Cold Months Bring Hog-Killing
By Gordon Wilson, Ph.D. - 1940
As I begin this article, in November, it is hog-killing weather with brisk, cold air, clear skies, and the promise of several days of the same sort of temperature. It is not late enough in the season, however, to kill more than one small hog to furnish fresh meat for the family. I must admit that I do not know how much the science and art of hogkilling has changed since my last contact with it. I do know that some neighborhoods have a central slaughtering place, but I would guess that the standardized festival of my childhood is much the same.
Hog killings are still popular in some communities of Kentucky. Amos Richardson, second from right, a skillful pork butcher for many years, raised this 500-pound hog. These friends and neighbors got together on December 10, 2009, at Amos' farm located on Marcum Fork Road, Breathitt County, Kentucky, for the butchering process. From left is George Watts, Ledford Lovins, Amos, and Samuel Faulkner. Amos is well-known in his community for his carpentry and farming expertise and is still today a firm believer in raising most of the food he consumes.
Sleeping was hardly necessary the night before this great annual event. We had spent the day before in making preparations: cutting sticks, putting up a scaffold, sharpening the knives, placing a barrel for scalding, getting the big kettles ready, and building the heap of wood that was to form the fire with several old bits of scrap iron on it. We got up, like the women in Proverbs, while it was yet dark and started our fire. Soon after an early breakfast the neighbors, with whom we were swapping work came to help, often bringing their wives or daughters with them. Quite early in the morning, as soon as we felt the water was hot enough and the irons hotter still, the slaughter began. Killing the hogs and sticking them were arts that every farm boy and man knew. The sun would be still far toward the east when the scalding actually began.
We poured some of the hot water into the scalding barrel and then threw in some of the superheated irons, causing a great splutter and popping. It takes great skill to scald hogs properly. The skillful scalder, who is always represented in each neighborhood, tests the effectiveness of the water, a common way being to try the tail first; if the hair slips off well, then the hog is well scalded. Scraping the scalded hog left a black deposit on our hands that only time would remove; soap, even homemade lye soap, was powerless with this blackness.
We hung the scraped hogs on our scaffold and proceeded to gut them. Then the bodies hung and chilled through while we stopped for dinner. After dinner came the cutting-up process. The whole hogs soon were divided into lard, sausage meat, spare ribs, backbones, heads, hams, shoulders, and middlings. I have seen great artistry displayed in cutting up the meat, artistry that was so common that no one realized that it was artistry. The small boys could be useful for storing the joints away, until the salting down would take place in the smokehouse after supper. The afternoon and much of the night, with often adjourned sessions the next day, were spent in grinding sausage and rendering lard. The neighbors usually departed after the meat was cut up, taking some, of course for their own use.
On into the night turned the sausage grinder, a vicious machine that contained fearful knives and a heavy metal core. The modern food choppers had not then arrived. Rendering lard required the patience of Job. Sausage was sacked and later smoked in the smokehouse.
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