Life in rural Georgia runs by the calendar. Each season has its special jobs to be completed.
The weather has been ideal for hog killing. No one had refrigeration when I was a kid. So when grandfather decided to kill and butcher a hog, he had to do it during a cold snap. Once he started, the process of preserving the meet had to be completed before the temperatures warmed up and spoiled it.
Grandfather was a good farmer. He always had a couple of very large hogs to butcher each winter, and the meat they produced would last all the next year. That is, if it was properly preserved.
There were three methods used to preserve meat without a freezer. They used smoke, salt and sugar.
This process was carried out in a small outbuilding called the “smokehouse.” They used different techniques depending on which cut of meat they were preserving.
Hams and shoulders were usually sugar cured. They were hung in the smokehouse with a little fire in the center to fill it with smoke. Then the meat was rubbed down daily with sugar. Once the meat was cured, it could be hung in the smokehouse in a tight fitting cloth bag where the smoke would keep insects and other pest away.
Other cuts of meat were packed into wood boxes full of salt. Salt will draw the moisture out of anything buried in it. This was the only way used to preserve fatback and other cuts that contain large amounts of fat.
Then there was sausage. Smaller and tougher cuts were ground in a sausage grinder with just enough fat to make them fry well. Various herbs and spices were added to help with the preservation process and to enhance the flavor. The sausage grinder was hand operated and grinding the sausage was the job of any available grandchildren. Turning that grinder would quickly exhaust the arm of younger people. We had to frequently switch arms and take turns to get all the sausage ground. Then, if anyone accidentally dropped a gristle into the hopper, it would jam and we had to take it apart and clear it before we could continue.
One last job was rendering lard. As I said, just enough of the fat was left to provide good frying. The rest was cooked down into lard for use making biscuits, pie crust, and frying vegetables. After the lard was cooked out, the tiny fragments of flesh, called “cracklings” were used to flavor cornbread.
Cold buttermilk and cracklin’ cornbread was a common breakfast out on the farm.
I know that it is much easier to run down to the market and buy pre-cut meat and packaged sausage. But the whole operation of killin’ hogs was a part of farm life 50 years ago, and there was a sense of satisfaction in preparing and preserving your own food.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://www.frankgillispie.com/gillispieonline.
Must say it is refreshing to hear exactly how far we as people have grown from our true priorities. It seems that we keep "improving" and racing to see who can make money off the next best thing! What happened to the idea of "if it ain't broken don't fix it" I say maybe lets keep few modern improvemants and go back to the basics and focus more on being grounded and family focused :O)