As the boy crawled on his stomach with his face near the ground, there were about four inches of clean air below the smoke. No, he was not escaping a burning building. The building was not on fire, but it contained a fire. It was just one of many chores for young Warren Lange during the early 1930s on the family farm on South Ridge in Houston County. In the smoke house, there was a fire that needed stoking with new wood along with “tidying up the place to maintain a smoky atmosphere for the hams, bacon slabs and sausages.”
The smoke was extremely dense and even near the floor, it was impossible to keep some of the smoke out of his eyes. Although the task was accomplished mostly by feel, “sore and watering eyes were the rule,” he wrote decades later as a senior citizen.
The smoke house was a small, low-built structure with only one small door. It “always had a pleasant food smell.” It served only one purpose and only early in the new year, in January toward the end of butchering season. It was a true “hickory smoked” endeavor. When wood was cut each spring, there was at least one hickory tree included. That hickory “smoke” wood was then stored inside the smoke house. Months later, anticipation grew as the various meats were carried in and hung on hickory poles. Warren’s dad Herman Joseph Lange would start a smoldering fire that on many occasions needed to be replenished. “Whether or not I did all of the fire stoking, I rather doubt,” said Warren (He did have a younger brother), “but I do know that I did it often enough to be thankful when the ordeal was over.”
The smoking process took about a week to 10 days while Warren “had trouble waiting for the finished product.” A far more satisfying job was carrying the smoked meat into the cellar where it remained until finally making it onto the dinner table. Soon, Warren would be able to enjoy his favorite winter breakfast. His mother would liberally cover an aluminum pan with lard before adding an inch-or-two layer of sliced potatoes, topped with several eggs and smoked meat. It went into the oven to bake and would be ready by the time she and the guys completed their morning barn chores. “Those days, I ate with gusto,” said Warren decades later. “My salivary glands still moisten when I think of it.”
But before the smoking came the slaughtering and butchering soon after the Christmas and New Year season. Cold weather was needed with a steer and two pigs hanging on a meat pole. The beef animal would suddenly drop to the ground “like a stone” when struck by a large wooden maul in the flat spot between its eyes. Men would quickly cut openings in the hind legs between bone and tendon where hooks could be inserted and a block and tackle attached. the steer would be hoisted and hung on a meat pole.
The neck artery would be severed, causing blood to gush out into a large pan being held beneath its head. “It was a revelation to me,” wrote Warren, “that some of the delicious recipes that came from my mother’s kitchen contained beef blood. I can’t say that it ruined my appetite though.”
The carcass remained hanging while being gutted and skinned. The meat would then hang for at least a day longer. The hide might be sold or tanned for use at home.
Hog slaughtering was entirely different. The animal was held while a rather large knife was inserted into the neck, “followed by a deft twist.” The hog carcass would be hung like the steer. A cast iron pot, called a “slop cooker,” was filled with water, which was heated to near boiling above a roaring fire. The pig carcass would be dipped into the water to scald the skin, so that the skin could be scraped off.
With one steer and two hogs, the meat processing could take weeks, usually when Warren was away at school. “What a delight to come home and know that we would be enjoying fresh meat for supper.”
Source – “Farm Tales: Recollections and Reflections” by Warren Lange, published 2017
Dave Bekman says
We had a large tin cover that went over the fire in our smoke house to prevent flames flaring up from the dripping fat. One time my uncle forgot to replace the tin and the hams, bacon, sausage, and smoke house caught fire and burned to the ground. A huge loss which made my uncle very sad.