Sharpening Knives

We boys called them the big knives and the little knives.  The little ones were used to pare fruits and vegetables, especially for canning.  Mama’s whetstone was used to sharpen her two sets of knives.   

The big ones were for cutting the big pieces of chuck meat into cubes, and cut off the feet, toenails, wings, head, and neck of the chickens we brought back from the shoykhet (ritual slaughterer).  Our chickens were taken to the shoykhet in Somerville or Trenton and we boys did the plucking.

Mama never gave her knives to the man who came in the old brown pick-up truck.  He came around about twice a year to sharpen the farmers’ axes and saws.  He had a big round stone that he turned with his legs as he sat and pedaled like a bike.  The saws were different.  He put them in a vise and used a file.

Mama used her whetstone to sharpen the knives before every major use.  Mama knew just the correct angle to hold the knife to get the best cutting edge.  Mama was a powerful woman and could cut limbs with only one swift swipe of that big knife. 

Until much later, we never ate broiled, roasted or fried chicken because they were all old Leghorn layers and the meat was tough.  Usually it was chicken soup, and so we ate boiled chicken several times a week.  On special occasions she ground the beylik (white meat of the chicken) and made cutlets.