Hog butchering time.
It was a once-a-year thing, for usually by the end of October the family would be hurting for meat, The meat from last year was depleted and we were stretching our food supply with quail, rabbits, chickens, and squirrels.
Usually near Thanksgiving, or soon afterward, when the corn was in the crib, the apples were picked and fall plowing was done, preparations would be made for butchering those fat hogs that had been fed out in a special pen. One never knew what the weather would be the next day, for we had no weather forecasts at that time. My grandfather always said, "When the weather's cool and crisp, meat will keep." Gramps was always right in the timing for butchering.
Today, hog butchering is almost a lost art. A few families still kill their own hogs, especially the Amish and Mennonite families. Some senior citizens can still remember, however.
I will try to shed some light and convey a little information of what went on during those earlier days, back on the farm. I'm certain that I will leave some things out, but I will relate what I can remember.
The Great Depression was a period of hard times for almost everyone, especially farmers. The price of corn fell to 10 cents per bushel, hogs brought $5 per hundred-weight, and eggs were 10 cents per dozen. Farm hands earned a dollar a day for 12 hours' labor. There was no electricity in rural areas until 1937 under the Roosevelt administration, which brought into existence the Rural Electric Administration (REA). We had no refrigerators or deep-freezers to keep our meat frozen.
We lived on muddy roads on isolated farms and traveled by horse and buggy. Those who were well off had a Model T. Times were hard and like almost everyone else, we were poor by today's standards; however, we never went hungry, for we always had eggs, chickens, milk and a garden.
Our family usually butchered four hogs and a calf every year. The hogs weighed around 350 pounds and the calf was small. The meat would have to stretch for the next 12 months, or until the next butchering session, If we butchered a calf, we ate the beef sparingly, and only on special occasions such as a wedding, a wake, or when the preacher was invited to share a Sunday dinner.
In our area near the Wabash Bottoms, many farmers would let their hogs run wild where they would grow fat, feeding on acorns, pecans, walnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts and wild berries. Acorns produced a dark lard and the meat was bitter to the taste. Hogs fattened on chestnuts had the sweetest taste. During the annual roundup, each farmer picked out his own branded animal and would drive them home for butchering before the winter snow set in.
Those farmers who had no access to the river bottoms would select their pigs in the spring, to be fed out for butchering. These animals would be kept separate from the others and fed out. My dad would always baby his pigs by feeding them lots of corn, soaked oats, and a mixture of table scraps, bran and skim milk--better known as "slop."
In those days "hog killing'" was a festive time--it meant fresh meat on the table. Neighbors, relatives and friends gathered to help each other. It was a time of real fellowship, gaiety, play, and plenty of hard work. One could catch up on the neighborhood gossip and other happenings. Sometimes there would be some imbibing of homemade wine, or maybe "mule," when that stone jug was passed around on cold days.
My gramps was a teetotaler, but he always kept a full jug of "mule" hidden under some straw in the loft of his coal shed. He only brought it out on occasions such as threshings, hog killings, or snake bites. It was at an early age that my brother, Ben, and I came upon the hidden jug, and we'd occasionally take a few long snorts throughout the year. We were always careful to replace any portions taken out with fresh water. You can imagine Gramp's shock during the next hog killing, when he uncorked that jug of water!
Many old-timers would religiously follow the signs of the Almanac before they would butcher hogs. Some would butcher only when the moon was near the full stage. One old neighbor said "Never butcher when the moon is shrinking, for the meat will surely start shrinking." Then, there were those who would butcher hogs during the last week of December, no matter what the weather was.
The day before butchering, preparations were made and all the equipment was ready. Firewood (consisting of hardwoods such as oak, hickory, hard maple and apple) was piled by the black cast-iron water kettles to keep the water bubbling in order to scald the hogs' carcasses to remove the hair, bristles and dirt.
The kettle, meat grinder, sausage press and planks for the meat cutting table were scrubbed. Knives were honed to a razor's edge. A .22 caliber rifle, standard velocity cartridges, block-and-tackle, meat hooks, single tree, and a 55-gallon wooden barrel were made ready. The store-bought hog scrapers, curing ingredients (consisting of salt, red pepper, sage, cinnamon and Morton's sugar cure compound) were all placed within easy reach for the next day's butchering.
The hogs to be butchered were not fed for 36 hours previous to being butchered to ensure the least amount of food in the intestines.
