Slicing a good large portion of smoked meat for their breakfast--had to be sure to have more than a few bites each to test, she figured, or the test could hardly be considered valid--Liz set it to sizzle and cook on two hot, flat granite slabs she had been heating by the fire, a most wonderful odor of smoked meat soon filling the air around the cabin and pulling Einar away from his fat rendering work to investigate. Having boiled nearly all of their meat for the past several years in order to take best advantage of its nutrients and avoid losing any of the juice, as tended to happen with roasting over a fire, the smoked and rock-fried slabs of bear proved to be a very welcome change, the combination of willow and cherry smoke giving the meat a sweet, tangy flavor unlike anything either of them had tasted in recent memory. Einar, though greatly enjoying the treat as he savored tiny bites of it and tried his hardest to avoid giving in to his suddenly ravenous hunger and gobbling the entire piece in two bites, could tell that another night of smoking was in order. The smoke had not yet reached quite as deeply into the meat as he knew would be ideal for preserving it into the winter.
Soon such things would not be of any concern to them, as the nights would be freezing and days not far behind, flies gone for the winter and any meat they hung outside would be effectively refrigerated, and then, not too long after, frozen solid all day long. Then, ground buried beneath feet of snow and temperatures not infrequently falling well far below zero when the sun disappeared for the evening, they would find themselves struggling to carve frozen meat from their winter's supply with freshly sharpened knives, the stuff having taken on a texture somewhere between hard plastic and solid stone, hurrying it into the welcome warmth of the cabin to thaw in boiling water on the stove. A fine way to spend the winter, if one has enough fuel for the fire and an ample supply of food to keep one warm internally, as well. They were not doing too badly as far as that food supply was concerned, having set aside a good quantity of dried spring beauty and avalanche lily roots, serviceberries, chokecherries, and the dried meat of deer, sheep, bear and rabbit, but could certainly use more. And would soon have it, if their upcoming elk hunt was blessed with success, but that hunt could not be embarked upon until the fat had been taken care of, meat smoked and securely stowed away. Time to get back to work.
With the day continuing, fortunately, aircraft-free, Einar made quick progress on the fat rendering, several slowly cooling batches soon covering the bottom surface of the newly prepared log and another heating on the stove. He was pleased with the container, its interior walls having turned out quite smooth and almost reflective now that they were coated with a layer of melted bear fat; not particularly portable, but certainly a good addition, once full, to the food stores in the cabin. Between them they had put together and pitch coated four baskets, too, which would be filled with fat for caching and for carrying if they had had to make a hasty departure from the cabin. Hope not. Not after all this work, all this preparation. But he knew their freedom was only as secure as their willingness to drop everything and move on at a moment's notice, knew complacency to be a far more dangerous enemy than either their human pursuers or the seasonal pressures of hunger and cold and scarcity that would forever be a part of their lives out there, if a manageable one, and he knew also that complacency tended to flourish on the very bounty and ease they were working so hard to secure for themselves. They'd have to work equally diligently to prevent themselves falling into its grasp and thus making the one error that might prove to be their last.
Not that you’re in too much danger of becoming complacent at the moment, Einar, not when you're having to work so hard just to breathe. Exhausted and clumsy, maybe, but not complacent. This breathing trouble’s got you antsy as a penned-up coyote all the time and jumping at every little sound just because you know you can't run real fast if you need to, or something like that. Be glad when it starts getting better, quits hurting so doggone bad all the time that it’s hard to think about much else, but for the moment, at least it’s definitely keeping you from getting complacent. Keeping you from getting things done as quickly as you ought to be able, also, and that's really got to end. Ought to be able to pick up the pace, here, at least with this stuff that involves practically no movement, except with your hands. Was hard work carving out the log and then last night with the coal burning...well, guess it's a good thing Liz stepped in when she did and shoved you aside, or you’d have been passing out in the coals pretty quickly. Just not getting enough air in the first place to spare so much of it on a job like that. But, the job is done. And the ribs will heal. Eventually.
The most recent batch of bear fat finished melting and rendering it down he ladled it off the top of the hot water, pouring spoon after spoon of it into the storage log and pausing once to nibble on one of the bits of membrane--would have been a crackling, had they not been using the water method of rendering--that remained behind. Chewy, and quite good. Supposed he was awfully hungry, come to think of it, despite the good breakfast, but the smoked meat had not set particularly well with him, had left his stomach tied in knots and he knew that while the trouble was largely due to the ongoing hurt his ribs brought him every time he took a breath, the fact that he had subsisted on so little for such a long time was not helping, either. His body just didn't know what to do with reasonably sized meals, anymore. Well. It would learn, again. If he ever allowed it to do so. Wasn’t so sure that he could. Or would. Complicated matter, and not one he particularly wanted to think about in any great depth at the moment, but it was reality for him just then. Better not let Liz hear you thinking things like that, or she'll knock you in the head with her war club and tie you up inside until you change your ways. She was joking about that I’m pretty sure when she threatened to do it earlier, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn't like to do something of the sort. So. Try another of the cracklings, how about? Can’t hurt... Which he did, glancing up with a start the next moment at the realization that he’d heard something behind him, that something turning out to be Liz standing in the door with a pot of bear broth--made from bits of smoked meat; he could tell from the smell--as if she’d heard his thoughts from all the way outside, and come in to do something about it. Only she didn’t have that war club in her hand, so he relaxed the reflexive grip he’d got on his knife at the startlement of her sudden presence.
“Look at all that fat you’ve got done! How many more batches do you think it will take?”
“Five or six it’s looking like, though if I could borrow that third pot of yours, it’d go a bit more quickly…”
“You’re welcome to borrow it, but first you’ll have to help me finish up this broth so it’s empty. Here. I’ve had mine already, this is all yours.” And she pressed the pot into his hands, standing unnecessarily close--as far as he was concerned--as he finished it. Feeling a bit trapped all of a sudden Einar took a quick step back and dipped an inch or so of water into the pot, filling its remaining space with chunks of marbled white bearfat for melting and rendering. Five or six more batches--two hours’ worth of work, at his current rate--and he’d be done, baskets and hollow log filled with clean, rendered fat for the winter and nothing standing between them and their elk hunt other than one more night of smoking for the meat. And, of course, the time it would take them to hang the smoked meat and secure the cabin against raids by hungry bears and other fall-frenzied creatures looking for a free meal. It was appearing that they ought to be ready to set out no later than sometime the following morning, if nothing else managed to get in their way.