Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hoof to Freezer - Butcher Day 2010

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.

 The cleaned halves are carried to the shop and laid on tables for the cutting up.

 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.

 The children have a blast with their cousins.

 Small pieces of meat are mixed with salt and pepper and ground for sausage.

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.
 This meat is then ground for use in the pon haus (also known as scrapple) and puddin. (My best attempt at the spelling, the latter not to be confused with "pudding".

 The lard is beginning to cook and needs almost constant stirring so that it doesn't stick.

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.


Wrapping meat.

The pork chops were huge!

 When the fat is cooked almost crispy, it is time to take it off and strain out the lard.

The crispy fat pieces that remain after the lard is squeezed out are called "cracklings". The are ground and added to the puddin.

 Always  lots of pans and buckets to wash.

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.
When the exact moment is pronounced, two men quickly carry the pot into the shop.

 Pans are quickly filled with the steaming pon haus. When cool, this will be sliced and fried for a delicious breakfast.
 But back at the kettles, Joe still supervises the stirring of the puddin. This meat mixture is also seasoned with salt and pepper.

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.
To most people, home butchering probably appears to be a crazy way to spend a December Saturday.

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.


  1. This is great, Gina!

    We like to grown our own beef, but so far we pay someone else to butcher/process it (a lot!) A friend is trying to talk my hubby into taking on the task together.. maybe someday.

    Oh, and we have friends whose teenage son decided to grow some hogs and then butcher them -- He researched and DID it! (not a common thing to do around here for sure)

  2. Gina,

    You are a blessed woman to be part of a family and a community of people who butcher hogs as you do. And I am blessed to have seen it through your pictures and commentary here. It's a beautiful thing in so many ways. Thank you.

    Herrick Kimball

  3. I wish I lived near you so I could have been there to learn! It is so hard to learn skills like these on your own, when you don't have people with know how to teach you.

  4. Good to see gina, people have lost the connection with the reality of food, nothing should be wasted.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. It reminds me of growing up in the country, when neighbors helped neighbors with their needs and getting through from one year to the next.

  6. You are SO BLESSED to have all the know-how, equipment, hogs and land available! We just this year learned how to butcher chickens, and have hopefully begun a years-long tradition with friends... and we hope to do hogs, but we don't have the friends or family with the experience to teach us. (Yet. We're keeping our ears open.) Good for you - keep the knowledge alive and enjoy all that great meat!


  7. I LOVED this post. Thanks for all the pictures and descriptions (even though I'm completely lost with the meat and fat dishes... what the?!)
    It's such a wonderful feeling to work together and use all of the animal so nothing is wasted.


  8. As a lover of the "Little House on the Prairie" books, I truly enjoyed this more in-depth description of hog butchering. I question the wisdom in this day and age of "specialists" where each adult knows how to do just about ONE thing only, and then purchases every other service and/or item needed. You and your family have so MANY different skills. That seems wiser to me. Oh, so much to learn. Thank you for being my break down the steps and patiently answer questions.

  9. Its wonderful thats what it is..time spent together as family and friends true community! We also butcher our on hogs, but we don't do as much as you all do! The pictures were wonderful, looks like lots of fun even though its hard work. Many hands make light work right! Hoping you and your family are having a wonderful Christmas season! Merry Christmas!
    thanks for sharing your butchering day with us!

  10. Gina,
    This post is fascinating! How great that you have the friends and family with this knowledge, that you use so many parts of the hog, and that you have the community spirit to make it happen.

    I don't eat meat out of concern for the environment and not knowing what *really* happens in the commercial slaughterhouses, but this thoughtfully and purposefully prepared meat? THIS is meat I would eat.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  11. Wow I Love your blog and this was so interesting, our family in Europe still do it this way, although many times they farm their own pigs, it's nice to see people in the western world still doing it the country way.

  12. Looks like you all had a great time! We did our hog a few weeks ago as well. This year I ground 90% of it for ground pork. Much easier this way for me.

    Our friends came over the day I found out I had lost our baby and did theirs. We had raised it for them.

    I love fresh meat.

  13. Gina, this is amazing! So cool. I love the teamwork and the careful instruction of old to young. I come from these traditional ways, but my family has lost some of them. I am doing my best to hold on to them, but butchering is not part of it at this point :)

    We're not crazy about scrapple at our house, but I've never had the homemade version either.

  14. This is fantastic Gina!! I hope to grow a family big enough so that we'll have days like yours was. Such purpose to that family gathering. And what a blessing to have your new sister to have butchering skills! When I first read this I had a question, but can't remember it now for the life of me, since we'll be tackling this in the summer. I'll be back if I can think of it

  15. Your pictures are wonderful, it looks just like butchering day at our place!!

    I love scrapple!! Scrapple Eggs and fried potatoes, mmmm

    Yes butchering is a lost art, I am glad we are passing it on to out boys!!

