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“A Small Christmas Present”

December 27, 2015

Below is an excerpt from Book Nine of my OUTLANDER novels. Note that there are SPOILERS…

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My breath steamed white in the dimness of the smoke-shed. No fire had been lit in here for over a month, and the air smelt of bitter ash and the tang of old blood.

"How much do you think this thing weighs?" Brianna put both hands on the shoulder of the enormous black and white hog lying on the crude table by the back wall and leaned her own weight experimentally against it. The shoulder moved slightly—rigor had long since passed, despite the cold weather—but the hog itself didn’t budge an inch.

"At a guess, it originally weighed somewhat more than your father. Maybe three hundred pounds on the hoof?" Jamie had bled and gralloched the hog when he killed it; that had probably lightened his load by a hundred pounds or so, but it was still a lot of meat. A pleasant thought for the winter’s food, but a daunting prospect at the moment.

I unrolled the pocketed cloth in which I kept my larger surgical tools; this was no job for an ordinary kitchen knife.

"What do you think about the intestines?" I asked. "Usable, do you think?"

She wrinkled her nose, considering. Jamie hadn’t been able to carry much beyond the carcass itself—and in fact had dragged that—but had thoughtfully salvaged twenty or thirty pounds of intestine. He’d roughly stripped the contents, but two days in a canvas pack hadn’t improved the condition of the uncleaned entrails, not savory to start with. I’d looked at them dubiously, but put them to soak overnight in a tub of salt water, on the off chance that the tissue hadn’t broken down too far to prevent their use as sausage casing.

"I don’t know, Mama," Bree said reluctantly. "I think they’re pretty far gone. But we might save some of it."

"If we can’t, we can’t." I pulled out the largest of my amputation saws and checked the teeth. "We can make square sausage, after all." Cased sausage was much easier to preserve; once properly smoked, they’d last indefinitely. Sausage patties were fine, but took more careful handling, and had to be packed into wooden casks or boxes in layers of lard for keeping…

"Lard!" I exclaimed, looking up. "Bloody hell—I’d forgotten all about that. We don’t have a kettle, bar the kitchen cauldron, and we can’t use that." Rendering lard took a long time, and the kitchen cauldron supplied at least half our cooked food, to say nothing of hot water.

"Can we borrow one?" Bree glanced toward the door, where a flicker of movement showed. "Jem, is that you?"

"No, it’s me, auntie." Germain stuck his head in, sniffing cautiously. "Mandy wanted to visit Rachel’s petit bonbon, and Grand-pere said she could go if Jem or me would take her. We threw bones and he lost."

"Oh. Fine, then. Will you go up to the kitchen and fetch the bag of salt from Grannie’s surgery?"

"There isn’t any," I said, grasping the pig by one ear and setting the saw in the crease of the neck. "There wasn’t much, and we used all but a handful soaking the intestines. We’ll need to borrow that, too."

Back to the Book Nine Homepage.

Originally posted on my Facebook page on December 27, 2015.

This page last updated on Sunday, December 27, 2015 at 8:37 a.m. (PT).