STOP: IF YOU ARE AN ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST, EMOTIONAL, OR TENDER-HEARTED, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS POST. THIS IS THE DESCRIPTION OF THE SLAUGHTERING OF HOGS FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION AS IT WAS DONE ON FAMILY FARMS ALL OVER THIS COUNTRY FOR MANY DECADES!
This article is written from my memories as a child. I wish I could take a trip back to experience it all over again. Before too long, no one will remember the way of life I will describe because those of us who lived it will be gone. Few in the our country carry on the traditions of raising and slaughtering their food. Believe it or not, those lovely packs of chickens, steaks, and pork chops, ready for you to buy and cook, started their life on a farm somewhere.
This is the story of one day of life on our farm. We were poor country people; no different than anyone else in our small community. We grew what we ate and shopped at a country store on credit for what we could not grow. The thought of jumping in the car to grocery shop for our weekly groceries, never crossed our minds. The Winn Dixie, A&P, Food Lion nor any other major chain existed in our small town; they were many years in the future.
The pork and beef you buy in those beautiful packages at the grocery and meat market has to be slaughtered and packed at a processing plant. We did not have this luxury when I was a girl. We had to slaughter and process our own meat to feed the family.
Above photo is free public domain
DAYS BEFORE “HOG KILLING DAY”:
Dad had to gather everything he would need for Hog Killing Day and have it ready and waiting. He placed all the wash-pots where they needed to be, tables setup, gun and shells ready, the scalding vat was ready for use, water hoses to wash out the gutted hogs, 50 lb bags of salt for pickle, lard stands, ham box ready, and he had wood for the fires. Mom gathered all the knives, pots and pans she would need, rags, cleaned tables, seasoning, sausage casings, fixed a meal for the big day and tried not to forget anything.
HOG KILLING DAY:
It was hard work that usually started early in the morning around five or six and ended at dark. Dad and the men usually killed 3-4 hogs because the meat had to be dispersed between 2-4 families (my grandparents, Uncle Edward, Aunt Isabelle and us) and the people that helped that day. Some farmers slaughtered as many as 10-15 hogs at a time.
Hog Killing Day was a very busy day on the tobacco farm. We grew almost all the food we ate when I was a child and hog killing day was an adventure for a young girl. This was always after cooler weather because Dad needed to wood smoke cure the hams and shoulders, hang sausage, and set the pork barrel. The hog meat would spoil on a hot day; cold weather was the order of the day.
If my 2 brothers and I were not in school or if we stayed home that day, we helped process the meat on hog killing day. It started as fun but hard work won the day.
My middle brother, David, was a workhorse. He could work from sun up to sun down whether it was in the tobacco field, plowing, hoeing, or in the hog killing. When Dad finally started bulk barn tobacco curing I do not know why it didn’t kill David lifting those heavy bulk barn racks of tobacco; all day, everyday. The photo on the left is of me and my brother David at Hoover Dam, December 2015. I was 7 when he was born; David was my baby because Mom was always in the field.
Dad and Grand-dad would kill the hogs early in the morning. Dad or Grand-dad would shoot the hog in the head and then cut the throat. They always tried to have a first kill shot so the hog did not suffer.
After slaughter the hog was placed in long deep rectangle vat of boiling water over a wood fire, the temperature had to be just right, about 140 degrees. The photo of a scalding vat is courtesy of Ms. Chloe of Big Mill Bed and Breakfast. All the black and white photos in this post were taken by Barney Conway, Sr. in 1950 on the Big Mill Bed And Breakfast Family Farm. Ms. Chloe graciously gave me permission to use the photos. You will find a link to her website and Facebook site on the bottom of the page.
Dad and the men scrapped the hair from the hogs with hog scrappers, a round piece of metal on a wooden handle. The photo on the right is a photo of my hog scrappers.
They turned the hog over and over so it would not cook in the vat. Mom always ordered that all the hair was to be off that skin!
To the left is a photo of my gambrels
After the hog was scrapped clean of hair, they were hung from hog gambrels for gutting, draining and cooling on the gutting pole/hanging tree/gallows. Dad called it the gallows. Everyone called it something different. The liver, melts, head, and heart were saved for later processing by Mom, the children and women. The hogs were hung by the back legs; the gambrels were placed in the tendon in the shin, and hung on the hanging tree/gallows (any place high enough to keep the hog off the ground). Usually Dad built this by using logs or 2×6 wood (much like a swing set frame)or with 2 logs ends buried in the ground and one across the top. This was usually a permanent fixture on farms. They had to be sturdy and the men strong as these hogs were heavy dead weight.