Butchering day started early. Fires were started by 4:00 a.m. and kept blazing under kettles of water to keep it bubbling hot. Temperatures between 160-175[degrees]F were ideal for scalding the carcass. A metal sheet about seven feet by four feet was placed near the kettles to keep the wind from blowing ashes onto the meat cutting table.
Each helper had a special job to do and they all worked together to get the job done. It was an old standing custom that the person arriving the latest was given the most despicable job--cleaning the hog's head.
By the time the helpers arrived the water was ready to scald the first lifeless animal. An older helper once told me that, "If the hog is shot in the brain, he will feel no pain." When the animal had stopped twitching, men would rush in and roll the body on its back with all four legs up, then one person using a thin bladed knife would make a quick thrust on the left side of the jaw and three inches back.
A perfect stick of the carcass would cause the blood to gush out. Some families saved the blood for making blood sausage or blood pudding. We never saved the blood.
One person reminded me, "Never drag the carcass to the scalding site before all the blood has drained out or bruises will show up and the meat will be discolored."
The carcass was now ready to be brought to the scalding barrel, but first the meat hook is pounded into the "V" bone in the lower jaw. Care was taken that the hook was into this bone, for if it was hooked into meat only, the hook would pull out and the handler would fall into the pig pen--not a pleasant experience.
The carcass was placed on a low sled, pulled by the hitched horse to the scalding barrel. We always had our 55-gallon wooden barrel dug in and slanted at a 45 degree angle directly under a large catalpa tree, where a large horizontal limb was used for fastening the block and tackle for lifting the carcass into the scalding barrel.
The hind legs were spread and a gambrel stick was used to hook under the exposed tendons. We used a single tree which had hooks on either side and a ring in the center where the block and tackle could be hitched for raising and lowering the carcass into the barrel of scalding water.
The person attending the kettles would sometimes throw a shovel or two of wood ashes into the two cast iron kettles to aid in the removal of hair, bristles and dirt. About 35 gallons of boiling water was poured into the wooden barrel and the handler would throw in a pail of cold water to temper the water to the correct temperature.
The carcass was then lowered head first into the scalding barrel and rolled from side to side for a few seconds. Then the carcass was raised and turned to the backside for re-immersing, If the scald was properly done, the hair could be scraped off easily. If the hair "set" we were in trouble, because the hair was difficult to scrape off and would have to be singed and shaved, which was a boring and tedious job.
Once all hair and foreign matter was removed, the carcasses were scrubbed with soap and water, and rinsed several times, until pearly white. The carcass was pulled up by the block and tackle and tied off to be gutted and cut into halves.
The first step in butchering is to remove the head. An experienced butcher will make the cut two inches behind the ears and make a circular cut right around to the neck joint. If properly done, the head can be twisted off with a hard jerk. The head is then washed off and hung up to dry to be processed later.
A heavy-duty butcher knife is used to cut the carcass into halves.
Starting at the stick-hole using both hands, the cut is made upwards, toward the brisket, which is one-third of the way up. A meat saw is needed to cut through this bony structure. Now, facing the belly behind the hind legs, a cut is made to the pelvic bone. This bone must be cut and broken. A butcher knife--given a hard whack with a ball-peen hammer--will break this bone and expose the rear intestines. A long thin knife blade is used to cut around the rectum. In the case of a male hog, a cord about the size of a pencil is cut off at the pelvic bone. A circle cut will expose the penis; here we cut a circle, and the attached cord is cut and the whole thing is pulled out and thrown away--this is scrap.
At this point the intestines will fall freely into the tub on the ground directly under the carcass. In the chest cavity we find the stomach, lungs, heart and liver. All are removed and placed in a pail of cold water.
Extreme care must be taken when removing the gallbladder, for if it ruptures, any gall remaining on the meat will render it inedible. The open carcass is now washed with cold water and thoroughly cleaned.
Facing the animal from the belly side, cuts are made about two inches on each side of the spinal column from the tail to where the head was removed. This long strip is removed and placed on the cutting table and the carcass is now cut in halves. The long strip is cut into back-bone roasts. If you've never tasted a fresh back-bone roast, you've missed a delicious meal.
At this point the tail with the large glob of fat attached can be removed. Many families used this for a griddle greaser--the tail served as the handle. It could be used for several weeks greasing griddle, frying pans, etc. In those days, they used everything that was usable in order to stretch their meat supply.
