I think for me Hog Killing Day was the most memorable of all the recurring events of the year at 201 McCord. The pig-sticking was critically important, blood had to be thoroughly and quickly drained from the carcass. In the meantime the heated water had reached just about the right temperature (just short of boiling), the tilted barrel filled to a level so that about half the carcass would be covered when it was plunged into the water. After the bristles were thoroughly removed ,the tendons to the back feet were accessed and the gantline stick, only in our case a single tree was hooked around the tendons, this implement spread-eagled the carcass and with the block-and-tackle attached to it, was easily hoisted to vertical under the gin-pole or gantry.
Now the butcher, down-stage-center, with his scalpel-sharp knife started, with the concentration and precision of a surgeon, and began to open the body cavity. Before the sides were quartered, (hams and shoulders detached) a lot of fat was trimmed off; there was a lot of it too.
Now that the carcass had been dismantled, it metamorphosed into hams, shoulders, and ribs and another critically important phase started. The salt seemed to be drawn into the meat rather quickly, and in the process a lot of water was driven out, that was the reason for the seep-tight surface of the table top.
Dad had built a big box, about two-and-a-half by three-and-a-half feet and possibly thirty inches deep with a hinged lid A‘the box was constructed for this specific purpose.
My memory gets somewhat hazy on many of the details but I have clear and vivid recollections of heaping bowls and platters of steaming-, freshly-picked string beans, corn (on and off the cob) and sliced tomatoes and onions, all in an abundance we didnA•t even think about.
As the salting-down phase was started, another very significant production got underway: processing the fat for lard, making sausage, converting the heart and liver into edible and enduring by-products, and donA•t forget the HEAD! The operation started with a large kettle filled with this accumulation of trimmings, heated over a slow fire so that it wouldn't scorch or burn, and allowed to simmer for a long time. These parts, heart and liver, were ground up and reduced to a single mass, then a pretty liberal amount of cornmeal was added.
Now the head and feet and many miscellaneous bones that might have some meat fragments still attached were assembled into one huge pot, enough water added to cover it all, seasoned with salt and brought to a slow boil. After this whole kettle full of stuff began to simmer along, the meat began to separate from the bones; the head still pretty much intact was a much bigger chunk and took a lot more time to cook. There is now a rather generous sized heap of cooked meat to be dealt with, most of it in small bits.
In this cooking process, to separate the bone from the meat, the water that was added had been reduced to a pretty rich meat stock and now it was all added together, put into a baking pan and into the over to cook slowly until it was firm.
I think that any of those Girls could spin a great story about those hot summer days when they were out there under the fig tree, peeling, pitting, and preparing the fruit, then into the steaming kitchen to get the stuff into the fruit jars, and all the neighbor kids were parading up the street in their bathing suits to go swimming in one the irrigation canals.
Since they had been weaned, they were called shoats (remember that if you are ever in a Trivial Pursuit game). When they arrived they were maybe ten or twelve inches high and twenty inches long; more or less. Beets, turnips, mustard-greens, spinach, and other stuff I can't remember, except one leafy greens plant called RAPE, ( I'm told it is grown extensively in the northern planes of the mid-continent for the oil extracted from it's seed). The butcher's skill at locating and severing the main artery from the head to the heart verified first thing his claim to competency. Now strong backs and hands thrust this object that was rapidly being transformed from pig to pork into the very hot water, one end at a time of course, and if you got a good scald, the bristles slipped off easily with diligent application of the scraper, but clearing the head and ears of bristles and hair was a tedious chore to say the least, but the processing of this particular item, was an even more daunting task. Us kids looked on with near hypnotic stares as the mysteries of a pig's viscera began to be revealed. With the shoulders and hams off, the backbone was separated from the ribs, again with a butcherAs saw. It was about five feet long and maybe thirty inches wide, had a tongue-and-grove pine top to forestall seeping (plywood was not available then).
The process started with a layer of shelled corn, two or three inches deep, then the meat (one layer), then another layer of corn and so on. In the trimming of the various parts, there was quite a lot of lean scraps accumulated and they were saved for sausage.
It seemed like there were always a few people around that had their own special formula that they wanted to pass on.
First, this big pile of ground meat was changed to a big pile of rolled balls; not as big as a golf ball, maybe a little more than an inch in diameter. This is where the livermush label came from I supposeA‘then a generous allowance of salt and pepper and enough water was added to about the consistency of heavy pancake batter and this was poured into a large casserole-type pan and baked in the oven until it was firm. The eyes have been removed and disposed of - - oh yes, I forgot the tongue -- I believe it had been relegated to the livermush mass. I never did adjust to chewing on those bits of gristle that I still recognized as snout and ear. Dad had built a lot of shelves down there, and I remember the snug secure feeling when we saw those shelves all loaded with those Mason jars filled with all manner of the past yearA•s bounty. By late August, they had almost doubled in size and were ready to move on to a more pampered phase of their brief life.
These rape greens were kinda favored at our table, so there was a good-sized area reserved for this particular veggie, and besides the pigs liked them; especially after Dad started baking them a bran bread, with the rape cooked in ( he had acquired a small wood stove with an oven, and did his cooking outside). That generous-sized feed trough came into itAs own, with the water trough right there, it wasn't many days until they just sort of hunkered down on their sterns pivoting from feed trough to water trough and back. The procedure was a layer of salt first, maybe a half inch thick, then the slab of side-meat covered completely with salt, then the other slab, again liberally covered with salt, then the two shoulders and the two hams, none of the pieces touching, all separated by a layer of salt. There were no spots that were not covered; this kept any aggressive flies or any predatory germs or bugs at bay.
