Smokehouse

     Like the milk house, the smokehouse was an antebellum building and was used for curing meats, most commonly chicken and ham. To cure ham, hogs would be butchered when ponds or creeks first started freezing over in late autumn. The cold weather helped prevent the meat from spoiling quickly during the early stages of the curing process. The hind portion of the hog was rolled and packed in salt and then hung for three to six months at a time. Afterwards, a fire would be built in the smokehouse, and would be allowed to burn constantly for one or two weeks. The preferred wood for the fire was green hickory, but other woods such as oak, maple, and dogwood were used. From that point, the ham would be cured for another three to six months before it was ready. The salt, smoke, and later-developing mold served to repel insect species. Once the curing process was complete, the mold that had accumulated on the meat was scraped off and then the ham was prepared to eat. Along with ham and chicken, another common meat that could be found in the smokehouse was sausage. Sausage was stuffed inside casings of hog intestines and cured in a similar manner to ham.

     The salt used in curing was a valuable commodity during the Colonial and Civil War eras as it allowed for crucial preservation of meat. During the Civil War, Virginia possessed considerable salt repositories that Union soldiers captured whenever possible. In so doing, an adverse effect on the Confederacy occurred, hindering the ability to feed its troops and thereby perpetrate war.

     The most commonly used way to obtain salt was to mine it or find briny water and heat it until the water evaporated, leaving behind salt. The largest in southwestern Virginia was in what is today Saltville, Smyth County. There, workers pumped water into a storage tank, from which eighty or so saucer shaped kettles were filled and heated to separate the salt from the water. Once the water had evaporated, the leftover salt was scooped out with huge ladles and then the process was repeated. During the war, the furnaces burned continually each day in response to the Confederacy’s seemingly-insatiable demand. However, when salt became scarce, families resorted to digging up dirt from the smoke house floors and boiled it to extract the salt from the resulting substance referred to as the “liquor”.