Appalachian Food

Smoke House to Dry Food

smoke house

“Dad, when he’d kill a beef, we’d dry it. He had a smoke house. He’d hang it up, keep a-smoking it and dry it. And then he had another one he built that we dried all our vegetables in. We dried our apples in it, dried our beans in it, dried our pumpkins in it. Had shelves in it and then had a furnace under it.

Built a fire under it, and when the first shelf got dry, we’d change it, take it out and put it on the top. Take the top one out and put it down there.

Dried, maybe, a hundred pounds a week of pumpkin. Dried berries, blackberries, huckleberries, you know. Then Mother put ’em in a sack and hung ’em up. Put the pumpkin in a sack and hung it up. Put the what we call leather britches, these string beans, we’d string them up and hang them behind the stove.

We used hickory wood and corn cobs to dry the beef. See, we had soaked it in salty water maybe two days before we cured it. Take and pour it over it; then turn it. Then wipe it off. Lay it on a shelf on a white cloth to dry.

Just cut the beef up and hang it up by wires. Put the fire under it. Then the smoke cured it. Didn’t have no floor in the smoke house. Just put a fire under it and smoke it.

When we got it smoked, we’d take what you make sheets out of, and we’d just sew that around there right tight. And that was it. And then when we wanted some, we’d just go and take ‘er down; just strip ‘er down and get what you wanted of it. Now, you could eat it just like it was or cook it, either one. We’d just eat it dry. We called it jerky. We had a knife that we could use to cut it with as thick as we wanted to. We didn’t have to cook it.

I mean we young’uns would cut us off a piece of that jerky and put it in our pockets and go to cut hay. And we’d take our knife and cut us off some to eat. Boy! It was good! I was salty. Ready to go!

—Stanley Hicks 1911 Watauga County – “Snowbird Gravy and Dishpan Pie” written by Patsy Moore Ginns


I wish I had a smoke house for drying things, truthfully I wish I had the pasture to grow the beef too. I find old ways of food preservation fascinating! When you think about the large families most folks had when Hicks was a boy, it’s hard to believe they grew, hunted, and preserved pretty much every thing they ate.

Folks in those days stayed busy from sun up till sun down trying to keep enough sustenance to stay alive. Reminds me of something Granny said one time.

I was getting Pap to show me how to make parched corn from some field corn we grew and gritted bread from the parched corn we made. Since we didn’t have a grinder I put the parched corn in an old flour sack and took it outside to beat with a hammer. As you might imagine it took a while to get meal fine enough for us to use.

As I was talking about what an arduous job the whole process was Granny said “When me and your daddy were growing up everyone’s time was took up by getting food and water and cutting wood to cook and stay warm. There wasn’t any time left over for the meanness that goes on today.”

Tipper

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    Patty Hansen
    May 4, 2022 at 6:52 am

    Living in CNY, my great grandmother did salting, instead of smoking. My dad helped out on his grandmother’s farm (where I now reside) and said the beef would be so salty, he couldn’t stand it. Plus, it’d be pretty tough. The only beef they would have was an ol’ milker that up & quit her job. He also said she was so nervous about cooking pork well enough to avoid trichinosis, that a pork chop was like a piece of shoe leather, by the time she was done with it. I have old letters from her to my great uncle that serve during Korea. She talks about putting up 30 bushels of potatoes in our cellar. I had to immediately go down in our cellar to look at it again. i want to know how she did this. You’d have to see my cellar to understand. My house was built around 1800 with a hand dug, stone lined foundation & I can’t even stand up in it. 30 bushels. But they were Irish – so potatoes were the fare of the day. She was an amazing woman, from anything I learned & wish I could’ve known her. I wish I had a smoke house, myself. could do a lot with it.

