As a child, I used to pull my feather pillow tightly over my head to muffle the sounds of rifle shots as my daddy killed hogs that would be butchered to supply us with meat for the year. When I thought the killing was over, I went outside to help with all the work that had to be done.
Hog killing was done in the fall every year after the weather turned cold. Daddy always chose Saturday as he was off work and we were out of school. Uncle Hamp and Uncle Lawrence always helped daddy because he helped them with their butchering. There was enough work for everyone.
At the crack of dawn, daddy built the fires under two black iron wash pots in the yard next to the smokehouse and the well. The pots were filled with water and brought to a boil for scalding the hogs. Much wood had been gathered for this occasion as the fire would be burning all day. Daddy would sharpen all his knives on a razor strap the night before as he sat in front of the fireplace. We gathered the gambrel sticks, which were supposed to be kept in the corner of the smokehouse. However, with several little children around, the sticks sometimes were misplaced. Daddy fussed about those sticks, which were put through the heel strings or sinews in the hogs’ back legs to hang him up on gambrel posts. We kids called them “gambling sticks.” They reminded me of wooden chair legs.
Daddy and my brother dug a large hole in the yard and placed a tilted barrel in it. The barrel was filled with boiling water from the iron pots. After the hogs were killed, they were brought to the yard from the pen. The men placed each hog in the barrel and turned and twisted them until they were saturated. A small amount of tar was added to the water to make it easier to pull the hogs’ hair off. The men then dragged the hogs out of the barrel onto sheets of clean tin. At that time, daddy gathered all the kids to help pull off the hair. I enjoyed doing this as the coarse hair came off in big hunks. It took only a few minutes to get all the hair off the hog, which was then scraped clean.
When this easy task was finished, daddy poked the gambrel stick through the hogs’ legs and the men picked him up and hung him on the post. We sloshed buckets of water all over the hogs to wash them clean. Daddy placed a washtub under each hog and with a very sharp knife, he cut off the hogs’ heads and placed them in another tub, which he’d come back to later. He cut the hogs open from their tails to their heads. The livers and lungs were lifted out and placed in a dishpan that was sent to the kitchen. The rest of the insides fell into the wash tubs and were later buried in the back of the field.
We drew more water from the well and poured it over the carcasses to wash the insides and outsides again. It took many buckets of water on hog killing day and I am sure daddy hollered at us many times as my brother and I argued about whose turn it was to draw water.
My uncles and daddy cut the hogs into pieces, which were put in different piles. Hams, shoulders, sides, ribs, tenderloin, backbone, sausage scraps and fat were in different piles. By this time, it was about 11 a.m. and time for mama to go to the kitchen and start dinner in the old wood burning stove. Daddy cut rib pieces, liver and lungs to make stew. Lots of fresh onions, black pepper and salt were added to flavor the meat and gravy. A large pot of rice and cornbread completed the delicious meal. We all looked forward to that meal. There were baked sweet potatoes from the night before in the warming closet to go with the gravy. I recall this being one of my favorite meals. However, I do not cook it today because of the nasty word “cholesterol.”
After dinner (the midday meal) when all the hogs were cut apart, daddy loaded much of the meat and took it to the ice plant in Glennville to be salt- or sugar-cured. It was left there for several days until it was done. I barely remember smoking the meat ourselves in the smoke house. I recall the hole dug in the middle of the dirt floor with oak wood burning in it. I also recall seeing the hams and shoulders and large sides of meat hanging from the wooden rafters and seeing mama slice a large piece of meat off a ham using a big butcher knife. I never referred to a side of hog meat as bacon because Bacon was my last name!
In my column next week, I’ll finish this story and tell you about cooking cracklings and making hog head cheese. I’ll even give you a good “headless hog head cheese” recipe that you may want to make for the holidays!