Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Butchering season

For local farmers of a century or two ago, mid-December was a time for butchering, a multifaceted event that led to many life-sustaining products.

Hogs and cattle produced various cuts of meat, much of it salted and preserved over the winter in cold cellars. Scraps were mixed with salt and pepper, and ground into long-lasting sausages. Fat was boiled or “tried” for use as kitchen lard, as a main ingredient in soap, or to make tallow candles. Marrow made puddings. Hides were hauled off to the local tannery to become leather, which in turn became shoes, boots, harnesses, saddles, and other products. Even the bones were saved and ground to enrich soil.

The whole process often lasted several days and involved family and friends. The work was hard, even dangerous. Old records often tell of people being maimed by the animals they were slaughtering. In fact, in Ridgefield in 1858, meat market owner David Hurlbutt died after being gored in the head by the horn of a cow he was trying to butcher.

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