Butchering, A Skill of Families in the Past

By Nancy Bender

         Butchering has been done by families in this country since early Colonial days. The years that I remember as a youngster were between the l950s and early 1960s. I never lived on a farm, but I did have a number of aunts and uncles who were farmers, and I’m sure that probably they had a time each year that they butchered, so they would have food for the year to come.

         I do remember as a very young girl helping my grandmother Blattenberger (I called her Grandma B) feed her hog. She lived in Markes and had sheds overlooking the creek, and the hog was kept in one of those sheds. Sometime later, as the weather was colder, my Dad and I were invited to come to supper at Grandma B’s house. I cannot remember how many of my aunts and uncles were there also, but there were a lot of people around the table. That day we had a great tasting hog maw meal. This was the way things were done, especially in the country. Plans were made to raise farm type animals to be raised for food for the family in the upcoming year.

         As I got a few years older, my best friend, JoAnn, and I were always trying to get together for play days. We lived close to each other, and often we could get a ride from a parent. JoAnn’s parents, Edith and Edgar Zeger, and Edith’s sister Mary and her husband Joe Carbaugh would help each other on Thanksgiving Day to butcher hogs for family meals in the upcoming year. I was invited to come on Thanksgiving to spend the day with JoAnn. My Dad dropped me off early in the morning, and not long after I arrived I heard a gun shot. Then another and another. This was the start of a day of hard work and families working together.

         To do this project I needed information from someone, so I called my still best friend, JoAnn. By this time we have been friends for over sixty years. She said that, like me, it was hard to remember the way things were done on butchering day, but she would get back to me about it. A short time later I got a call, “Could you and Steve come to dinner with Ken and me and my cousin Gerald Carbaugh and his wife Janet?” Steve and I said “Yes” to this invitation, and we all had an enjoyable evening and then sat down to a delicious hog maw dinner complete with all the fixings, and we all started recalling those days of butchering hogs to feed the family.

         Young pigs called shoats were about sixty pounds. The hogs that were butchered on Thanksgiving Day weighed 350-400 pounds. Usually three hogs were butchered. In 1955 butchering was done in the garage. Prior to 1955 butchering was done outside for easier clean-up. The Zegers picked Thanksgiving Day for butchering. The Carbaughs picked another day. Once those days were picked, that day was set aside for butchering no matter what kind of weather.

         The hog would be shot; then a sharp knife was inserted into its throat to bleed out. The hog was scalded with boiling water by pouring the boiling water out on the skin. Then with a scraper the hair was scraped off. After the scraper had been used, a sharp knife was used to get all of the hair off. Then a hook was used to hang the hog up by its hind legs with a block and tackle. Then the hog was cut down through the middle to remove the internal organs. To make sure there was no meat contamination the intestines could not be damaged. The head was cut off. The intestines were pulled out into a large tub and then the rest of the inside organs. The women then took over their job with the tub. They separated the organs, liver, stomach, bladder, sweet breads, brains, and intestines. The intestines and bladder had to be scalded thoroughly. Water was run through the intestines outside until they were cleaned out. Then the tub was taken to the house, and the scraping started. At the Zegers’ farm Aunt Mary Carbaugh did the scraping, and at the Carbaughs’ butchering Edith did the scraping. A wooden scraping board with a very light-weight bone-handled knife was used. The intestines were put into bowls of clean water and scraped at least twice. Then they were soaked in salt water.

         In the meantime the men continued to cut the meat. There were three main parts: loin, shoulder, and ribs. The head, liver, heart, tongue, and rinds (the skin) for the country pudding were cooked. The ham and shoulder were cut out and the bacon. Then the backbones and tenderloin were separated. The left-over lean meat was ground for sausage and the fat rendered down for lard. The scraped casings were filled with sausage by using a hand-cranked sausage stuffer. The pudding was cooked down and then ground and then cooked again. The head meat was cooked down as part of the pudding. The first cooking broth was used for the pon haus. The second cooking was the pudding (it was done when the boiling was the whole way across). Then it was dipped into crocks. The grease would come to the top to seal it. The pon haus was made by taking two parts corn meal to one part flour, adding water as needed, constantly stirring, adding salt and pepper.

         The hams, shoulder, and bacon were sugar cured (some would cure the bladder, too). Morton sugar cure and coarse salt were used for the curing process. These meats were laid out on boards for about four weeks while curing. Then they were hung in the smoke house.

         This is a summary of our evening of wonderful food, much talking about the hard work and fun of families helping each other and caring for each other. These things we take for granted today.

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