The farmer’s winter food included a good supply of pork, and the butchering of hogs was an important annual ritual in the West Virginia countryside. Fat hogs were butchered as soon as the cooler weather permitted, usually around Thanksgiving. Butchering day started before daylight with heating the water in iron kettles over an outside fire. Soon the neighbor men arrived to help. When the water was boiling hot, the best sharpshooter in the group shot the first hog between the eyes. The hog was quickly bled, then lowered into a large barrel filled with hot water. After scalding, it was laid on a platform (usually the farmer’s sled). Each man took a sharp butcher knife and scraped the loosened hair from the hog. The hog was then hung by the hind legs, using a rope and pulley attached to a frame or a stout tree limb. It was split and the heart, lungs, liver, and intestines removed. The carcass was then pulled up out of the way and left to cool. Working quickly, the men could have three hogs hung by noon.
The women prepared a noon-time meal for the butchers. The meal usually included fresh liver with onions. After eating and resting, the men cut the hogs into hams, shoulders, ribs, and so forth. By dark the meat for sausage and lard was cut into strips. Sausage grinding was a social event as neighbors gathered at night to help hand-grind all the fat for lard and the meat for sausage. Salt and spices were added to prepare the sausage for canning. All parts of the hog were used except the snout and the hoofs. The head was used for souse, head cheese, or mincemeat, and the entrails were cleaned by many families, the inner lining being used for sausage casing or chitlins. Even the bladder was washed, filled with air like a balloon and dried to make a ball for the children.
Written by Eileen Cain Stanley