Preparing Casings for Sausage Making

Contributed by Dolly Qualls

We always cleaned the intestines for the sausage casings out of the hogs.  They were rolled out of the hog into a wash tub with great care so there were no perforations, cuts, or tears.  They are very smooth and clean on the outside.  If the hog was fat there is fat attached to the gut that has to be carefully taken off while trying to separate the whole maze from the meshy tissue that holds them together.  They need to be loosen from that connecting mesh and then look just like a rope.

This next part is the fun part.  The cleaning of the intestines is a fun job, seriously.  There us usually not much in them because the hogs are not fed the day  before so most all food had worked through their system.  The process is a two person job.  One person will cut off a length of about six feet or so.  The taller the person, the longer the length can be as they need to hold the gut piece high to be sure the lower end doesn't hit the ground.  The other person pours clean water into the top end and works the water through with a squeezing of the hand to move the water through to rinse out the inside of the gut. That is done a few times until the water comes out clean on the other end.  Remember there isn't much inside the gut except for normal gastric fluids.  Then it has to be turned inside out.  The bottom end of the gut is turn up like a French cuff on a shirt.  The water is poured into that turned up piece near the lower end and the guy holding the other end high above his head gently lowers the gut as the weight of the water pulls it down and it automatically turns itself inside out.  Then the inside of the gut is rinsed very well in your hands just like washing a sock.  Then that piece is put into a clean pail.

After these steps are repeated to get all of the intestines roughly cleaned we would take them into the kitchen sink and start rubbing them well with lots of dry coarse salt which helps remove anything that needs to be removed and then they get more.rinsings. Then they get put in a pail with more salt, cold water and lots of cut up onions. The onions help remove any odor. They would sit in that pail overnight in a cool place, usually the basement food storage room.   The small intestines are much easier to clean than the large ones.  The large ones have more loops and bulges that are simply hard to get clean.  Sometimes we did not use the large intestines if they were going to be a real pain to clean. I could always empathize with a doctor doing abdominal surgery in humans cause no two innards in hogs were alike which must be the same for humans.  Some have very tender intestines that could tear easily, the size is different, some have more bulges and whatever else that can make them different.

Early the next morning, sausage making day, as the cut up head pieces are cooking in the big canners on the old wood stove, the intestines get more cleaning. It was so much fun to slip one end of a piece of gut over the faucet and let the water run through the piece of gut while working them with your hands. They looked like white little hoses full of water in the sink.  Then they had to be scraped to remove all those little finger like things that push food through them when they are doing their job when the hog is alive.  Usually my dad would do that job.  He would put a cutting board on an old wooden chair to make a work space for himself as the rest of the kitchen was already full of other processes, and he would sit on the little kitchen stool.  He would use the back of a butter knife and scrape off that inside tissue which now on the outside cause they were turned inside out.  It would come off easily once you got it started.  It just rolled away in front of the blade of the knife.  After that was done, there was more rinsing.  They were just as white as could be and translucent.  If you ever buy brats with natural casings look at them closely and you will see the fine tissue and the little striations in them.

Most often we would have to go to Lunka's store to buy more than what 2 hogs would give for casings.  They came into the store packed in salt.  At home they had to be soaked to rehydrate them which didn't take very long.  We made our blood sausage with the blood, ground up meat, rice and seasonings.  If the lungs were nice those would be cooked and ground in and sometimes the liver or some of the liver.  Bony neck bones were cooked to get the rest of the meat off them, too.

We didn't have an official sausage stuffer, so we used a large metal funnel.  The casing was slipped onto the narrow end of the funnel.  The stuffer person would dip the funnel into the tub of sausage mix, scoop up a full funnel's worth and use the handle of a wooden spoon to push it through all the while releasing some of the casing off the funnel end.  It was important to not over fill the casings otherwise they would burst when cooking them in the boiling water. Soon, there was this neat looking rope in the tub.  Then the stuffer used small willow branch sticks to stick into the open ends and twist the stick into the gut to seal the end.  Lots of fancy loops and circles were made of the filled casings so as to yield meal size amounts for our family.  Smaller ones were added together, if need be.

After they were cooked in boiling water for a few minutes, they were taken out and set on a make shift table of saw horses and boards covered with the waxed locker (later the term changed to freezer paper) paper to cool overnight.  The next day they were wrapped in locker paper and hauled off to the locker either in Loyal at the butcher shop or later years in Greenwood before we got a home freezer.

I have to tell about those little willow sticks.  We kids would have to walk to the woods to get small branches off a certain willow tree by the creek. The branch had to have very small in diameter littler branches. We would then take a paring knife and scrape off the bark.  They were cut into lengths about 10 inches long.  Mom would put them in the oven and dry them the week before the sausage day. They smelled so good!   In later years we got smart and bought the round toothpicks!

An elderly friend tells about his first job off the farm as a young man.  He worked in South St. Paul at one of the meat packing plants.  His job was to clean the pork intestines.  He said they came to him already turned inside out.  His job was to run them through some rollers like the rollers on wringer washers which peeled off that inner membrane as I described to you earlier.  He kids about "having a lot of guts" when he was young!

Janet, this is more than your probably wanted to know, but, that's the way it was.

As we do our blood sausage now, we buy pork shoulder to cook for the meat cause it has lots of bone in to get the collagen (gelatin) to help set the sausage, and buy the casings all cleaned and in salt. That part hasn't changed. The butcher we use for cattle slaughter will order the casings.  Relatively speaking, they are quite expensive which surprises me but they are labor intensive, so that probably increases the cost. That butcher lets me come to his shop when he has a hog day to catch some blood for our sausages.  I have to don the big boots, apron and hard hat just like the butchering guys wear to keep the USDA inspector happy.  There is some USDA rule that they can't sell me the fresh intestines to take home to clean.  I have a farmer friend who lets me have the parts he doesn't use if we can coordinate his home butchering with when we want to make our sausage.

As for other uses I am sure you have heard of chitlins, chitlings or chitterlings which are all the same word for pork intestines as they are used in the south.  I had a friend from the south and she said they cooked them with either collard or mustard greens.  Seems to me it is like putting the little bit of pork in canned pork and beans.  It probably adds enough flavor and protein to the greens to make a hearty meal. She said they ate it with corn bread.

Our family did this process during the Christmas vacation so there were the kids to help. It took about 3 days to get it all done.  Butchering day was the longest as the intestines had to be cleaned and then the heads had to be cleaned to get them ready for being on the stove early the next morning. The casings could be finished after the meat got on the old wood cook stove.  The meat had to be ground by hand after it was cooked and cooled some to be able to handle it for the sausages for day 2.    Day 2 was the day the hog got cut up and wrapped ready for the locker.  Pork does not have to be aged like beef.  Our basement food storage room was very cool so the hog halves hung there overnight to chill.

We ground all the lard with a hand crank grinder and rendered all the lard usually on day 3 and maybe finished the lard on day 4.  Mom strained the cracklings from the lard when she filled the crocks so she had either nice clear lard or the cracklings each in different crocks. Cracklings are the protein residue left after the fat is extracted from the protein structure found in all fat. We could hardly wait to have fresh bread with salted freshly cooked cracklings on it for a sandwich.  We used the cracklings to put over zganci which is a hot cereal made from either light white buckwheat flour or corn meal. 

I must make comment about the huge task it was to clean up each day.  It was a blessing when Joy came into our lives. Fels Naphtha bar soap just doesn't cut the grease as well as Joy did.

The time between Christmas and Easter gave enough time to get the hams and bacons cured and smoked.  Then the ham was ready for Easter. This is another story sometime.