When winter arrived for Ohio farm families in the 1880s, they knew it was time to lay in their store of meat for the coming year. However, they did not go to the supermarket like we do today.
On Dec. 10-11, the staff and volunteers at Metro Parks’ Slate Run Living Historical Farm, located at 1375 State Route 674 N. near Canal Winchester, gave a demonstration of how 19th century farm families obtained their meat by using their butchering skills on their raised livestock.
Because they did not have refrigerators or freezers, pioneer farm families did their meat butchering during the cold of winter to help reduce the risk of spoilage.
Slate Run Living Historical Farm workers and volunteers carefully prepared a Poland China hog raised on the farm for butchering. Poland China hogs are a breed that was developed in southwestern Ohio in the 1800s. The breed is known for its fast growth and its extra fat, which could be used for lard, according to information provided by Slate Run Living Historical Farm.
After the hog was killed in a quick and humane manner out of public view, the carcass was scalded with hot water and scraped to remove the hair. The carcass was allowed to cool overnight in the chilled air of winter and then hung in a shed near the farmhouse to be gutted.
As a crowd of visitors looked upon this scene of the cycle of life on this cold, but sunny, December day, the workers methodically sliced open the carcass and removed the organs.
According to information provided by Slate Run Living Historical Farm, the highly perishable parts, such as the liver and kidneys would be cooked and eaten while fresh.
“We’ll use this in sausage,” said Slate Run Living Historical Farm worker Mike Huels as he cleaned the hog heart.
Huels said the organs are examined for a rich color and texture to make sure they would be good for eating.
“Livers from older animals often aren’t as good,” said Huels.
The workers next cut the carcass into hams, chops, bacon, jowls, hocks and shoulders.
“When you’re eating meat, you’re primarily eating muscle,” one of the workers told the crowd.
Once removed, the meat is then salted in brine for two months to cure and preserve it and then smoked in the smokehouse for one week. The smoke – generated from hardwoods like hickory, oak, maple and apple trees – dries, flavors and preserves the meat. Meat prepared properly in this manner would then be wrapped and could be stored for months without refrigeration.
Additionally, pork chops and sausage were packed in crocks and covered with lard to help preserve them.
Nothing was wasted as the lard from the hog was collected to be used as cooking oil, in soap making and for lubrication. Other parts of the hog were salvaged to make pickled pig’s feet and head cheese.
The demonstration showed how the cycle of life plays out on the farm and how families and farm communities combined their efforts to ensure their survival.
For information about Slate Run Living Historical Farm, call (614) 833-1880 or visit www.metroparks.net.
Rick Palsgrove, Southeast Editor, Dec. 14, 2011
Comment from Kay: This blog sure brought back some memories! A few months after I married at age 19 – my husband’s family butchered a hog. I grew up in the country but had never witnessed such an event. It went exactly as you described and my wonderful mother-in-law (now aged 99!!)canned sausage and bacon (seems like something else that I can’t remember). Thanks for the memories.