Rural Heritage Museum goes hog wild with butchering demo

November 18, 2007|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Thick puffs of pungent smoke arose from 30-gallon cast-iron kettles atop fires contained by halved 55-gallon drums. Two-inch-square slices of pig fat boiled inside one kettle, head meat boiled in another.

Various cuts of pork lay tidily on a nearby table, while two backbones dangled and wafted from a line in the chilly breeze.

Bill Poffenberger provided a butchering demonstration Saturday on the grounds of the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum.

As he was demonstrating, Poffenberger said he remembered the advice his grandfather gave him.

"Boy, always learn something you can do and somebody else can't," Poffenberger said.

In 1955, Poffenberger learned the value of those words. He and his wife, Mary, had one baby and another one on the way when he found out he would be laid off from Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corp.

He confided his plight to his grandfather.

"I said, 'Pap, I need money,' and he said, 'Let's kill hogs,'" Poffenberger said.


Poffenberger had learned butchering skills from his grandfather growing up. The two set to work, slaughtering and processing 478 hogs in less than 90 days.

"Some of the old boys around here liked that," said Bill Poffenberger, 73, of Sharpsburg. "So we worked killing hogs six days a week. My grandfather would not kill hogs on Sunday."

Poffenberger found employment in the meat-processing field, then eventually moved into another line of work. However, he said butchering hogs got him through that rough period. He wants other people to learn how the job is done.

"I think it's a big deal for a small child (to see a butchering)," Poffenberger said. "I know very well very few of them will ever get to do this."

Many members of Poffenberger's family helped out at the butchering, including his wife, four of his six children and some of his grandchildren.

"I like doing (hog butchering) now because I don't need to do it," said Doug Poffenberger, 50, of Sharpsburg. "When I was younger, sometimes we had to do it to help support the family and to put food on the table. It's fun now. It's fun showing the kids how to do it."

Jeff Poffenberger, 53, of Sharpsburg, said the family wanted to demonstrate to the general public where meat comes from.

"It's not from the store," he said. "It comes from an actual pig."

True to the history of butchering and to Poffenberger family tradition, demonstrators did not waste any part of the pig.

"The only thing we don't use is the bones," Doug Poffenberger said.

Demonstrators Saturday showed how to produce ham, shoulders, bacon, tenderloin, "fish," backbone, sausage, pudding, broth, pan haus, lard and cracklins.

Rick Canfield, 48, of Sharpsburg, tended to the cast-iron kettle containing pig fat.

"We're cooking it off to make lard," he said.

When the lard cooked off, demonstrators pressed the remaining pieces through a machine to make cracklins, similar to pork rinds that are sold as a snack food.

Kelly Passerelli, 47, of Boonsboro, took her four children, whom she home-schools, to the demonstration. Passerelli said her family is using the "Little House on the Prairie" books for social studies lessons, and there are accounts of hog butchering in the books.

Mary Doane of New Windsor, Md., and her daughter, Rebecca, 12, also attended.

"We take for granted going to the grocery store to buy things," Mary Doane said. "This shows kids how easy we have things. This is how (people used to get) meat. If they didn't work, they didn't eat. They couldn't be lazy and not do their chores."

Camille Hendrickson, membership chairwoman for the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum, said nearly 200 people attended the demonstration.

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