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Come Sail Away with Us to Where Beautiful  Words Flow Like Wine​​

Hog Killing Day
He woke to the smell of burning wood and orange light flickering through his window. He laid in bed a few minutes savoring the warmth of the double blanket and three quilts, dreading the few seconds it would take him to grab his clothes and run to the warmer hallway. He threw the covers back, jumped out, grabbed his pile of clothing and ran to the hallway. He hugged the warm brick chimney and then hurriedly dressed. He took the steps three at a time and ran the length of the sitting room. Opening the door, he stepped into the warm kitchen.

His mother nodded from in front of the cook stove. “What are you doing up so early?”

He ignored her question. “What's dad doing?” He stepped into the pantry, pulled on a sweater and then a coat. “Is anyone else outside?”
She shook her head. “You are the first one up. You can help your dad pump water and fill up the hog killing pots.”

He nodded and pulled a toboggan down over his ears. He quickly walked to the steps and stood a few seconds in the cold air. King and Queenie, the two rabbit dogs, were waiting with an air of expectation, hoping to be taken to the woods to chase rabbits. He rubbed King's head and walked quickly to the three fires near a huge maple tree. “Can I do something?”

His dad pointed at a five-gallon bucket. “You pump for the time being and I’ll carry. We'll need a lot of hot water today so one of your jobs is to keep the pots full.”

He grabbed the bucket and trotted to the barnyard pump that was normally used to fill up the horse trough. He began working the handle up and down with a nice easy motion. His breath was a faint cloud in the moonlight. He stopped while his dad took the full bucket and replaced it with an empty. He began pumping again. After the fifth bucket, his brother Frank came from the porch.

“Here, let me pump for a while and give you a rest. You can help dad spread the hay around on the ground. When we lay the hogs out that will keep them nice and clean. We don't want our fresh meat lying in the dirt. Mom hates to have sand in her bacon.”

He held his hands out to the open fire. His bare fingers poked through the ends of the old gloves. Shucking the rough corn wore gloves out in a week's time. He took them off and laid them about a foot from the flames. The three pots were three quarters full and barely warm. It would be another hour before the full pots were boiling. Dawn was still half an hour away.
He glanced up the maple tree. The block and tackle was attached to a strong limb. The pulley and hook was dangling over an empty wooden barrel. The barrel set halfway into a hole that his dad had dug a week ago when the ground wasn't frozen. Around the barrel hay and pine shats were stuffed as insulation from the cold frozen ground.

One pot, the block and tackle, a few scrapers, hooks and the barrel belonged to his family. After the day was over, everything would be cleaned and sent to the next hog killing.

Three more buckets were added to the pots. They were an inch from running over. Norman came out and leaned the twenty-two caliber rifle against the maple. He stuck his finger into the water. “Another half hour and we'll be ready. I'll shoot him.” He glanced at Frank. “You cut his throat. Make sure you cut the main artery or jugular vein.”

Marvin opened the screen door and came to the fires. Norman waited a few seconds. “You have the hook ready and put it in his lower jaw. Then we'll pull him over here and dad can get him ready to hoist up the tree.”

Dawn came, the sun rose to the tree tops at the distant edge of the field. The water began to simmer and swirl around in the pots. Bubbles formed along the sides. A few minutes later the water began to boil, steam rising as a white mist in the cold calm air.

The father began bailing out the boiling water and pouring it into the barrel. He threw in ashes and other barnyard chemicals to make the hog's hair easier to scrape off. He nodded at Norman. “Go ahead. We're ready.” He poured another bucket in to make the barrel half full of nearly boiling water.
A shot. A very brief squeal. Thirty seconds later the hog was laying on the straw, a small amount of blood was still spurting weakly from the severed carotid artery. The father quickly slit the rear ankles revealing the Achilles tendon. He inserted a small rope behind each tendon and then the rope to hooks on a three foot singletree. The singletree was then attached to the pulley. “All right boys, hoist him up.”

The boy grabbed the end of the rope with his three brothers. They pulled on the rope and hoisted the hog above the barrel. The father guided the hog's head directly over the barrel. “Let him down.” He took the hog's legs and twisted the hog back and forth in the scalding water. Thirty seconds later he motioned to raise the hog.

