Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Butchering Day on the Farm
Nature Bulletin No. 734   November 30, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

In the old days, on a farm, we seldom had much money but we had a lot of fun. At threshing time, for instance, horseplay and fun erupted amidst sweaty spells of hard work. Another big event in farm life when neighbors got together, worked hard and had fun, was butchering day.

Most of us butchered at least twice during winter. The number of times and the number of hogs depended upon the size of each family. We ate pork three times a day, six days a week, and chicken on Sunday. Beef steaks and roasts were rare treats enjoyed when we ate with friends or relatives in town. We had no refrigeration, no way to keep a side of beef; whereas hog meat could be smoked, "salted down", pickled, or preserved in big jars of lard.

The first butchering was done sometime around Thanksgiving or as soon as the weather became cold enough to chill a carcass quickly. Early on the appointed day, three or four neighbors and their families came to help. We were ready for them. Water, fortified with wood ashes, was boiling in huge cast iron kettles. The scalding barrel was tilted against a platform of planks on trestles. The hogs to be butchered were in a pen nearby.

After one was killed and bled -- some French and German people collected the blood for use in sausages and puddings -- the animal was hoisted upon the platform and doused -- but not too long! -- headfirst and then tailfirst in the slanting barrel of scalding hot water. That loosened the bristles and dirt so that they could be laboriously but completely removed with corn knives, hoes and smaller scrapers.

Then the pointed ends of a gambrel stick, or the hooks on a single tree, were inserted between the tendons of the hind shanks to spread the legs apart, and the shiny white carcass was hung, head down, from a tripod of fence rails. While another hog was being killed, scalded and scraped, one of us opened the fat belly of the first one. He peeled off the lacy leaf fat around the stomach and small intestine, took out the heart and liver, hung them up to cool, and removed the rest of the "innards" to be worked on by the women and children. When all of the hogs had been hung and gutted they were left until thoroughly chilled but not frozen.

Then each carcass went onto the platform. The head was cut off and cooked -- ears, snouts, jowls, tongues, brains and everything -- to make head cheese and "souse". With a sharp ax, the ribs were separated from the backbone. From beneath it, on both sides, we removed the long strips of tenderloin. The backbone, when roasted, and the tenderloins were prized as delicacies. In a packing plant they become pork chops.

Then the hams and shoulders were separated, trimmed of excess fat, and hung in the smokehouse. The "middles" -- the bacon -- were squared and also hung in the smokehouse. The trimmings and all excess fat were cut into chunks and, in a huge kettle, slowly rendered into lard. The loins and scraps of meat were ground into sausage seasoned with salt, black pepper and sage. The stomach and small intestine were cleaned and stuffed with sausage. The youngsters got the bladders for footballs and the pigtails to be roasted over embers.

At the end of butchering day, after a grand supper -- a feast -- the neighbors went home with generous shares of the backbones, spareribs, loins, knuckles, livers and sausage. By staggering our butchering days, we had fresh meat and things to laugh about all winter.

Would you be interested in a bulletin about how we smoked the hams and shoulders, rendered the lard, and made scrapple, cracklin' bread and chitterlings? The only part of a hog we didn't use was the squeal.

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