Time to Butcher
This is not a subject that will interest all people, but it was a way of life as I grew up. It may even bother the squeamish. Every year between Thanksgiving and the New Year, the family would gather at my grandfather’s farm. The decision to butcher depended on the weather. Granddad always kept two hogs and a bull that he raised for the sole purpose of having meat for the coming year. There was a lot of work involved in the process and that is why the family gathered. It would make the work less tiresome for everybody. With the work shared, all of the butchering could be done in one day.
I can remember the air was cold and I could see my breath rising. It was cold enough to cool the meat, but not to freeze it quickly.
Usually it was the hogs that were killed first. They were hoisted one at a time up in the center of a tripod by winches, gutted, and dipped into scalding water. The water softened the bristles and they were easier to scrape off the hides. Each was skinned and then cut in half, and again into quarters. The sections were taken to large tables and sliced into the various cuts of meat; roasts, chops, and hams. The hams were trimmed of fat then rolled into a cure of brown sugar, pepper, and salt. Allowed to rest in the cure before they were carried and hung inside the smoke house.
The smoke house was a small shack with a raised floor. The floorboards had gaps between them to allow the smoke from a smoldering fire of wet hickory wood beneath them to rise into the shed. The rest of the building was tight with just a small space to allow the smoke to escape near the top. The thick smoke finished curing the hams and bacon if Grandpa decided on that too.
While the major cutting up and dividing of the pigs was happening, the women gathered and washed out the small intestines of the pigs. Those intestines would become the casings for the sausage.
The fat and small bits of meat had to be removed from the bones. That was the job I had been assigned. I couldn’t cut anything that shouldn’t be cut except me. My one uncle and I kept trimming and providing the pork that would be ground into sausage. It was a demanding job; fast enough to keep ahead of the grinder and slow enough not to lose a finger.
The ground up pork would be seasoned with black pepper and mixed by hand. The mixture was taken upstairs where the women would put it into a press that would squeeze the sausage out through a teat near the bottom. The casing had already been slipped over the teat and the sausage would fill the casing as it was pushed out through the opening at the end of the teat. Deft twists by the women controlled the length of each link.
Next it was time for the beef. The bull was killed and hung up on the tripod to be gutted and skinned. It was quartered as well and laid on the tables to be cut up. The bits and pieces and the bones were passed to me and my uncle to strip any remaining meat to be ground into hamburger. The steaks, chops, and roasts were removed by deft hands long before the beef was passed to me. (I never did gain enough experience to move up in the ranks of cutters before my grandfather died.)
All of the meat had to be placed into jars and be cold packed and sealed against spoilage. That changed once my grandparents bought a freezer and the meats had to be wrapped and frozen.
Each family took home some of the meat as a thank you from Granddad for all of the help. None of the families were wealthy and the fresh meat made life better for us all.