"Everything but the Squeal"
By Elaine Bay
"If you use every part of a pig except the squeal, you've used everything."
Once the cotton was ginned and the fall crops were gathered, the cold weather came and it was hog killin' time in the late fall or early winter; the temperature had to be about 32 degrees for several days. "We sure have had a rainy week, but we can stand it, as we have had so much pretty weather. Some have taken advantage of the recent cold weather to kill some hogs." (Rains County Leader, "From Willow Springs by Jupiter", November 24, 1922)
The ritual varied among the communities. In some communities, several neighbors would kill hogs at the same time, helping each other in the process. Each of the men usually had developed a "specialty" in the killin' process. In other communities, each family had his own hog killin' and the neighbors would help each other and be given fresh pork to take home at the end of the day.
Several days prior to the actual kill, preparations would begin by gathering utensils in the back yard. Usually a single rifle shot to the head brought the hogs down and the process began. Next someone stuck the hogs with a knife in order to bleed them.
The hogs were then placed in huge wash pots of water that had been put over open fires and heated until boiling. After the hair was loosened, the hogs were placed on a platform to be scrapped, removing all hair. A sharp ax or butcher knives (sharpened on a whit rock early that morning) were used to scrape the hogs).
The hog was then hung, head down, using wire stretchers and a singletree. A singletree (shown right) is a wooden bar that was swung at the center from a hitch on a plow, wagon, etc. and hooked at either end to the traces of a horse's harness. The hooks on either end were fastened in the hog's heel strings. In this position, the hogs would be gutted. The butcher would also cut the hog's head off at this time and cut the hog in half down the spine from head to tail. Each half, which was then easier to handle, was placed on the butcher's table to be cut into various meat cuts: hams, sides, shoulders, loins, etc. The men would butcher the animal and send the parts inside for the women to wash, slice, and package according to the size of the family. The women's task was to clean the excess fat off the guts and other parts of the hog to render lard. This fat was then placed in the wash pots to be heated and render out the fat, i.e. lard, which was then placed in containers to be used for cooking throughout the year.
Products gained from the hog:
The bladder of the hog was cleaned and given to the children to play with; this makes a great ball.
lard: pretty and white fat that came from the underbelly of the hog
Cracklings (made by cutting the skin of the pig into pieces that are deep-fried in rendered fat until golden brown) for food or the making of lye soap; today we buy cracklings in bags at the store and call them "pig skins".
Hams, side meat or middleings (bacon) hogs jaw, shoulders, pork chops and ribs or backbone, and tenderloin were rubbed excessively with salt-saltpeter-sugar-cure.
The meat items would be stored on shelves in the smokehouse for three to seven days, after which they were washed and hung again in the smoke house for seven days, where a slow fire burned in a dug-out hole or kettle in order to smoke and preserve the meat. After the smoking process, the meat was wrapped in corn shucks and stored in boxes in the smokehouse. By the 1950's, smoking was obsolete: the meat was then stored in freezers.
Sausage - lean cuts of meat ground and seasoned with salt, red and black peppers, and sage. This seasoned meat was then placed in cleaned intestines or homemade fabric sausage sacks, 12 to 14 inches long. After filling them, they resembled the rolls of sausage that one buys in the grocery store today.
Mincemeat - meat removed from the head of the hog and mixed with apples, raisins, brown sugar, molasses and spices.
Souse - The hog's head, ears and snout were boiled until all the meat dropped off the bone; the bone was removed and the mixture congealed to be sliced and eaten. When cooled, the stock congealed because of the natural gelatin found in the skull. It was usually eaten cold or at room temperature as a luncheon meat.
A community hog killin' was a major social event. At the end of the day everyone enjoyed an evening meal of some (or all) of the following: pork dish using the heart, liver, spices, and onions; a large pan of crackling cornbread; hot homemade biscuits; a platter of fresh fried pork chops; another platter of tenderloin; beans or peas; corn; fried tatters; candied sweet potatoes; steaming turnip greens; jugs of tea, coffee, apple cider; and cold buttermilk that was put in the cistern early in the morning for chilling. For those with a sweet tooth, there was hog-killing-day cake (a butter cake with lots of fresh country eggs and use the oranges or whatever was available and whatever nuts that you had on hand), coconut pies, chocolate pies, and fried peach pies. Some of the old-time recipes can be found on the website:
"Old Time Recipes and Wood Stoves"
If the killin' was that of an individual, the friends and neighbors would help with the killin and with clean up and then be given fresh pork to take home-their pay at the end of the day long process. The meat was shared freely: each family knowing they would be rewarded in the same way when the next hog killin' came around.
The morning after the annual ritual of hog killin', a breakfast of brains and scrambled eggs was considered a real delicacy. Later in the day the hogs' feet (after the hooves had been thrown away) had to be pickled in vinegar, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper and then canned in fruit jars or put in a stone crock to be eaten soon.
Then the process started over-looking for a new piglet to become next year's food. "For Sale: Poland China Pigs; good blood. Will make good porkers for 1923. Would trade for good, white corn. - C. R. Covington (Rains County Leader, October 20, 1922
For the people who lived in town and did not own a farm to raise livestock for their table, meat markets in town could provide for their needs.
"New Meat Market I have opened a market on the west side of the square in the Lamb building and keep a fresh supply of meats at all times. I will appreciate your trade. I also buy fat hogs, cattle and hides and pay good prices. - W.S. Booe" (Rains County Leader, September 16, 1904)
"Hog-Killing Time on the Burns Farm" (Rains County Leader, February 22, 1990) Thompson, Paula Howard.
"Hog Killing Day". http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~tnweakle/Hog_Killing.htm. November 14, 2011.
Thompson, Paula Howard. "Old Time Recipes and Wood Stoves". http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~tnweakle/old_time_recipes_and_wood_stoves.htm . November 17, 2011.