Teamwork Was A Necessity For Survival
(Editor’s Note: This is the 10th installment in a series written by Baxter Jones about his growing-up years.)
Daddy killed three or four hogs every winter. Hog killing was sort of a social event, as well as a tremendous work day. I always got to stay home from school that day and I really don’t know why. I was only big enough to do a little errand running and a lot of watching. Maybe Daddy wanted me to see the operation in order to prepare me for the future when I would be big enough to help.
The neighbors arrived early, and it had to be a hard, cold, frosty morning. There would be five or six men and their wives ready to dive into this huge task.
Big fires were built under all the wash pots we owned and could borrow. Water had to be drawn to fill these pots. When the water got to boiling, Daddy or David would take the old Savage. 22, put a short hollow point about an inch above eye level, centered between the eyes, and drop these monsters as humanely as if thy had been put to sleep with drugs. Now, the work would begin. The hogs had to be bled, and this was done by taking a long keen butcher knife, making a single slit in the lower throat, almost to the shoulder blades, severing the jugular vein. While he was “bleeding out,” daddy would then make a slit parallel to the lower back leg exposing the large ligament, known as the hamstring.
A mule was already harnessed for this purpose and backed up where Daddy could use the hooks he had put on the single tree to hook into the hamstrings. The dead animal was now pulled up next to the boiling water operation. A large hole had been dug into the ground to allow a 55-gallon drum to rest at a 45 degree angle, with the lower end of the opening just slightly above ground level.
Adjacent to this a large post had been set in the ground very deep, leaving about six feet above ground. A large timber was placed on top of this post in a “T” fashion, but it was a lop sided “T.” It was chained to the post in such a way that the men could use this device as a leverage pole to ease the hog in and out of the barrel. Then, they poured the scalding water from the top down the side of the hog. As they did this they began scraping with very large butcher knives. Letting the hog back down in the hot water, pulling him back up, and repeating the process until all the hair was gone on this end, leaving just the white skin showing. Now it was time to hook the pole to the front legs in similar fashion as to what had been done to the rear. They let the rear of the hog into the hot wear, adding a lot more scalding water, then pouring this fresh batch of scalding water down the side of the hog and repeating the process from the other end.
Once the hog had been entirely scraped, it would be rinsed with more hot water, then laid on a table where it was unhooked from the lift pole. Then a couple of men would begin to open him up, and this is when the ladies work began, where they literally saved everything but the squeal. They employed washtubs, dish pans, and whatever was available to save these organs as food for their families.
There was no refrigeration, and everything except the meat to be cured had to be dealt with immediately. Chitterlings were cleaned, the head was boiled to make souse, the feet bones were saved for boiling, as were back bones and ribs. Liver and lights (lungs) were saved and even the tail was saved, as some people swore by this as seasoning for a pot of peas or turnip greens.
The extremely fat pieces were put into a pot and then this fat was cooked down until it was rendered into lard. Sausage pieces were trimmed off of leaner bits and pieces to be dealt with later, when Mama had time to do the grinding and seasoning. While this process was going on, hog umber two, or three, or maybe four was being readied for a repeat operation.
The whole day was labor intensive, with everybody getting as much fresh meat and organs as they could stand, because it had to be cooked and eaten right away. The cured meat, such a hams, shoulders, bacon sides, and seasoning meats were placed in a big wooden box in the smokehouse, and covered in a mixture of sugar cure and salt. Daddy was an artist with this cured meat. We ate it in some form almost every day and I don’t recall every getting tired of it.
When the neighbors killed their hogs, it was a reciprocal process, and you were expected to be there.
I suppose that in this day and time, it would be hard to make you believe that this was a social event, but they really did seem to enjoy themselves, and besides, this kind of teamwork was a necessity for everyone’s survival.