    We don't ground the cracklins we eat'em!!
    Great post!! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  16. Wow! To say I am impressed is an understatment. It would be fun to come and learn from you. I love living in town, but when I read about something like this, I can definately see benefits of living in the country. Blessings on you! Sherilyn

  17. Gina,
    Thanks for the memories. I haven't helped butcher for along time. Kevin raises hogs but, pays to have them done. I remember helping at Uncle Dwights and at Joes.
    Thanks for the great pictures and the trip down memory lane.


  18. We have been doing so much butchering recently I got so tired of looking at cow and deer flesh I declared an end to butchering....then 2 more deer were given to us. 'sigh'

  19. This was very interesting to me! Showed it to my husband and he said it brought back a lot of memories! Thank you for sharing!

  20. So interesting! I learned a lot from your "butcher" day!

    Thanks for posting!

  21. An excellent post. I really enjoyed seeing all the pictures from slaughter to finished product. I really want to participate in a learning event for future slaughters.

    Thanks for sharing

  22. Hi Gina!
    I saw this PBS documentary on the Amish of Lancaster county and in it they also described several aspects of the culture (mentioning mennonite culture as well). Today's post was a perfect example of what they spoke about. Family, community, self-sufficiency, generational learning and support, and working together. I love it!

  23. Wow! That is just amazing. A lot of hard work to be sure, but what wonderful memories you all made.

  24. Hello,

    I am very new to your blog and have enjoyed searching through it when I have time. Your entry about the hog butchering is so very interesting and I was quit excited to read all about this process.

    I love how so many of you get together for a day of work and fellowship. It’s always more fun to work with others; reminds me of a quilting bee!


  25. Hi Gina
    Excellent post, thank you.

    While we do not raise any livestock ourselves (thinking about chickens tho') we are fortunate to live in an area where people do raise beef and pigs organically. So we have access to beautiful quality meat. What a difference to the average supermarket offerings!
    Best wishes for Christmas to you and your family.

  26. Wow! Thanks for sharing all the pictures and descriptions of your day. How wonderful to have such traditions in your family!

  27. We raise our own pigs but take them to butcher. I really enjoyed seeing your set up and how you do this.

  28. You are right that it is "easier" to go to the store and purchase these things, however, doing it this way is a way to know how your food is processed, what they were fed, as you said a day to work together for the good of many families. That is so lost in our culture!

    I am new to your blog, but I think I will stick around!

    Happy New Year!

  29. Thank you, Gina for sharing all these great pictures and information. It is all so very interesting. Our dairy farming neighbor shared some cracklings with us-we had to be careful not to break our teeth! But they were sure good.
    Very good information-that I intend to share with my friends...

  30. What a great post!
    You are very blessed to be part of such great community and tradition.

    We had a butcher day similar to this, but with chickens. We raise our own beef, soon will have a milk cow, but have a wonderful arrangement set up with a local small butcher shop. We order our hogs through him too. They are raised a few hours away. It's some of the best bacon, chops and sausage I've ever had.
    I'd much rather have a freezer or two full of "home grown" meat than ever buy another item wrapped in celophane!
    Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Great pictures.

  31. While i don't have the guts to kill pigs(Had pigs as pets when i was a kid),it looks like a great day was had by all.

  32. This is fabulous! Thanks for sharing!

  33. This was such an interesting post. I'm amazed at the sheer number of pots and pans! Thank you for sharing -- I learned a great deal. I'll be back!

  34. Great Post, I have 3 hogs and trying to learn the virtually lost art.

    Don McCoy
    The Real McCoy
    Matewan WV.

  35. May God keep your community strong as an inspiration for all of us. Community does exist in small pockets and wishing one of those pockets was near me.
    Keep blogging I love to hear all the wonderful things you do with your family.

  36. I hope you and your friends and family use humane methods to kill cattle and pigs and any other animals you butcher. I am an Evangelical Christian living in Northern Ireland and I am concerned about animal welfare. Animals are not human beings but they should not be caused unnecessary suffering.

  37. Hello, my family also butchers 4 to 5 hogs each year. Your pictures all look very similar to ours, right down to the cousins having fun. We have been using the same platic pans for our pon haus and puddin. We lose one(they crack and break) here and there every year or so. I have been searching where to buy new ones, but have been unsucessful. Where do you get yours?

    1. We've had ours for many years and I don't ever remember replacing them. I'm sorry I can't be helpful.


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