This photo of hogs hanging from the gambrels on the hanging tree/gallows courtesy of Ms. Chloe of Big Mill Bed And Breakfast.
After cooling, the men cut the hogs into large chunks of meat and placed the pieces on a wooden tables for the women to cut up and prepare for wrapping, making sausage, cooking of the fat and skin for lard (this was our grease for the year), liver pudding, souse, hog killing day stew and other uses. Photos courtesy of Ms. Chloe Big Mill Bed and Breakfast.
NOTE: Oh my gosh, there is nothing better than Hog Killing Day Stew. All the small bones and pieces of meat and fat were placed in wash-pot along with onions, melts, pieces of heart, liver, sage, salt and pepper, and water. This was simmered for hours and near the end Mom would place corn meal dumplings in the pot. Nothing was better than that stew. I make it at times, but it does not compare to Mom’s, Grandma Mattie’s and Grandma Katie’s stew.
The 2 hams and 2 shoulders (the front and back portion at the top of the leg) from each hog were saved for salting down (the process of rubbing well with salt and laying in a layer of salt brine and layers of dry salt until the salt struck the meat.) Dad made the brine for the hams and pickled salt pork the same way. I have described the procedure below. Dad processed the pork, ham and shoulders at the end of the day. Each farmer was different in their procedure.
Dad checked the meat periodically in the coming week or so to determine when it was struck with salt (meaning it was salty enough at the bone to keep and not spoil while hanging in the curing smoke house). He removed the hams/shoulders when struck from the salt box and hung by twine from a hole placed in the leg end of the ham/shoulder on hog killing day. Some farmers covered the ham with ground pepper and some used a coating of borax on the ham to discourage worms, flys and bugs. For some reason, Dad never did this.
These stayed in the smokehouse under a low smouldering wood fire and smoke for some time; I don’t remember how long, at least 5 weeks I think. Above photo of 1950 truck full of hams and shoulders ready to be salted down; courtesy of Ms. Chloe Big Mill Bed and Breakfast. Photo taken by Barney Conway, Sr. 1950.
This was heavy, hard, and tiring work. We stood on our feet all day over a table of meat, fat and skin with butcher knives, placing it in tubs to package later and place in the freezer, canning, sausage, salt pork, and liver pudding. The tables could be a piece of 4×8 plywood Dad placed on a set of saw horses or a wooden kitchen table. Some farmers had permanent tables built for hog killing day.
Part of the skin and fat were rendered (the process of cooking the oil from the skin and fat) into lard in large black cast iron wash-pots over a wood fire. The skin and fat were cut into small pieces, placed in the wash pot and rendered into lard and cracklings. Home made cracklings are a wonderful treat, the store brought cracklings do not compare to what we rendered. Mom would make crackling corn bread and we salted the cracklings and ate them as a snack.
The lard could not be allowed to get too hot as it would scorch the lard and be unusable.
The lard pots were stirred constantly by The Grandmas and/or Aunt Isabelle. Grandma Mattie (my Dad’s mother) had a superstition about those lard pots. She would not let you take the lard paddle from one pot to stir another pot. She said it would make the pot boil over. After I was married, my mother-in-law helped us one time; she laughed and laughed over that old wives tale.
After the lard was rendered, the wood and fire removed from under the pot, and cooled off some, it was strained through a white cloth, my mom used an old pillow case, she split open on one side and and bottom. It took two people to hold the cloth over a 5 gallon lard stand as a third dipped the hot lard from the wash pot. The pillow case was wrung very tight (usually by Dad) and the crackling were left in the cloth. Some people used an extra wash-pot to strain the lard into and then transferred it to the lard stands. Dad and Mom did it over the lard stand. Mom then poured the cracklings into a box. This was done over and over until all the wash-pots were empty. The lard was very hot. Everyone had to be very careful around the wash-pots and filled lard stands.