  • Reply
    Kathy Patterson
    May 3, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    Hi,
    My grandparents didn’t smoke their meats. They salted and soaked their meat in salt brine. Then, they were hang them in the grainery. Really it was a building that they kept their meat in and the varmints out. Years later when Grandma had a freezer and a pressure cooker, she would either can or freeze her meats.
    My aunt and great-aunt always laugh when I ask them if they were mean when they were little girls. They did their work and homework. When that was finished they would go out and play. My aunt told me that she and my mother (now deceased) would smoke rabbit tobacco and ride saplings like they were horses. I wish I had pictures of those girls.
    Kathy Patterson

    • Reply
      Darrell K Cook
      May 4, 2022 at 9:22 am

      I had almost forgotten about rabbit tobacco. This was a good read. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Robert
    May 3, 2022 at 8:10 pm

    Growing up in the city, we didn’t have a smokehouse but I knew many on area farms that did. Beef wasn’t smoked in my recollection but pork certainly was.

    As for chores and extra time, my Pa’s favorite adage was, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop!’

  • Reply
    JC
    May 3, 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Granny is right. Bored children get into trouble.

    My grandparents had a smoke house too and I remember the fire pit in the middle. It was kept going from August until November for all the drying of hog meat and corn. The other vegetables were put up by canning.

  • Reply
    Randy
    May 3, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    I agree with what others have said, during my childhood in the 50’s and 60’s country children didn’t have time to get into trouble. We had chores or work to do as soon as we would get home from school and in the summer we had to hoe and help gather the vegetables that were grown in 1-2 acre gardens. We worked right along with the adults. Even if we had tv, video games and other things like today we wouldn’t have had time to enjoy them. Me and the other kids had parents that would take a keen hickory switch and encourage you to work when you didn’t want too. They were not being mean, it was necessary for everyone to pitch in when at least 90% or more of your food was grown at home. If you didn’t preserve the food in the summer you were going to be hungry during the winter.

  • Reply
    Gloria Hayes
    May 3, 2022 at 12:31 pm

    Growing up we had a smoke house. I can remember the hams and the shoulders and how good it smelled!! I never knew about drying vegetables. Very interesting! We canned vegetables and what wasn’t canned, were frozen. Granny is 100% correct. I am glad I was brought up with no time for getting into trouble. Kids today have way too much time on their hands.

    • Reply
      Patty Hansen
      May 4, 2022 at 6:37 am

      Kids have way too much money given to them, and way too many privileges given to them to go along with the too much time. Even me/my kids are guilty of it from time to time. Luckily, I have raised them right, though. Both have jobs at 18 &15. Actually the 15 has 3 jobs. Also, back then everyone knew each others’ kids & had no problem hollerin’ at them, or calling on their parents to alert them to bad behavior. Kids have alway been mischievous, its just how we dealt with it. Now no one knows anyone, or if you do, you aren’t allowed to reprimand anyone else’s kid.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 3, 2022 at 12:19 pm

    Tipper–This family must have been comparatively affluent. While most had a milk cow or, if luck, two, beef was anything but a standard menu item. That continued long after the majority of families no longer lived directly off the land. Pork was the main meat of the mountains, chicken was for Sundays (“preacher bird”) and special occasions, and beef a rarity.
    On a personal level, about the only regular use of beef in the family diet I recall was Momma making hamburger gravy. A little beef would go a long way. Rarely we had roast beef (I suspect it was when she found a roast on sale) and almost never what is now standard fare, hamburgers.
    This family’s smokehouse was also far finer than those I knew about, yet clearly they relied very heavily on dried foods.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 3, 2022 at 12:19 pm

    One more little thing. You don’t smoke food to cook it. Smoke repels organisms that might eat your food or cause it to spoil. Insects, for instance, tend to flee when they smell smoke hence a “gnat smoke” in the late evening. Even higher forms of life instinctually run from smoke. Humans aren’t the only ones who recognize the adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
    People have developed a taste for smoked food over many years because they know that it healthier for them.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 3, 2022 at 11:53 am

    Something you said about not having pasture got my one remaining brain cell to quivering. I was thinking that in Stanley Hicks’s time, and in particular Watauga County, pasture as we know it was practically nonexistent. Animals were turned loose to forage. Most of the tillable land was reserved for garden patches and corn fields.
    Those foraging animals had a drastically different diet from animals grown for food today. Subsequently people who ate their eggs, milk and meat had a far different diet than most of us do. But that is another story………….
    A picture formed in my mind of animals grazing in the woods. That lead to “what are they eating?” “Grass doesn’t grow well in the woods. It’s too shady.”
    Then into my minds pops the phrase “shady green pastures”. “That is in a song. A hymn.” In Shady Green Pastures (God Leads Us Along).
    Now I start to think “is that in the Bible?” Nope, not as a phrase. “Shady” is mentioned only in two verses of Job. “Green pastures” is only in the 23rd Psalm.
    What does all this have to do with todays topic? Probably not a lot! I just thought I would share with you and your readers how my thought processes work and how your words might inspire others in multitudinous ways.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    May 3, 2022 at 11:42 am