An old friend once said, "Everything was used on the hog except the squeal, and we'd have used that if we'd found a way to capture it."
The two halves of the carcass are now placed on the cutting table, skin side down. Three cuts are made: the hams are removed from the bacon and trimmed; then the shoulder is separated from the bacon. The legs and feet are cut off and set back for later processing.
The picnic shoulder is trimmed of fat and sometimes it was used entirely for making sausage--it was called "the sausage adjuster." The ribs are removed from the carcass. Next to the bacon strip is the narrow strip adjacent to the spinal column; this could be pulled right off. This is boneless loin and one of the better portions of the hog. It was absolutely superb in sandwiches. The fatty portion along the loin is trimmed and put in the fat pile. Bacon had several names or terms to identify it, such as sow-belly, shoulder picnic, side-meat or flitch.
The curing process for various portions of the hog varied with the heritage and culture or traditions of the families involved. One curing procedure was to use a 55-gallon wooden barrel and filling it with about 35 gallons of fresh water and a bag of pure white granulated salt, with was added and mixed with a wooden paddle. Salt was added to the barrel and stirred until the mixture had a buoyancy that would float an ordinary hen egg. When the egg floated, you had reached the proper proportion of salt and the mixture was called pickle, or brine, which served as the curing agent. The barrel of brine was then ready to accept the hams, bacon and shoulders. Four to six weeks was required for the curing process. (The length was up to the individual families.)
Small hooks were used to bring the cured pieces out and they were then hung up to dry in the smokehouse. The smokehouse had to be airtight, windowless and totally dark so as to starve the smoldering wood fire of air. Most families used an iron kettle, placed in the middle of the room. Hickory or apple wood chips were placed inside the kettle and a smoldering fire lit. This smoke-cure would usually require three full days, and the fire embers had to be checked every hour. If the chips started flaming, a dash of water would start the embers smoldering again. The meat was never placed directly over the fire because if a piece fell in, it was gone. Sometimes the family would lose meat and the smokehouse by failing to watch over the smoldering fire. Some families would use a product called Morton's sugar cure, and carefully rub it slowly many times into the skin of the hams, bacon and shoulders at different intervals.
After the portions were cured, they were wrapped in clean cloth flour sacks or cheesecloth and hung in the smokehouse until used.
As the butchering progressed there was an accumulated pile of fat parts and also a pile of lean meat. The fat trimmings were cut into small cubes and placed in kettles with slow heat and no lids; the cubes were slow cooked until the mixture turned into a dark brown or crisp stage. It was at this stage that it was important to remove the mixture from the fire. If the fat was not rendered correctly, the lard would soon spoil, mold and sour, and become unfit for cooking purposes.
The cooked fat was then squeezed through a lard press and the liquid squeezed out would become lard, which was strained through clean white cloths and filled new lard cans. After cooling, the lard would be snowy white. Care had to be taken when pouring the hot mixture into the lard cans, as I've seen handlers get severely burned when the extremely hot liquid sometimes would melt the seams of the can and spill out on the person handling the press.
The remaining skin pieces in the bottom of the lard press were called cracklings. They were delicious when salted and they served as a substitute for the chips of today. They were also used for dog food--the dogs loved them.
The heart, head fat and liver were cut into cubes, cooked in a pot and run through a meat grinder twice. To this mixture was added enough of the liquid gravy or juice to make a fine texture to which salt and pepper was added, then placed in a shallow pan to cool. When cooled the mixture could be sliced for sandwiches. This is called liverwurst or knockwurst. This meat was (and still is) delicious.
In the process of the hog killing, there was an accumulation of parts such as large intestines, stomach, eyes, ears, hair, head bones, etc. that wouldn't be used. They were placed on the sled and pulled to the woods and dumped for the benefit of the wild animals and even birds who would feast on them.
The job of cleaning the small intestines always fell to the ladies to scrape the casings inside and out until they were as clear as glass. They were then soaked in salt water overnight, they would be used as casings for the stuffed sausages.
The ladies would always prepare some fantastic meals on hog killing day. The long table would be piled with fresh sausage patties, pork loins fried liver, fried chicken, dressing, dumplings, mashed potatoes, gravy, buttermilk biscuits, and a multitude of various desserts and pies. All served with gallons of steaming black coffee.
During the "Dirty Thirties," my dad taught in rural schools and received $40 per month--this included teaching eight grades, serving as janitor, and tending fires--and he rode on horseback 10 miles each way. He would often take such organs as the stomach, liver and heart to his classroom to serve as educational materials for the students.
