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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Reflecting on
traditional meat processing

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Today's refrigerators and freezers make meat preservation a snap, and the well-stocked grocery store shelves in supermarkets provide an endless choice of meat grades and cuts.

It hasn't always been that way.

Among my childhood memories, I recall hog-butchering days when the neighbors gathered to help each other in processing the winter's supply of meat. We slaughtered the animals and cut the various sections into the forms needed for curing and cooking.

Shoulders and hams were cured and wrapped in butcher paper. With no refrigeration, the Trews used a large wooden box about the size of a big cedar chest, located out in a tin bunkhouse.

We ground smaller pieces into sausage, seasoned it to each family's taste, cooked it well-done then placed it carefully into a large crock. When a layer was filled, we poured hot lard over the meat for preservation.

I can still remember fishing through the gummy cold lard for sausage patties.

When all the patties were lifted, the lard was cooked into lye soap. In the late fall after the first frost when the nights cooled off, we butchered a large beef, swinging the carcass halves in the windmill tower with ropes and pulleys. The halves were wrapped in old bed sheets and heavy canvas for protection.

A smaller beef, usually a big, fat milk pen calf, was also slaughtered with the meat either cut into small bite-size chunks or ground into hamburger meat. These two items were also cooked well-done with the patties placed into crocks like sausage.

The beef chunks were packed into big glass jars and filled with a brown gravy. The jars were then placed into a pressure cooker to seal. This type of meat was kept in the root cellar and saved until the fresh meat ran out.

To grind sausage and hamburger meat, Dad fastened a hand-cranked meat grinder to our kitchen table and we took turns turning the crank. The arrival of electricity to rural areas was a most significant achievement, especially in food preservation.

Refrigerators, deep-freezes and the huge frozen food locker plants across the plains revolutionized the traditional food processing methods. We first switched to storing meat in Perryton, bringing home a week's supply of frozen meats each time we went to town. Later we bought a chest-type freezer and larger refrigerator for preserving food.

To illustrate this story about the evolution of storing meat, we can look at the history of a large famous ranch located some distance to the south. From the first settling of the property in the late 1800s, the remote line camps, chuck wagons and headquarters' staff had permission to butcher ranch animals for beef any time it was needed.

Usually a small beef was chosen to prevent spoilage and it required many head of stock for this one purpose.

Rural electricity arrived at about the same time as a new young educated ranch manager.

He counted the skeletons in the bone piles, bought a deep freeze for each camp plus the headquarters and thereafter had all beeves butchered in town and stored in the locker plant.

No doubt it saved the ranch a lot of money.


Delbert Trew

"It's All Trew" Column
-
March 30, 2006 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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