I love this photo of my grandfather Diedrich Peters with a batch of the homemade farmers’ sausages he was famous for.
I remember attending hog butchering bees at my grandparent’s farm in Gnadenthal, as a child. We went home at the end of a long day with the trunk of our car full of roasts, pork chops, spare ribs, hams and smoked sausages.
I can still see my grandfather blowing into the casings for the sausage before attaching them to the spout on the machine that would fill them up with meat and using his finger to swipe up some of the raw sausage meat to check if he had spiced it just right.
My father once wrote a story about what butchering was like when he was a child in the 1930s and 40s.
Dad said butchering bees usually took place in late October or early November. People might be busy butchering for a couple of weeks if they were efficient and well-liked because they would be invited to help out at so many butchering bees.
His paternal grandparents Helena and Paul Peters and his own parents were always in high demand. Dad said your status on the social ladder of the village of Gnadenthal was at least partially determined by how many butchering bees you were invited to.
Each spring some hogs would be designated for butchering with a V cut in their ear. Often it was a sow with a poor litter record or one with bad mothering instincts. For the last few months of the pig’s life, it was given extra feed to ensure maximum size and weight.
Sunday afternoon visiting in the village between spring and fall often included a trip out to the pig pen to survey the doomed animals and guess how many pounds of meat, rings of farmers’ sausage and pails of lard they would produce.
Usually, five or six couples would attend a butchering bee. My Dad said in their family’s case it was something of a Peters Fest with a number of my grandfather’s six brothers in attendance.
The day before the butchering the pig pen was cleaned and fresh straw bedding was provided for the condemned sows. Knives had to be sharpened. Tables had to be set up in the barn as did cauldrons with their stove pipes attached.
One time my Grandma was helping Grandpa attach a stove pipe to a cauldron and one fell and cut her on the side of her face. Some soot got in the wound and Grandma carried a telltale mark of the incident till her dying day.
The woman of the household hosting the butchering had to prepare food for the dozen or more adults attending the bee as well as their children who usually joined their parents for the evening meal. The hostess was also in charge of the thorough cleaning of the pigs’ intestines which were used as casings for the sausages.
On butchering day the men arrived at the crack of dawn each carrying their own personal butchering knives and were served breakfast by the women of the house. Their wives would follow about an hour later.
Killing the pig with a dagger was considered an art in itself. A couple of my Dad’s uncles were particularly gifted at this.
Water was heated to a scalding temperature in the cauldrons to be used to clean off the pigs’ bristles from their skin. After the bristles were removed evisceration began. My grandfather would cleanly and smoothly slash the carcass in half and then the owners of the pig gave directions as to how many hams, farmers’ sausage rings, ribs and other cuts of meat they wanted.
The timing was crucial as much needed to be done- meat cut, lard rendered, sausage made and hung in the smokehouse and then everything cleaned up. Proper processing of the meat was essential since people did not have refrigerators to store the finished products.
The speed at which a butchering was completed was a matter of pride. Butchering bees that were poorly organized or inefficient were the subject of village gossip.
In the story he wrote, my Dad said the butchering bees were also a time for socializing. Stories were told and opinions were expressed while standing around the table cutting up the meat. Matters for discussion were the village school teacher, the minister, the neighbours, possible romances and farming methods.
In his story, Dad speaks nostalgically about the butchering days of his childhood. They were an important annual event.
*A huge thank you to my aunt Mary Fransen who had saved both the photo of my grandfather with his farmers’ sausage as well as the story my Dad had written.