    I had neighbors in Georgia that parked their large van in the sun and loaded it with sliced apples to dry. I always wanted to take a ride in that van later and enjoy the smells.
    We dehydrated figs, peaches and apples when we couldn’t find canning supplies over the last couple of years and stored them in the freezer. This Winter we pulled out the ones we hadn’t eaten and made preserves.
    A few years ago I tried drying grapes on a window screen for raisins, The birds ate most of them .
    I’ve also eaten my fair share of jerky through the years while hunting and fishing.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    May 3, 2022 at 10:56 am

    I agree with Granny. If children today had chores to do, they wouldn’t have time to get in trouble. I didn’t tell Mama I was bored, either, because she’d find a chore for me to do.

  • Reply
    Regina
    May 3, 2022 at 10:50 am

    Granny is right! 🙂

  • Reply
    Christine
    May 3, 2022 at 10:16 am

    Granny has a good point. Back then families had to all work together to just survive and didn’t have time to get into trouble.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    May 3, 2022 at 10:13 am

    I love your Granny quotes. They are full of such wisdom. It reminds me of when I hear so many children say anymore that they hate school. My Mom and her siblings really loved school. It was such a break from all the mundane chores, and somehow they learned the value of education. My parents only went to the 8th grade, but learned so much. Mom could spell any word after so many spelling bees, and knew the meaning of any word. Dad did math in his head which is something I never accomplished, but still prefer a pencil and paper over a calculator. I somehow learned also to love school, and I have tried to analyze what made the difference. It would have been down right boring to stay home, as there were not cell phones, computers, X box. We were not entertained and spoiled at home, so going to school was a wonderful experience. I agree with Granny, but don’t know how we can turn it around now. The greatest gift one can give children is to teach them to love school and working.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 3, 2022 at 9:40 am

    Oh, I like this post! I didn’t know about drying all those vegetables. Our ancestors were resourceful people, and they were a hardworking people as well. If they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. There wasn’t much time left over for meanness!
    Back in the mountains where my grandmother grew up there was always a bunch of out buildings around any house and a garden plot. The buildings were…an outhouse a spring house, smoke house, a chicken house, and more that I no longer remember.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 3, 2022 at 9:33 am

    Tipper, seems to me you would like to live in a “living history” re-creation village. Or maybe just be a docent at one. You would be good at either and both. I’m that way myself in large measure but you have me beat. Not sure how much I could enjoy livestock and the old ways required some several critters and more of them the more one wanted to be self-sufficient. But it was a good life for a contented mind.

    Never heard or read that I can recall anyone else ever having a drying house for vegetables with a fire. Sounds like good sense. Guess using the attic under a tin roof kinda had its own “fire” and left off the smoke. I like the idea of that ‘jerky’ to. Jerky and parched corn was a “take-out” meal for the pioneers; eat on the run.

  • Reply
    Angelyn McLain
    May 3, 2022 at 9:26 am

    I love the old ways so much. It’s such valuable information. She was 100% right about no time for mischief too.

  • Reply
    Randy
    May 3, 2022 at 9:11 am

    When growing up my grandparents had a small building they called a smoke house but I never knew them to smoke their meat. It did have a large wooden box in it. When 2 large hogs (each about 500 lbs) were killed in November the ham, shoulders, and side meat were put in this box and covered with salt. The weather would stay cold enough to keep the meat from spoiling. Later on the hams and shoulders would be washed off and hung up in the same building. I remember my mother and grandmother working together during during the hot summers preserving anything that could be used for food. A large amount of their time was spent either growing or preserving food. Can you image standing over a wood cook stove cooking during the summer in the south when there was no ac or even a fan. It was no easier on the man, he would be out working in the fields in the hot blazing sun.

