Butchering day. That’s the euphemistic way to say it, but our gentle grandparents called it what it was: hog-killin’ day. It was the busiest day of the year, and by the time the sun crept up over the pond bank, neighbors and relatives already were on their way to help the host family butcher enough hogs to provide meat for many months to come. It was a rugged day of hard, physical labor. The skills and special equipment needed were passed from generation to generation. Butchering day also was a social event. Women brought enough pies and cakes for a morning break and for the big meal at noon.
That was often a meal of fresh pork liver smothered in onions and lots of fruit and vegetables from the cellar. Men sometimes sneaked a jug or two of spirits "to help keep the fellows warm." Some women liked to work outdoors, while others prepared to feed the hungry crew a big meal at noon. Little children visited at a neighbor’s home on hog-killin’ day. Young men and girls learned the skills needed for their own hog-killin’ days later. People arrived all bundled up against the winter chill; that chill was an important part of "cooling out" hundreds of pounds of fresh pork on this busy day.
Several fellows with stiff, sharp knives scraped the hair from the hides of scalded pork carcasses. The scalding trough had solid wooden sides with a metal bottom. Men did the heavy work - hanging whole hogs on temporary frames made for that purpose, opening the cooling body, removing the "innards," shaping hams and shoulders and disposing of all unusable parts.
Working at tables, women cut up certain meaty pieces and tossed them into a galvanized washtub to be ground for sausage. They’d cut pork fat into small cubes with pork hide remaining on each chunk. Cooking rendered the fat, which was then strained through cheesecloth and stored in metal lard cans with tight-fitting lids - 50 pounds of lard per can.
The cooked pork skins were tasty chunks that, when cooked and cooled, were called "cracklins." We kids liked to chew those warm cracklins; our mothers used them for a special flavor and texture in cornbread. Today’s cracklins are often processed and marketed as pork rinds.
Lots of scraps went into sausage. Lean, raw pork trimmings with a bit of fat were ground in a huge food chopper much like the small kitchen tool. We kids liked to watch the squiggly, worm-like pieces squirt out through the sausage grinder’s cutting plates.
Seasoning the sausage took place in our kitchen with a washtub of those raw squiggles and an array of spices lined up on the cabinet. Seasoning the raw meat involved much tasting and mixing - many discussions to get the flavor just right all the way to the bottom of the tub.
Dad always determined when "just right" was reached. He didn’t often make decisions in the kitchen - except on butchering day. He liked Old Mr. Easley’s sausage recipe, which needed no accurate measuring - just add this or that and test the seasoning by taste.
Several of us got in on that tasting, but Dad always made the final decision.
Butchering day was a part of most families’ schedules during our great-grandparents’ lives. Now it’s a memory worth recalling, but no one I know even wishes to demonstrate this for our grandchildren! The part I miss is seasoning the sausage according to Mr. Easley’s recipe.
However, as an adult I was horrified when I sat next to people who were eating raw sausage in Paris!