Last year we bought two young piglets for the sole purpose of having them fill our freezer. In the past, butchering was done in the fall, and today many people still butcher in the fall. We had planned to, but let the time get away from us. There were times when we wished we had not over-wintered the pigs. Chopping ice and carrying water in the winter time is not my idea of a good time, but it didn’t take much more time to take care of the pigs than it did to take care of the chickens, turkeys, rabbits dogs and milk cow and every day added more weight which added more meat.
Historically, butchering was done in the fall for many reasons. In the pioneer days, you “laid away” for the winter months when the weather made it difficult to hunt, impossible to garden, and foraging was minimal. The cold weather also made long term storage more probable. With modern conveniences, the time of year you butcher is not critical as it used to be. We can put meat in the freezer at any time and not give a thought to the current and upcoming weather conditions. However, if you plan to cure pork, having the cool days of Fall on your side it nice. This year we chose not to try to cure all the hams from the two pigs, as they need to remain 40 degrees or below during the curing process. If your ham is 14″ thick, it takes a minimum of 14 days in a row that must be below 40 degrees, not likely in the spring time. As Modern Pioneers, we can use a cooler or refrigerator to maintain the temperature at any time of year, making the time for butchering much more flexible than in times past. But we could find ourselves short on refrigerator space if Serena calves and freshens and we start to get fresh milk before the hams are finished.
With the day’s weather predicted to be sunny and in the 60’s, we prepared to start the days activities.
We began by visiting Pork and Chop in their pen, one last time. It was muddy in the pen, and Pork got a last laugh on us, by rolling in the mud and getting VERY dirty, just before his demise.
It took JD lots of water and several minutes to get Pork cleaned up enough to be skinned.
The skinning is done in two steps. First step it to use a razor sharp knife and cut just through the hide in strips from neck to tail about 2-3″ wide then cut through the hide around the neck.
Then grab the top of the strips, using the claw skinning tool, and pull downward. The picture above is not the best example. There is normally minimal, if any, fat that is removed with the hide.
Obvious difference in the the skinned side and the un-skinned side and it only takes a few minutes to remove the tough hide and the meat remains clean. It’s easy, quick and clean. Win! Win! Win!
After the hide is removed, the feet are removed, as is the head. The pig is then gutted, but I will spare you those pictures. From the hogs guts, the liver, heart and kidneys are considered a delicacy by many. In our family, although, I do not feel we are wasteful, we choose to bless the dogs and my sons hogs with those healthy tid-bits. The entrails can be carefully removed, washed and used as sausage casings. I chose to buy some at the store this time, another option that Modern Pioneers have over our forefathers. Pork is now ready to be taken to cutting table and made freezer ready.
The men made quick work of cutting off the hams and shoulders and removing the tenderloin for boneless pork chops and chunks of tenderloin.
Justin and JD made separating the tenderloin from the ribs look easy. All the fat scraps were chunked up and placed in a tub for grinding to render lard for use in frying and baking. The cracklings are saved to flavor beans, cornbread and various other dishes. The various meat scraps were chunked up and saved in a different tub to be ground into sausage.
The meat scraps were seasoned for sausage, ground and placed in 1 pound packages. Melody and I ground all of Pork on the same day we butchered, but Chop wasn’t ground until the next day. If the meat is allowed to become very chilled, to the point of being almost frozen it seems to grind much easier.
Morton’s sugar cure was worked into the belly meat that will become bacon. It will “cure” in the refrigerator for about 1 day per inch of thickness, then be soaked in fresh water daily for 3-5 days to remove the extra salts and spices. We will then hang it in the smokehouse and give it a good dose of hickory smoke for flavor.
While grinding the sausage from Chop, we decided to try some sausage links. The only casings I found locally were large, so that is what we used. By placing the casing over the sausage tube, the meat/fat/spice combination was put directly into the casings. We let them sit in the refrigerator overnight, then I hung them from the oven rack and cooked them at 150 – 200 degrees for 3 hours. The results are what you see below.
We learned a few things. First, we did not fill the casing tightly enough. Second, we should have pricked the casings just enough to let the fat escape and the casing draw in around the meat. Third, we will want a coarser grind with less fat added next time. And finally, we loved the seasoning….I bought some packaged seasoning from our local Price Cutter’s meat department and added my own extra red pepper flakes and sage and it came out perfectly seasoned. Maybe one of these days I will perfect my own seasoning, but you can’t learn everything at once.
It was a full day of work, good time with friends and family, and very rewarding. We hope to make it a tradition at our place, and are glad we have the modern conveniences that make it possible to get so much done in one day, and the convenience of picking the time that is convenient instead of letting the seasons dictate our lives the way they did our forefathers. I am proud to gain the knowledge and the skills to keep the past alive. You never know when the past will come in handy in the future. At one time our ancestors were the Modern Pioneers.