    This is something I have thought about. We are so careful now with how we take care of our food. Back in the 50’s the food , I am thinking of the big Sunday dinners ( lunch now a days) would be left out on the table and covered with a white table cloth to be ate again before going back to church on Sunday night. The fried chicken would have have white specks of lard on it after getting cold. Why did this food not spoil in the hot summer heat back then?

    • Reply
      Patty Hansen
      May 4, 2022 at 6:44 am

      probably because it was processed closer to home, with less bacteria present. Not being shipped & handled multiple times, w/fluctuations in temperature. We have found this w/our home raised meats/veggies too. My veggies (like a cuke) will sit out on a counter for weeks w/out mold; buy one in the grocery story, you’ve only got days. All of your store meats have been sprayed w/stuff. Joel Salatin (my favorite man on the earth) did an experiment w/chickens butchered open air compared to meat plant. His had significantly lower bacteria count per centimeter & thats being handled outside. Our home raised meats even last longer in the fridge. Thats my take on it.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    May 3, 2022 at 9:08 am

    Granny is so right about the older generation of folks not having time to get into meanness. I don’t remember ever hearing kids or their parents say they were bored when I was growing up. Imagine not having a TV, phone, or video game and still finding something to do every minute of the day.
    I have one more mess of shuck beans left from summer 2021. I’m waiting for my brother to come visit before I fix them. He asked me if I remember mom fixing shuck beans. He made it sound like no one had fixed them since he was a kid fifty years ago.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    May 3, 2022 at 8:48 am

    I really enjoyed this post and I completely agree with Granny.

  • Reply
    Denise R
    May 3, 2022 at 7:11 am

    I agree with your Granny, if people were forced to be busy getting and preserving their food so that they could eat, I think it would take a lot of meanness out of this world! Truthfully this world will always have the problems it does, that is the condition of man without Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Like you, learning about the ways food was preserved by our parents and grandparents is fascinating. I’ve been thinking about making leatherbritches this summer and see if we will like them. My husbands uncle always talked about his mother making them and when she cooked them up, he said they were delicious.

  • Reply
    Pastor Lon
    May 3, 2022 at 6:48 am

    I love reading of these old stories of days gone by, and I to am amazed at how our ancestors knew how to survive by growing and preserving their own food. I’ve heard my grandparents tell some of those stories similar to the one you shared. I know it was a lot of hard work and a tough time for a lot of folks but it was a much simpler time and I feel like I would have fit right in back then.
    I’ve heard my Granny talk about what your mom (Granny) said about being too busy from sun up to sun down doing chores just to survive, to be up to no good or as she would say wasn’t any time for any foolishness lol.
    Thanks for sharing this one Miss Tipper, as you know I’m old school and I really enjoyed this post.
    GOD BLESS!

  • Reply
    GoodGriefLouise ( Bill )
    May 3, 2022 at 6:45 am

    Granny: “When me and your daddy were growing up everyone’s time was took up by getting food and water and cutting wood to cook and stay warm. There wasn’t any time left over for the meanness that goes on today.”

    Granny is a very wise woman. She hit the problem with most of the kids today right on the head. But I might add that the parents are the real problem.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    May 3, 2022 at 6:44 am

    Those old ways of doing things, especially ways of preserving food, have long fascinated me too. It seems that so much of that knowledge is lost, at least yo most folks. While it’s true that with electricity and refrigeration, we have better, easier ways to handle foodstuffs, that could be taken from us.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    May 3, 2022 at 6:40 am

    Tipper,
    This brought to my mind the words posted on a plaque in our kitchen,
    Primitives: For them… They Were Necessities.
    To us…They Are Heritage.
    Even though this is in reference to “things”, the way of life described in your post today conveys the same message to me.

  • Reply
    Glenda G. Page
    May 3, 2022 at 6:34 am

    And I have to say, the last statement Granny said was the best statement in the world. So sad that families of today do not heed that statement. I won’t delve into nor expound on that other than to say…parents are rearing lazy and uncaring children. Thank you for your message and God Bless.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 3, 2022 at 6:09 am

    Granny is right!! Preservation methods are interesting. My goal this summer is to learn how to can. I blanch and freeze now but some things arevjust better canned

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