As we grow older, Father Time seems to flip the pages of time with increasing speed. As we watch those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer fade into the passing years, the panorama of fall colors appear, ever new and yet the same. With each Kodachrome-like view is the knowledge that another year has been deducted from our allotted span on earth. We should pause and ask ourselves: have we taken time to “smell the roses”?
I want to take you back to butcherin’ time and the making of sausage, real whole-hog sausage, that is. I must confess, though, that a strip of tenderloin might be purloined, hooked to a length of wire and hung in the rendering kettle to deep cook; a treat not excelled by the world’s greatest chefs.
With the butchering done, the carcass hung and chilled in the brisk fall air, it was time to cut up the meat and process it into the several forms that would supply the winter’s larder to feed the always hungry Piper children.
In those long ago days, before we’d heard of cholesterol and arterial-clogging fats, the pigs were slaughtered when they reached 400 pounds and more. The lard was needed for cooking and baking. With the great amount of physical exertion used in those days, most folks burnt up calories long before they could be converted into pounds and deposited on the human frame.
The scalded, scraped and cleaned carcass was hung from a tree limb or barn beam to be “dressed” and here it cooled and stiffened until it was time to be cut up into hams, shoulders, fat backs and sow bellies. The block and tackle and a two-foot-long stick called a “gambol” stick, with notches on either end to slip behind the tendons of the hind legs, were used to hold the carcass up in a convenient working position.
First the carcass was split down either side of the back bone. Pork chops were not as yet a common cut. The spine, from the tail to the neck, was then laid out on the table and the long lengths of tenderloin stripped out. The back bone was then cut into chunks and later on used for cooking with sauerkraut or pigs feet. MaMa used to make a joke by saying “We always throw the back bones away … after we’ve eaten the meat off them!”
The feet were removed, cleaned, and laid aside for pickling as “jellied pickled pigs feet,” or for making into a mess of pigs foot sousch, or maybe just for smoke-curing as pig knuckles. The hams, or the rear hips and thighs, were removed and most of the clear fat was trimmed away.
The fat that was not clear went into the sausage pails, along with all the other scraps, no matter how small. The shoulders were trimmed up too. Later on we learned that these were sold in stores as Calli Hams, and the top end offered as a Boston Butt. We called ’em what they were: shoulders, and Dad trimmed them close, for he wanted that sweet shoulder meat to go into the sausage.
When all the trimming was done, the fire under the lard kettle was stirred up and the fatty portions were started cooking. The sausage grinder was brought out and laid between two chairs. This was an over-grown food chopper that was powered by a long crank that a 10-year old boy could barely turn.
But spin it I did, and that lean scrappy pork was pushed through a set of knives and dropped into a clean wash tub. Good sausage must contain some fat, and the proper amount of the fatty parts of the hog to grind with the sausage is learned only by trial and error.
After the trimmings were run through the grinder, the tub was set up on the washtub rack, and the “technical” part of the job began: the seasoning. Dad liked a certain amount of sage with his sausage and would roll up his sleeves, add a handful of MaMa’s dried sage, mix in some salt, and sprinkle a full half-pound of McNees brand pepper that he always bought from Oliver Petty. Dad took no stock in fancy sausage seasonings and swore by McNees, claiming he could tell if a sausage had been “doped-up” with some “off brand” pepper.
Now came the best part: the sampling. A couple of patties of the fresh sausage were fried out in the big cast iron skillet, cut into bite-size pieces, and passed around for approval. If Dad was not satisfied, regardless of the other judges’ decisions, he added more pepper or salt or sage as he saw fit. Then the sampling was repeated until he was pleased.
While this was being done, MaMa and Aunt Esther took small intestines that Dad had collected from the pigs, and laid them out on a wet board. Using the back of a case knife, they would scrape the linings and other materials from them so they came out as long, clear, clean tubes. The cleaned casings were then stored in a milk pail of cold north well water until they were stuffed with the fresh sausage.
Stuffing the casing was done through the use of an Enterprise sausage stuffer and lard press. A removable perforated liner allowed the “cracklins,” or cooked lard-meat, to be pressed into thick cakes and the lard caught in lard cans. With the liner removed, the machine became a sausage stuffer. This patented screw press had a corrugated spout on the bottom, on which the cleaned casings were slipped; as many as could be crowded onto its six-inch length.
Then the press was filled with the finished and seasoned sausage. A flat lid was pushed by turning a crank and winding down the screw. This forced the sausage out of the spout, and by holding the end of the casing closed, it would fill up and pack the stuffing into two- or three-foot strings of inch-thick sausages.
When all the casings had been filled, the rest of the sausage was made into patties and fried down. The cooked patties were then packed into gallon-size stone jars and covered with the hot lard. Such containers kept very well for eating later on during the winter.
The stuffed sausages were hung on hooks in the smoke house and cured by the heat and smoke for several days over a slow-smoking fire of hickory chips, until they achieved a brown, crinkly texture. Sausage cured this way would also keep well until used. Some of the stuffed links were cut down into pieces, fried down and stored under fresh lard like the patties.
My remembrances of a farm breakfast include some of that home-made stuffed sausage, a pair of farm-fresh barnyard eggs fried in the sausage grease until the edges were brown, with a heap of pan-fried potatoes, all washed down by several steaming mugs of hot Peaberry coffee. Yum, yum good! Now that is livin’! FC
The late Perry Piper was a newspaper columnist in Indiana and Illinois for more than 12 years. His columns, reprinted here from his memoirs, appear in Farm Collector with the permission of his family.