The shelled corn was totally dry and the kernels provided enough air-space to keep the temperature constant in the mid-sixty range.
I donA•t remember the quantities by volume or weight, but I do remember what seemed to me dozens of two-quart Mason jars filled with that vital ingredientA‘lard.
From this container the liquid (lard) was poured into the afore mentioned jars and the jars were capped; this very hot liquid created a partial vacuum when it cooled, making a secure seal.
Barbecued ribs were not on the agenda back then so there was lean meat trimmed from them and because sausage was such a favorite much of the loin was chosen also. My memory of the making of this particular product is very vague, might be because I never cared for it.
At first glance, this doesnA•t appear to be such a daunting task, but next time you go to the fair, when you pass by the 4-H pigs, take a close look at the critters ears!!
Of course they had all the hair removed too, as well as the horny part -- I suppose we would call it the hoof. Now the snout and the ears are very different from the rest of the pigA•s connective tissueA‘cartilaginous I guess you would say -- they survived this prolonged stewing pretty much intact. Peaches, apricots, tomatoes, string beans, pears, plums, black berries and not forgetting all the varieties of jam and jelly, and then all the great preserved pork products. Barrows are castrated male pigs and these were Dad's preferences over the gilts, another term for young female pigs. Their quarters were improved and their diet upgraded, the skim-milk and table scraps still held, but more grain and bran were added.
This product, steaming from his oven, looked and smelled as tempting as any oven-baked bread ever did, and even if it was pig feed I think all of us kids pinched off a sample more than once. The phrase bleeding like a stuck hog always seemed too graphic for me after my first witnessing of a pig killing. There was a lot of leaf fat attached to the various parts, and it was carefully trimmed away and saved to be rendered with the rest of the fat that would accumulate by the time the job of butchering was done. The tenderloin was separated from the remains of the backbone and the backbone cut up into small chunks and some of these were fixed for supper. Freshly butchered meat will spoil quickly if it isnA•t refrigerated or as in our circumstances, salted.
After some twelve hours or so the absorbing pretty much stopped, then whatever liquid that had been drawn out slowly evaporated.
It all lasted with no spoiling or bugs or any other noxious elements until it was used up, well into the summer.
As I remember there was a big round dishpan, twenty inches or more in diameter that was heaped high by the time the trimming for sausage was finished.
Now came the seasoning, a simpler formula than that used for the sausage - - mostly pepper as I remember.
It must have been stronger than the 2% that we are familiar with today; you couldn't see through it anyhow. Where they previously had free run of the barnyard, the new quarters confined them to an approximately eight-foot-square wood floored pen. Needless to say, I do believe the pigs notched their happiness level up another peg or two with this additional refinement to their fare. The heart, liver, and kidneys, were separated from this mass and set aside, the lungs and stomach were relegated to the offal tub with the rest of the stuff. Ah yes I remember so well those tasty bits of meat-seasoned and cooked so artfully, floating around in pure grease in the serving bowl; tell it not in Gath!!
It was necessary to turn the parts occasionally to make sure none of it was laying in this accumulated liquid. This magic mix (seasoning) was blended by hand into the meat until it was evenly dispersed. And then study all the clefts and crevasses that contribute to the make up of the creatures physiognomy -- quite hirsute.
Granny, in her diligence and near fanaticism for keeping things clean and sanitary, wouldnA•t let anyone off until it was all clean and spotless. Also Dad liked to enhance their rations occasionally with a little helping of bran or corn. A generous sized feed trough and a water trough took two sides of one corner so their running-around space was considerably diminished.
Dad didn't think he had the competency to do the actual butchering, but there was always a volunteer who claimed to have the necessary skill.
Some people saved the small intestine to use for sausage casing, and I've been told chitlins and collard greens are high on the list of favorite soul food in some circles; not so in ours. After an extended period, maybe two or three weeks, the curing was completed and ready for storage.
Many of us remember her nimble fingers mixing her biscuit doughA‘she use the same technique with the sausage. I doubt that concern for their emotional state was considered at all; except as everybody knows, happy pigs are healthy pigs, and they were that for sure. As far as I could tell though, their happiness level didn't decline with the change; the diet upgrade might have even raised it a notch or two. Sometimes, I suppose they had reached satiation; they just lay down en route and napped for a while. He procured an Italian butcher who did all the butchering in exchange for the internal organs which our family didn't want to eat. With this phase done, the head was removed and set aside for later processing, and the carcass was split in half with a butcher's saw down the center of the backbone. You must remember, this was years, yes-even generations before the Diet Police came into ascendency. These crops lasted almost all summer and they were always seasoned with salt pork from the last winter's butchering.
It had been thoroughly cleaned of any residuals of course beforehand and it took an hour or better to get the water up to the right temp. While waiting, the theater for the event was prepared; a shallow hole, maybe twelve inches deep was dug with one side sloped up.
Right in front of the open end of this barrel a very low sort of table-platform was put in place. Adjacent to this area there had to be some sort of a gantry, stout and stable enough to hoist and hold a two-hundred-fifty pound plus or minus carcass. This was the part that Dad couldn't handle, he was always otherwise engaged at this particular instant, but he reappeared quickly and the fascinating (to me at least) event was underway.
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