Five gallon lard stands are similar to the very large popcorn tins we see today. Dad usually sat the lard stands in cool water to help the cooling process. Lard stands are still available today, most are used for storage or decoration. You can buy lard stands at the Piggly Wiggly and IGA. I have included a photo of a lard paddle above which hangs in my kitchen. Lard paddles were greatly revered and taken care of during the year, waiting for another turn in the wash-pot. We never had store brought lard or oil. I doubt we even knew it existed.
Some of the backbone was salted down in salt pickle for seasoning in our food. When salt struck, Mom removed it and cooked it with collards or beans. The backbone is wonderful, so tender and good. I loved pork chop and fried ham. I couldn’t’ wait for the hog killing day and all the good meat we would have for the coming months.
We ate a lot of salt pork. The hog meat is cut into strips approximately 3 x 6, it is mostly fat with a strip of lean; rubbed well with salt and packed in a solution of salt and water known as salt pickle into the pork barrel/crock. Today we call this brine. If the pickle was not created correctly, the pork would spoil. The old sayings is as follows: if an egg floats in your pickle, it is just right. The photo to the left is of my pork barrel/crock.
My husband is a bang-up pickle maker; Dad was not as good. We always had to watch the pickle carefully; pickle was added as needed. When my husband makes pickle I never need to add salt and water to the crock. Salt pork would keep all year in the pork barrel/crock, at least until extremely hot weather.
Mom would move the pork crock to the refrigerator or cooler area when it became really hot weather. Mom would wash the salted pork, cut thin slices and fry crispy or placed a large piece in beans or vegetables as seasoning. This was our meat for the meal.
Making sausage was a whole other process. The lean boneless meat was cut into small pieces and feed into a hand turn sausage grinder/press. it fell into a large tub, sausage seasoning was added along with pepper and salt. It was then placed into a hand turn sausage press with a store brought gut/casing on the tube and pressed into very long links of sausage approximately 4 feet long. The old folks said the gut was cat gut in earlier days. I think they were just kidding around with the children. Some people cleaned and processed the hog guts and used them. When my Mom married Dad, she persuaded Grandma Mattie to buy store-brought guts/casing.
Some of the sausage was packed for the freezer and some was hung in an outside smokehouse to air dry. I love air-dried sausage. Mice loved to climb the walls and cross beams trying to get to the sausage and ham/shoulder meat.
The process of making liver pudding, souse, and hog head cheese are another article. If you would like to know about those, I will post on them as well. Crackling corn bread recipes are available on-line and cracklings can be brought at most country grocery stores or meat centers. It is not same as the cracklings we rendered, but it good enough to enjoy.
There were not many pork chops in a hog; pork chops were usually the first meat gone from the freezer. But salted pork was plentiful and we ate a lot of it.
NOTE: In later years as the times improved and the farm prospered, Dad would take the hogs to Carters Meat Processing in Richlands, North Carolina to have the hogs killed and cooled. He would bring the whole hogs home and we processed the meat. In my teen years, Carters would slaughter and cut up the meat; we would package it at home and continue the processing.
My goodness, I had forgotten how much was involved in hog killing day. It was hard work but necessary work if our family wanted to eat. There was no money to buy food in those days. It was just what country people did to feed their family. All us children, believed we were working hard; our parents and relatives were ones that did all the heavy labor and we helped as we could.
I would love to tell you how we managed to live without a Winn Dixie or AP. What little my parents brought came from a country store down the road; Alton Winberry’s Store. He kept our family going on credit until Dads tobacco crop sold as far back as I remember. Let me know if you would like to hear about this wonderful man, his country store and how good he was to everyone in our community.
I hope you have enjoyed a look into Hog Killing Day on the tobacco farm. If so, let me know and I will post more about the life on the farm.
At one time in my life I was blessed to have 4 Grandma’s living: Grandma Katie, Grandma Mattie, Great Grandma Morton, Great Grandma Mammy. I had only 1 granddad to survive. The women all outlived the men :). But I did have an Uncle that was also my Step-Granddad (they were not blood related). I would love to tell you about Uncle/Granddad Victor. He was a wonderful man that made my Grandma Katie very happy for the short time they had together.
Cherish your memories because life is short
I would like to express my appreciation to Ms. Chloe of Big Mill Bed and Breakfast, Martin County North Carolina for allowing me to use her family photos of Hog Killing Day. Please drop by her sites and post a few words and take a look at the Bed and Breakfast. I can’t wait to spend a weekend with her on the farm.