Today, family butchering day is a thing of the past. The hogs are taken on the hoof to custom slaughterhouses where the consumer can pick up neatly labeled and packaged pork products. But this modern method will never replace the nostalgia and flavor of the old ways, with the aroma of hickory logs burning, the scent of fresh sausage frying, the camaraderie of relatives and neighbors.
I have included 10 hog butchering recipes which have been handed down to me from friends and relatives.
Salami 4 lbs. ground pork 1 teaspoon ground onion 2 cups water 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon Italian dressing 4 tablespoons Tender Quick (by Morton, found in supermarkets)
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and form into long rolls (2" x 8"). Roll tightly and wrap in Saran wrap (or other plastic wrap), refrigerate 36 hours. Remove wrap and bake on rack in oven at 325[degrees]F for 90 minutes. Remove and let cool. Slice and serve.
Trim all the scrappy pieces, tags and ends from hams and shoulders, leaving the joints perfectly smooth. Use all the tenderloin and as much of the head as you please, depending on whether you want your sausage lean, fat or medium.
Cut all meat into small strips and grind through a meat grinder twice. Season with 1/4 cup each salt and sage, and 1 tablespoon black pepper to each gallon of meat. Mix thoroughly. To keep for an indefinite period, pack tightly in long, narrow cloth bags. The bags can be smoked and will keep until late spring.
Head Cheese (Also called Souse or Huspenina in German) 6 lbs. pork shank 2 quarts water 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 cup white vinegar 1 teaspoon black pepper 1/8 teaspoon sage or chili powder 1 medium onion, chopped fine 1 cup chopped celery 2 teaspoons gelatin
Cook pork shank with all ingredients mixed thoroughly. Remove meat from shank when tender and cut into small cubes. Skim off all fat from liquid after straining. Add 1/2 cup vinegar and heat to boil. Soften gelatin in cold water and dissolve in hot liquid. Add meat, pepper, and pour into shallow pan and let cool. Served cold, sliced.
Head Cheese II
Clean the hog's head. After removing eyes, ears and bristles (burn off), cook the head thoroughly. Place in stone crock and let cool overnight. (Salted.) Cook thoroughly until the meat falls from the bones. When cooled, pick out all small bones. Set liquid out to cool. Run meat through meat grinder twice, and season as follows: To each gallon of meat mix 2 tablespoons salt and ground black pepper. Remove the fat from the jellied liquid, bring liquid to boil for 20 minutes. Add meat to mixture while hot. Pour into shallow flat pans to cool. Slice and serve with crackers.
Cook the liver until tender, along with some fat pieces from the heat meat. When cool run all through the meat grinder twice, and season with 2 tablespoons each of salt, ground sage, and ground black pepper. Mix in one quart of the liquid in which the meat was cooked. Mix all thoroughly and place in pans. When cold, it can be sliced and eaten.
Chop the pig's feet, clean thoroughly, add the heart and tongue and head meat. Season with ground pepper, salt and pulverized sage (heat the sage and run through a colander, thus leaving all coarse pieces behind). Heat and cook until tender. Place in jar and if you want pickled pig's feet, pour cider vinegar over the meat and weigh. Bones were removed after cooking. All the scraps of the hog were used in the above recipes; all would have been wasted if not "fixed up" to make some fine eating.
Pickled Pig Hocks 3 lbs. pig hocks 2 cups vinegar 3 cups water 2 onions, chopped 1 lemon, sliced 8 whole cloves 3 bay leaves 8 whole black peppers 2 tablespoons salt
Cook hocks until tender, remove bone and skin. Mix all ingredients and heat to boil, let simmer 2 hours. Remove meat and strain liquid, then place meat and liquid in stone crock with cover. Will be lickin' good in 3 days.
Strain all the remaining liquor from the liver and head meat, remove most of the grease--stir in sifted corn meal as if making mush--add 2 tablespoons pepper and salt/gallon of material used. Pour into pans, cool. Can be eaten sliced, warm or cold. Good with biscuits and gravy.
Mince Meat 1 gallon leanest meat, cooked until tender 1/2 gallon apples, peeled and cored 1/2 gallon raisins 1 lb. brown sugar 1 lb. white cane sugar 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg 1 pint white cider vinegar
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and cook until all are pleasing to your taste.