Thanksgiving is over, the leftovers are in the refrigerator or freezer and the days are back to normal. It was a day of good food, good fellowship and football. While it is often referred to as “Turkey Day,” many dinners also featured ham.
As menus were being planned for the special day, consumers went through the busy grocery stores and eventually came to the display cases filled with ham and all types of pork products. The shopper selected the ham of choice, paid for the groceries and went home, where the ham would be prepared for Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t always that easy! Years ago, if serving ham for Thanksgiving dinner, there had to be a “butchering day.”
As soon as November’s cold weather set in, neighbors would begin scheduling their butchering days. Some people liked to make Thanksgiving Day the day they would butcher hogs. Since most families butchered several hogs, the work usually took two days.
The hogs were killed, scalded, hung and scraped on the first day. My dad was the one who had to shoot the hogs here at home and was often called upon to do that for others, as some people just couldn’t do it. My dad didn’t like doing it either, but had learned early in life that there were some chores that had to be done, like it or not.
Early the next morning family, friends and neighbors would begin arriving to dress the meat, cutting the hams, shoulders, tenderloins, sidemeat or bacon, and preparing the pieces of meat that would be ground into sausage. Every part of the hog was utilized, including the pig’s feet and tongue. Meat from the head would be used for Pon Haus or Scrapple.
Every worker arrived with their own “butcher knife” and the knife would either be easily recognized or would have initials carved in the handle. It was a very important piece of equipment, not to be misplaced or lost. Some would also bring saws. The fat and the rind would be put in a huge iron kettle over a hot fire to be rendered into lard. One of the favorite things were the “cracklins” that were left after the lard was all done.
My dad would tell the story of how he and my mom, who was a city girl, went to help with the butchering at a neighbors just a few months after they were married. Mom was just learning how things were done. The hogs were done and everyone was gathered in a group getting ready to leave and head home. My mom, in a strong voice that everyone could hear, asked, “Aren’t you going to render the lard?” My dad had to take her aside and explain that these neighbors were well known for not feeding their hogs very well, and there was so little fat that it had been rendered in a large skillet on the stove! Needless to say, my mom was a bit embarrassed!
The hams and shoulders would be cut and trimmed, “sugar cured” and put in the smoke house to cure. I have heard my dad talk about going to the smoke house to cut some slices off the ham for a meal and having to cut mold off the hams first. I would help my mom make sausage patties and place them in big baking pans.
They would be baked in the oven of the Home Comfort stove, and then placed in jars and the grease poured over them and the jars sealed. Some people just layered the sausage in small crocks and sealed them with the lard. I was told about a gentleman who would take wooden barrels to the pond and soak them until they swelled tight. He would then start with a layer of salt, then meat, etc. finishing up with the salt. People who ate the meat would comment, “It’s so salty you can hardly eat it, but it’s meat!” People were so grateful to have meat and ways to preserve meat for meals during those long winter months.
Be thankful that you could just walk into the grocery store and find all the “fixins” for the delicious Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings that you and your family and friends enjoyed. Remember to thank the farmers who worked hard to make all those foods available!
Barb Lumley wrote this column to be published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.