Addendum to Roger Helberg Oral History

Talk on BUTCHERING at German Lutheran Heritage Meeting on February 7, 2016 at Lutheran Social Services building in Archbold, Ohio

Butchering day was a family affair for the Helberg family even before I was born and continued into the 1950’s. It all started in the previous spring by Mom’s Dad, Grandma Helberg, and Grandpa and Grandma Hogrefe, and Aunts and Uncles on both sides of the family. After it was decided how much summer sausage, hams, shoulders, steaks, and pot roasts we would need next year.

Mom and Dad and Grandma Helberg would decide how many hogs and cows we would set aside for butchering the following winter. The date was set by the weather, it had to be cold, but not too cold to work outside, and not too warm so the hams and shoulders, bacon and summer sausage would smoke and cure properly before it got too warm in the Spring.

The day before butchering day Dad and my Uncles would set up the big cast iron kettle and jacket and chimney. Two wood barrels were set at an angle by a wood platform to scald the pigs so hair could be scraped off. Before sunup on that day Mom’s brother Ray would start the fire under the kettle and fill it with water from the well close by. At that time of day there would not be enough wind to pump the water. We used the little ones who took turns pumping the buckets full. After the water was hot enough to scald and scrape the hogs.

The rest of the men came out of the basement where they had been washing up the sausage stuffer and the big table, pots, pans and buckets.

They were all dressed in heavy clothes if we had a cold day. Dad would be carrying the old Stevens single shot 22 rifle. Dad was usually the shooter. If one of my Uncles shot it and did not put the hog down with the first shot he would be laughed at for a long time. After the hog was down the throat was cut so it would bleed out blood, or there would be blood in the veins and meat.

The pigs would be drug out of the barn to the scalding platform. The first barrel had a shovel of wood ashes added to the water. The lye in the ashes helped soften the bristles so the hair could be scraped off easier. After it was soaked a few minutes it was pulled out on the platform and 3 or 4 men scraped till it was clean on the outside. Then it was turned and the other end was scraped. Then it was rinsed in the other barrel of hot water to check if all the hair was off. Then the hog was hung on a tripod and gutted while the other hog was scalded and scraped.

The pig on the tripod was gutted and split the intestines were dropped in a wheelbarrow. The heart, liver, and kidneys were taken into the basement and cleaned. The liver was cleaned and put in the snow to firm up and sliced to be served at noon with fried potatoes.

The large and small intestines were brought into the basement and cleaned inside and out and scraped to remove the fat. They were turned inside and out and cleaned out again to be used as casings to stuff for the sausages that would be stuffed after supper.

By that time the hanging meat had cooled enough to be cut up. The pig was split with a hand meat saw and the two halves were carried to the heavy table in the basement. The hams and shoulders were cut off first and hung to dry for a week or so before they were rubbed down good with salt and pepper and Morton Sugar Cure. They were then wrapped in five or six layers of newspaper and a white cloth was sown around them and hung in the smokehouse till summer, Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The sides of bacon from each pig were cured the same way. The meat was cut into the correct cuts that Dad decided and taught us where to cut and how to get the most chops and steaks and roasts.

The skin and fat was trimmed to the correct thickness. The fat was cut off the skin and cut in small chunks and put on the 2 burner kerosene hot plate to be rendered into lard.

Mom would decide how many chops and roasts would work out best for the next year and Dad would cut it to order. We didn’t have a freezer at the time so all the pork chops were browned and partly fried. Then they were put in a lard crock 1-2 or 3 gallon. A layer of chops and a layer of lard was poured over them and then another layer of lard until the crock was full. The crock was put on the shelf in an unheated room in the basement. In the summer Mom would send us to the basement with a plate and fork to dig as many chops out we would need for the meal. Those pork chops sure tasted good. We didn’t need low cholesterol oil or olive oil in the pan.

After we butchered the two pigs and preserved most of that meat we would butcher a beef. After it was killed we would help skin it. The hind legs were fastened to a single tree so we could lift if up with a block and tackle and skin the hide off as it was pulled up. We had to be careful not to cut holes in it so it could be sold to the fur buyer or be tanned to become a lap robe to keep in the car. The heater in the car did not keep the back seat very warm.

Dad would rent freezer space at the locker up town for steak, roast and hamburger. Most of the other meat was canned or used to make sausage and prettles. The odd pieces and trimmings were ground up for summer sausage. Other trimmings were boiled with the pork trimmings from the pig butchering to be used for prettles. The ground beef and pork was mixed 50/50 and mixed on the heavy table. Salt and pepper was added till the taste was just right and then it was stuffed in the casings the women had cleaned the day before. It was then hung in the smokehouse for about a week after fire was put out it would to cured and dry along with the hams, shoulders, and bacon. It would hang all summer. We were sent to cut down a sausage for a special occasion. If it had mold on it Mom would wipe it down with vinegar.

When we went to summer school at St. Paul’s Mom would pack a summer sausage sandwich, an apple, or peach and a package of Kool Aid and a pint jar with a lid on it so we mixed it with cool water from the well between the school and parsonage.

While the men made the sausage the women were boiling the trimmings from the beef and pork, about a 50/50 mix. The meat was removed from the kettle and pin oats (steel cut oats) were boiled in the broth. After the oats were tender the ground beef and pork and oats was mixed with spices, salt and pepper and just a little bit of allspice.

While it is still hot it was put in flat pans about 2 to 3 inches deep to cool. After everything was cleaned up and put away every family that helped was given a pan of prettles to take home. All of this took about 3 days and a lot of work. It wasn’t as easy as going to the store and buying a weeks supply of meat. It sure brings back a lot of memories.

Everyone had his favorite sausage and how to make it. Grandpa Hogrefe made the blood sausage. When we bled out the beef he would catch the blood in a dish pan and put it in the snow to cool down. He had to constantly stir it to keep it from coagulating. After if was cooled down he would mix flour and spices in it and stuff it in a large casing and hang it in the smokehouse. Some families made liver sausage, and some families made brain sausage.

My favorite is Head Cheese. ( it does not have any cheese in it). It contains meat trimmings from beef and pork. The trimming from the head, jowls, ears, and snout. It was stuffed in the pigs stomach, so it was limited to only one from each pig. It was boiled in the casing and smoked with the rest of the meat.

This is what I remembered about butchering in the 1940’s and after WW II. My brother Larry, Lynn and I butchered our own hogs and beef up till 1990.

Roger Helberg