Sausage making a memorable time

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, February 20, 2013

by James D. “Archie” Howell

Hog killin’ was done yesterday; today is final trimming day for the meat.

Familiar shapes of hams, shoulders, ribs, side bacon and backbone emerge from the carcasses. Most finished meats are packed in salt to draw out more blood and begin the curing process.

The large, now empty, pot for scalding is moved to another area of the yard and becomes a cooking pot for rendering lard. The lard will be stored in “stands” and used for cooking and other purposes.

The leaner of all trimmings from today’s work is run through a manual sausage grinder and seasonings mixed in. I get to participate in turning the handle. It’s one of the few jobs I’m permitted during the whole hog killin’ operation.

We use a commercially prepared sausage seasoning, with lots of sage. Its pungency is characteristic of fresh and cured sausage.

A wooden tub is used for working sausage; seasonings are mixed in by hand until someone (usually my father) declares it to be done. In a separate operation, others have thoroughly cleaned the intestines by running long sticks through the inside and continuously rinsing in fresher water. The last tub contains all the intestines and stomachs in clean water.

The sausage stuffer is set up nearby.

The stuffer is a manually operated machine with a gallon-sized reservoir for prepared sausage and an apparatus (platen and screw) that applies pressure to the meat, forcing it out the bottom through a long snout.

An intestine is tied off at the end, loaded onto this snout and filled by the meat as it exits the snout. A full intestine is tied off at the end and folded into links, ready for hanging in the smokehouse.

Some skill is required to not overfill the skin, causing a rupture, and to stop and tie the long loop at the end. Excess meat is returned to the stuffer for the next load.

Larger sacs (stomachs) are filled and tied by hand, with a loop made for hanging in the smokehouse. The stomachs have additional wrappings of pea twine (heavy cotton string used to tie up bags of peanuts). The extra wrap gives those items a special bulging shape. All are hung in the smokehouse for curing.

If intestines remain after sausage stuffing, they are chopped up and become “chittlin’s.” Normally, there’s not much left.

A fire is built under the large pot and all of the fatter trimmings are added to it. Care is taken for the temperature to be high enough to cook the trimmings, but not so high as to burn them. A long, wide wooden paddle stirs the pot; it will take most of the day to slowly coax the lard from the meat.

Late in the day, clean dish towels are brought out and used to filter the lard as it fills each stand. Lard and trimmings alike are scooped up and poured into the filter.

When a suitable amount has been caught, the dish towels are twisted and some remaining lard is wrung out. A pair of strong oak boards, about three feet long, bound by leather hinges at one end, is used to press the last little bit from each load in turn.

The well wrung out, pressed and drained “cracklin’s” are dumped into their own stands and will be used for cooking and eating for as long as they last.

A favorite after-school snack is baked sweet potatoes, used to sop up “cracklin’s.”

Some years ago I purchased a set of boards, used for lard rendering, at a flea market. No one knew what they were. They now hang on my garage wall as a reminder of those cold winter days in my youth when the next year’s food was being prepared.

I walk along the meat counter at my local supermarket and marvel at the neat, sanitary packages of pork products. In one section is bacon, pork chops, roasts, ribs and other parts ready for cooking. In another case are fully cooked or cured products.

Missing is the excitement of an annual event on the farm, the gathering of friends and hired hands, the mutual benefit of work and food shared, and the satisfaction of self provision.

I pass the meat counter and hear the chatter while hogs are scraped, hung and butchered. I taste the coconut-raisin cake, smell the sage and sop yet another baked sweet potato into a saucer of “cracklin’s.”

I am home.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at