a similar taste to that of lemon pies but lemons were hard to come by. One always had vinegar on hand.
When he had eight pie crusts rolled out he greased eight pie tins and laid the crusts in them. He quickly peeled and cored 3 dozen apples, sliced them and laid them in the pans. Then he sprinkled cinnamon and sugar over the apples, rolled out the top crusts, placed them and pinched them to seal. After poking air holes in the top of each pie to vent he popped them in the oven.
Hop Sing had cleaned out the rich insides of two pumpkins the previous night after supper and had stewed them until they were a thick, savory, dark mass. Today he mixed the pumpkin with eggs, brown sugar, milk, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger to make the pie filling. He then made up the vinegar pie filling, rolled out eight more pies and put together the remaining pies. When the apple pies came out of the oven, the other eight pies went in. Now the pies for the week were done.
Hop Sing went back to the bread dough and punched all the dough down flat again. He then shaped it into loaves and laid the dough into several greased bread pans to rise again. The cook was glad to work on a ranch that could afford many pans from the tinsmith. He could not imagine trying to bake so many things with only one or two pans to use, although he knew of several ranch wives who did just that.
It was time to fix the noon meal. The Cartwright's had fresh, hot apple pie for dessert. Joe went back to chopping wood while Ben and Adam rode off to inspect the breaking corral. Hoss lingered a bit, trying to pinch bits of pie from the vigilant little cook but Hop Sing eventually chased him out. Hoss was going to work in the barn today. He had the uncanny knack of choosing Saturday's to work about the ranch house or barn. Then he would wander in just as fresh cookies or hot, crispy doughnuts were finished.
Hop Sing set about making half a dozen pound cakes. These dense, moist cakes were excellent keepers and made a nice break from pies. It was easy to remember the recipe. He threw together a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs and flour along with a pinch of salt, nutmeg and mace for each cake.
While the pound cakes were baking Hop Sing made doughnuts. First he put three pounds of lard in a large, cast iron kettle and set it on the stove to melt and heat. While he was waiting for the lard to get hot enough, the little man made the dough, rolled it out and cut it into strips. He twisted the strips together like a corkscrew and pinched the ends to seal them. These were plopped into the hot fat. They fried until crispy brown on one side, then rolled themselves over to fry on the other side. Hop Sing fished the finished doughnuts out, laid them on cooling racks and sprinkled them with powdered sugar. He pretended not to notice that several doughnuts disappeared when he had his back turned to the stove, although he could easily hear the kitchen door open and close.
When the pound cakes came out of the oven Hop Sing put these up in the screen-covered cupboard in the pantry way. This is where the breads and pies were kept, too. The doughnuts and cookies were in four large covered ceramic jars lined up on the counter top below the cupboards. Then the bread, risen and nicely rounded above their pans, went into the oven. Hop Sing continued making doughnuts until two of the ceramic jars were filled with the crispy, fried delicacies.
Then came the cookies. One large batch of oatmeal and one large batch of sugar cookies. When the hot bread came out of the oven Hop Sing began putting large, cast-iron cookie sheets of cookies in. In and out the cookie sheets went until the two remaining ceramic jars were filled with fresh cookies. Once again several cookies disappeared behind Hop Sing's back.
It was almost time to fix supper. The sounds of chopping wood had ceased and the little cook suspected that Joe was in the barn eating cookies with his brother. Hop Sing took a moment for himself and sat down with a cup of tea. These relaxed times were rare on a busy ranch so he enjoyed them thoroughly. He sat in the warm, bready smelling kitchen and looked around him in satisfaction. The cellar was full to bursting with harvest goods, preserves, cheeses, butter and milk. The smokehouse held meat and as soon as the first hard freeze hit it would be butchering time. Then the smokehouse would be full to bursting as well. The weeks baking was done, the house was clean and everyone was healthy. Hop Sing sighed in contentment. He had a good life. Tomorrow was Sunday. On most Sunday's during good weather he did not fix the noon meal. The Cartwright's would drive or ride to town after breakfast, taking Hop Sing with them. He would visit his family while they went to church and then to the International House for lunch. Sometime in the afternoon Ben would bring the buggy to collect Hop Sing and they would all ride back to the ranch together.
man looked up from his tea and glanced out the window. It was snowing.
After supper that night Ben stretched mightily and looked at his sons.
"Boy's, I know it's Saturday night and you most likely want to go to town but I get uneasy when we get snow this early in the year. Early snows can turn into blizzards. I'd just as soon you stayed home tonight. We've had a long hard week and I'm sure you're all tired anyway."
Hop Sing, cleaning the supper dishes away, noted the nods of agreement coming from all three of Ben's sons. He looked closely at Joe, looking for signs of disagreement but seeing none. He found it hard to believe that Joe would give in quietly after being out every night for over a week. Especially on a Saturday night. The young man yawned hugely and stretched his arms high over his head.
"Pa, chopping wood today just about did me in. I think I'll head to bed now, if you don't mind." Joe sleepily rubbed his face and rose, bidding his brothers a good night. He passed Hop Sing on the way to the stairs.
Sing." he grinned and trudged up to his room.
Hop Sing lay awake. He waited. And waited. He knew he would not be able to sleep until those scraping noises signaled that Joe was home. Time ticked slowly by. The hours came and went and still no sound from above. Finally, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, Hop Sing stumbled out of bed. It was almost time for him to be up anyway. He shut his alarm clock off before it could ring and staggered out of his room and up the stairway to the upper floor. Coming to a stop before Joe's door, the little cook eased the door open silently. There, with an angelic, peaceful look upon his countenance, slept Joe Cartwright.
Ben Cartwright rose early. Sounds from the kitchen had awakened him. Normally he never heard the early morning noises that Hop Sing made but this morning they had been louder than usual. He slipped his robe on and went to investigate. The little man was slamming pots and pans down, mixing batter and chopping bacon hunks off with vicious energy. Ben wondered what the problem could be. He practically tip toed into the volatile cook's domain.
"Uh, Hop Sing? Something wrong this morning?" the elder Cartwright patriarch asked solicitously.
"YES! Hop Sing not sleep! Hop Sing not sleep all night. Joe sleep but not Hop Sing! Why when Hop Sing win he lose?"
Ben scratched his head in confusion. "Um, I'm a little lost here. Isn't Joe suppose to be asleep?"
A heavy frying pan slammed down onto the stove top.
"Of course he supposed to be asleep!! That is whole problem!" Hop Sing launched into a swift and vitriolic tirade in his native language and Ben, shaking his head in wide-eyed bewilderment, slipped hastily out of the kitchen. He didn't think he wanted to know what this was all about. Sometimes, with Hop Sing, it was better not to know.
It was just another typical
week on the Ponderosa.
Authors Note: The true running of a ranch was never addressed on the television program. The food was always just there and the cows were rounded up by mysterious cowhands that appeared every 25 episodes or so. For the largest ranch in Nevada, we never saw any outlying buildings or stock animals like chickens and pigs (Gerby Royales not withstanding). No garden, either. This is my way of attempting to imagine how it should have been!
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