I know Ecclesiastes 3:1 is quoted often but when reference is made to the farm I can’t think of any verse out of the Bible that fits it better. “To every thing there is a season, and a purpose under the heaven.” Can anyone look around a farm and see a crop or a piece of livestock that doesn’t fit this verse?
No truer is it than this time of year, the time to butcher the hogs. For some reason our farm was where pigs grew into huge 400 plus pound hogs ready for slaughter, but we seemed also the place designed to handle the day of slaughter and the following days of processing all the meat into supplies of food to nourish our bodies for the coming year. We had the scalding pan and the places to hang the sides to chill. We had the meat house with a long bench to cut the sides of a hog into cuts of meat and wrap it or prepare it for the next step which was to sugar cure and put it in a smoke house to hickory cure some cuts.
Let me try to put the butchering process into some sequence of order. First, the hog was shot and the jugular cut to bleed out the hog. If not done quickly, the blood runs into the meat and ruins it all for consumption. From there, the hog is taken to the scalding pan full of hot 150 degree water and dipped into it repeatedly until the hair can be scraped of by special tools. From there the hogs were hung by their back legs until the head was a couple of feet off the ground and then it is gutted and sawed into halves and left to chill out until the next morning when the meat is almost frozen and ready to be cut. We prepared three hogs for our own use. Dad sold hogs to my aunt and uncle, retired neighbors, and even our hired hand got a hog. Some of the families in Moscow would also buy a hog. I have seen as many as 18 hogs hung to chill by the end of a day.
The work was very hard and had to be done quickly and accurately. I will say from all I have described so far I found slaughter day grisly and hard to deal with. Honestly for all the men who helped, and there were many, I saw few taking pleasure or real enjoyment in this process. This is a part of how life was and how we survived, just as all those before us had. At the same time the way it had to be done was with the understanding that doing it right would help it taste good in the end.
By early afternoon the mood changed to less serious as the first hog hung would have the tender loin removed and taken to the house where my Mom along with some of the other wives would slice the loin into inch thick slices and then butterfly it and place it into a skillet for cooking. While they were cooking, Mom had pans of baking soda biscuits along with mashed potatoes and usually green beans to round out the meal.
When the tender loins were done, Mom would make a skillet full of white pork gravy. Once the food was on the table, the men consumed it all immediately, as this was not only a tasty meal, but a long morning of hard work just made it taste even better. After eating the men’s spirits rose to the point of them being ready to go back out and get the day’s job done.
Early on the next morning, everyone went to the meat house and as the sides were brought in one by one each person processed their respective part of the hog that they had been assigned. I liked day two as the blood shed was over and as the sides were brought in they were minus the head. To me this made it less personal as their glazed eyes were no longer staring at me so blankly.
A hog weighing over 400 pounds carried a lot of fat and the fat was cut into cubes and placed into an iron kettle that was built on to a wood box under it. The fire caused the fat to melt and the rendering of the lard began. There were hours and hours of cooking and stirring until the cubes would squeeze flat at which point the cubes and liquid lard would be ladled into a device that allowed the hot grease to drain out a spout and into a five- gallon crock pot for cooling and storage. A lid with a threaded device on top was used to squeeze the rest of the grease out of the cubes of fat leaving only a packed together cake formation of the pork skins that were referred to as the “cracklins.” While fresh and hot, they might possibly be the tastiest morsel you probably have never had the pleasure to eat.
This took days and nights to complete but when the work was complete there was no doubt that our family and everyone that invested in a hog were set to eat well for another year and were thankful that the time for this blessing had come again. There is an old German saying that when a hog is butchered there is to be no waste and that every part of the hog has a use and therefore must be used. So when the scalding pan was put away for another year, they would say “ The only part of that hog wasted was the squeal.”
Rick Houser was raised on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.