Making Sausage and Lard at Home

Making Sausage and Lard at Home

By Elton Camp


(This is another in the series about rural life in the South during the early 20th Century.  Look for others on this site.  This is a continuation of a true account of home processing of hogs.)

The hardest work of hog killing was over late in the afternoon. It was then time for the visiting families to go home. Except for a dinner break, all but the children had worked for several hours. A day of vigorous play, which would be remembered for a lifetime, left the youngsters happily exhausted and sleepy. 

If not for the community effort, the task would have extended over multiple days. It was time to show appreciation. “Afore y’u depart, com’ help y’r selves t’ som’ meat, fellers,” Milas called out. 


It wasn’t an act of generosity, but expected for all who’d taken part in the work. Milas would be repaid in kind when he and his family assisted each of them. The hog parts that couldn’t well be preserved were always divided up. The families would enjoy fresh ribs for a few days, depending on the temperature. 


After the neighbors left, hours of toil remained. Miranda and her older children took over. Milas made an occasional appearance to observe and supervise. Meat for sausage was sliced into strips and put into the manual sausage grinder along with fat. When it was ground well, they added spices, peppers and sage to taste.

            “Y’u thank thet’s ’nough sage?” Miranda asked her husband. 

            Milas took a pinch of the raw sausage and tasted it. “A speck mo’s needed,” he judged.

He thought nothing of consuming the uncooked pork. Trichina worms and other dangers of eating raw pork were unknown in that day. 

            “Better git goin’ on renderin’ th’ lard,” he said when the sausage was done. 

            Miranda placed piles of glistening, white fat into the wash pot to cook out the lard. Stored in metal buckets, it would be used throughout the year until next hog killing. It was an essential ingredient in soapmaking. Its liberal use in cooking endangered the health of all in the family. Nobody knew the risks connected with a diet high in saturated fats, cholesterol and salt. Strokes and heart attacks crippled people and ended many lives prematurely. 

            A byproduct of lard rendering was crisp bits of fat called cracklings. They could be eaten while fresh and hot, but most were used to make cracklin’ bread. The cracklings were mixed in with the batter when stirring up cornbread. With the brown and white cracklings, the fresh baked hoecake was a delicious, though greasy, treat. When eaten with turnip greens, it was a particular favorite of rural people. 

            In the absence of electricity, there could be no refrigeration. Another means must be used to preserve the meat during the coming months. The family hung hams and bacon from the joists of the smokehouse to cure. The drying, combined with preservatives, prevented bacterial growth and spoilage. Because the bacon didn’t have bones, the family found it easy to cut off a hunk when it was needed during the year. It would then be sliced into individual strips called “rashers.”  Ham, however, was harder to manage. 

            “Git down thet biggest ham, Leamon,” Milas directed later in the year. “I’ll holt hit whilst y’u saw threw th’ bone. 

            The brown, unwashed hacksaw blade cut easily through the meat, but slowed, with a rasping sound, as it ground through the dense bone. Slices of the cured ham were a special treat to be enjoyed in small servings and only on occasion. It was always served along with fresh-baked biscuits and red-eye gravy. 

            Timing was everything in hog killing. After the first hard frost, the temperature usually stayed low enough for the meat not to spoil. Occasionally, a prolonged warm spell meant loss of the precious food. When thoroughly cured, the meat wouldn’t ruin whatever the weather might do. Nobody wanted to kill hogs too soon, but accurate projections were simply impossible. It was one of the many uncertainties of country life. 

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Another aspect of rural life in the early 20th Century South.