Pigs were brought to the new world first by Spanish explorers as a food source that could walk with them, reproducing themselves as explored new lands. Additional pigs were brought overseas by European settlers and pigs continued moving across the nation as the pioneers moved west with their families.
Throughout the South, pigs were historically useful as they could fend for themselves with little supplemental feed (if any) required. Those feral hogs that we consider a pest today were a valuable resource years ago.
Each year at the onset of cooler months, hogs were harvested and preserved for the upcoming year. This annual harvest was “hog killing time”. The preservation included smoking, curing and sausage making.
The routines and the recipes for preserving foodstuffs had changed very little over hundreds of years. This was to change dramatically with the advent of electricity and the many options for freezing and preserving foodstuffs that electricity brought.
In the last several decades, there has been a push to grow leaner hogs with less fat content. However, fat hogs were desired for slaughter because the fat was rendered and used for cooking lard for the whole year.
Hogs that were to be slaughtered for meat were usually put in a separate pen for a month or so and fed corn and other food to increase their weight and particularly their fat content. Since this was the major meat used all year, hog killing day usually included the butchering of at least three and more likely 4 or 5 hogs. At time of slaughter the hogs averaged from 500 to 600 pounds- – more than double the current live weight at slaughter.
The weather had to be cold enough to keep the meat from spoiling until the curing process could take place. Friends around Lufkin that I have visited with say that anytime from mid-November thru December were common times for the appointed day.
The smoke house had to be cleaned out, the roof checked for leaks, and the inside rafters were cleaned and checked for strength. Hard wood seasoned at least for a year was used for the fire. Hams, shoulders, sides (bacon) and ribs were all seasoned and hung from rafters about 6 or 7 feet off the ground.
Leaves from “bear grass” (which we now know as Yucca) were used to hang the meat. Its leaves have a needle like tip and are very strong. A leaf was threaded through the tendon of the ham and shoulders and through a hole punched in on end of the sides and then tied around the rafter for the smoking or curing process. It was essential that air could circulate around each piece of meat so care had to be taken. Sausage stuffed into casings like long ropes were draped across the rafters.
The entire process required lots of labor, buildings, equipment, a fire, very large pots, and an incredible amount of “common knowledge” that had been passed down for generations. These days, I don’t personally know anyone who butchers and processes their own farm raised hog. It is far more common for hunting enthusiasts to process their own harvests and make sausage. Today’s widespread availability of refrigeration, quality equipment, meats, exotic ingredients, and spices makes for endless sausage possibilities for a home sausage maker. Home sausage making can be a fun, creative, and practical family project.
There is no need for excessive, fancy equipment to get started. It only requires a grinder, a good meat thermometer and some general household items to make excellent sausage. If you do not have a grinder, you can purchase ground meat from the store. Many products do not need to be smoked, but you can purchase a household smoker or make one. An old refrigerator converted to a smokehouse works quite well if you need to smoke the product. Smokehouses can be as simple as a tarp covering or as sophisticated as a commercial unit.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Angelina County is pleased to host “Sausage Making 101” on October 19 from 6:30 to 8:00pm. The seminar, part of the monthly Homegrown to Homemade series, will feature Texas A&M University meat specialists demonstrating proper techniques for making your own fresh and cured sausage. Cost is $10 at the door and no advance registration is required. For questions about the event, please contact our office at 936-634-6414.