Civil War reenactors come to Hemp's Meats for the slab bacon, Douglas Hemp tells me. "They want something authentic, something from that time."
It's not clear whether he means the bacon or the butcher shop, which has been in Jefferson, Md., so long, it's possible that real Civil War soldiers got some of their bacon here.
Opened in 1849, Hemp's is owned by Douglas and his cousins, brothers Billy and Gary Hemp. Before that, it was owned by their fathers. Before that, by their father. And before that . . . You get the point. Though they no longer do their own pork processing ("after the government got involved, we decided to leave it to the pork people," says Douglas), Hemp's slaughters, dries and butchers all its beef on-site. They also do custom slaughtering for local farmers.
Their meat case is full of fresh cuts from cows the Hemps raise on their nearby farm. Their nicely marbled New York strip steaks are cut to order.
Douglas started helping out at the shop 42 years ago, when he was 12. Billy, now 50, joined him three years later. Billy's son helps out sometimes but is now off to college, while one of Douglas's daughters is in the U.S. Army and the other's in college.
"We don't know what the future holds," Billy says of the multi-generation family business. Douglas, weighing my steaks, bacon and sweetbreads, wonders as well: "It's sorta kinda hard to find someone who wants to be a butcher these days. . . . But I'm a member of the family; I never thought of doing anything else."
--Matt McMillen, Sept. 21, 2004