Local food and slow food may be modern buzz words, but for some of us, the old traditional ways local home grown and processed foods didn't need to be regained. They were never lost.
Every December, my parents hold an old fashioned hog butchering at their farm. This year we butchered four hogs raised by a local farmer. The average weight of these hogs was 430 lb - much larger then a typical hog. That translates into a lot of great pork to be shared by several families in the coming year.
I'm going to attempt to give you a little tour of our butcher day today. A few of these photos are from past years, but most were taken today.
Warning: I edited out the gory photos but raw meat does contain blood and if that bothers you, please move on.
The morning starts before dawn as fires are started under the huge iron kettles. I didn't take this photo as I'm the lazy one who didn't get there until 9:00. But my dad, husband, brothers, friends and neighbors gathered for the kill and quickly began the butchering process. We still do things the old fashioned way. Instead of skinning the hog, they are scalded and the hair carefully scraped off the skin.
For some of the men, this was their third Saturday in December at a hog butchering as friends and neighbors assist each other.
Soon the tables begin to fill with hams, bacons, loin, chops, and ribs.
My brother's new wife brings her skills from her years of working at a butcher shop. This lady can wield a knife!
Fat is cut into small chunks to be used in making lard.
Emily had scraped intestine to be used in sausage casing this year. In the past, we purchased casing. Emily also cleaned stomachs to use for hog maw.
Some of the sausage and loin are smoked.
In years past, there would be a whole row of old neighbors who would come to butchering. One by one they have gone and this year there was only two. Joe (on the left) and his family have been neighbors to my family for several generations. Even though Joe doesn't take an active part in butchering, his advice is vital to butchering success. Last week, Joe was in the hospital with a broken hip. We were thrilled that he was able to make it here today - but he may have been even happier. Butchering has been a big part of his life. For many years, Joe held a three day butchering at his farm with many neighbors taking part and purchasing pork from him. With no sons to carry on the tradition, he is obviously thrilled that some of his friends and nephews are carrying it on.
Keeping the fires is a day long job. The fires must be kept hot but not too hot for proper cooking.
The fat is put on the fire to begin cooking for lard.
Dad scrapes the skins. It is said that we use everything but the squeal, and it is almost correct.
Some of the meat scraps are cooked in the kettles and then removed from the bones.
Our weather today was perfect. Cold, but not bitter like last week, with clear skies. When we've had rain on butcher day, we use these kettle stoves inside but it is much nicer to have the cooking fires outside.
Ed found this Hobart band saw on Craig's List last year. It made cutting chops and ribs so much easier.
The pork chops were huge!
When the fat is cooked almost crispy, it is time to take it off and strain out the lard.
To make pon haus, flour and cornmeal is added to a large kettle of broth. A little ground cooked meat is added along with pepper and salt. There is no recipe so there is lots of taste tests until it is deemed "just right". The pon haus needs constant stirring so that it does not stick. This is a critical point so Joe came out to watch that the young guys get it right.
The puddin is also placed in pans to cool.
And the final result - a table full of pon haus and puddin pans cooling. The hams and bacons will go to Joe's smoke house and cured for several months.
You can pick up a package of sausage and bacon at the grocery store, but Butcher Day is more than just food.
It's learning from the elders and training in the young'uns.
It's about family tradition, shared labor and community.
It's laughter, banter, and taste tests.
It's real food - and another year's worth of good eating.