The boys pulled, their breaths clouds of condensation in the cold air. The father used a scraper to scrape the hog's shoulder. He paused a second and shook his head. He pointed downward at the barrel. “Another thirty seconds and he'll be just right. Raise him up and down a few times. Slosh that hot water everywhere.”

The boys raised the hog a foot and dropped him back into the barrel. Hot water squirted over the rim of the barrel in places. After two more times, the father signaled to raise the hog. He scraped the hog's shoulder again. He nodded at the boys and grinned. “He's fine. Lower him down.”
The boys scraped like mad, removing as much hair as possible. The father waited until the boys had turned the hog over and cleaned the back, sides and the chest.
“Alright, let's scald the other end.” He attached a hook from the hog's lower jaw to the pulley.” He nodded and pointed upward.
The hog was sloshed around again. A minute later, he was lying on the straw. The brothers scraped feverishly, removing the hair while it was still hot and easy to scrape off.

Ten minutes later, the father bailed out two buckets from the barrel and poured on the hog, cleaning the hog and softening the remaining hair. When the hog was relatively hair free, he poured two buckets of boiling water into the barrel. At the same time Norman shot the second hog. It was pulled to the straw and the whole hair removing process was done again.
An hour later, three hogs were lying on the straw. The boys were putting the finishing touches of removing hair. Sharp knives were used razor-fashion to remove all the remaining hair. The father was using a foot-pedaled limestone grinding wheel to sharpen all the knives. The barrel had been removed and the hole filled. Now it was time to start butchering.

Saw-horses had been put up with clean boards to make a make-shift butchering table. Another old large kitchen table had been set up nearby for the women to work.

The boy had the three kettles half full of boiling water. The need for a large amount of scalding water had passed. The father had hooked the hog's rear tendons to a singletree and attached that to the pulley. “Alright boys, let's get him in the air.”

They dropped their knives, grabbed the rope and hoisted the hog so its head was a few inches off the ground. Marvin held the head steady while Norman ran his knife around and severed the head completely. Marvin placed the head on the table and began cleaning. Most of the head would go into the scrapple, except the hog’s jaw and tongue which would be smoked and used for seasoning. Norman used his knife to make a shallow incision from the anus to the breast bone. He cut deeper, spilling a bit of the intestines. He cut carefully around the anus. He pulled it out some and tied a short piece of twine around it to keep any feces from falling onto the meat. A large wash tub was held against the hog's breast bone. Norman quickly sliced through the remaining muscle and fat tissues to allow the intestines to tumble into the tub, all the while cutting tissues holding the intestines to the ribcage and backbone. He reached behind and down to the hog's neck, cutting all the time. Gently he pulled and everything fell into the tub; small intestine, large intestine, heart, lungs, stomach and the throat cartilage.

The boys poured the contents carefully on the table, taking care not to tear the intestines or the stomach. The father removed the small intestines for later cleaning and stuffing with sausage. Meaty objects like the heart, liver, pancreas were saved for scrapple and sausage. The remaining items; large intestines and stomach were dumped in the wagon for later disposal.

Norman used the heavy knife and hand saw to get through the breast bone and on to the neck. Using the hand saw, he began sawing the length of the hog directly down the center to the backbone. In a short time, the two sides of the hog were separate.

The father poured boiling water on the table. The boys laid the two halves on the table. Now it was time to trim the meat. Fat would be rendered down to cooking lard. Fatty meat would go into the scrapple pot and the lean meat would be put into the sausage pot. Very little was thrown away.
They did not save the blood to make blood pudding or the brains to mix with scrambled eggs. They did not make pickled pig feet. The feet went mostly into the scrapple.

Two uncles and aunts arrived to help. They would need the boys to help when they killed hogs soon. Norman and his brothers began work on the second hog while the father and the two uncles began trimming out the shoulders, hams, tenderloin, spareribs, bacon and other smaller parts.

Uncle Spence used an axe to split the head into two parts. The brains were discarded or given to the dogs. The tongue and lower jaw were saved to be salted down. They usually salt cured half and smoked the other half. All the excess fat was removed and tossed into a bucket. Sugar curing some of the meat was ten years away.

The father pointed at the bucket. “You can take that fat and dump it on the other table with the casings. You can help your mom and aunts cut the fat into small pieces. The smaller it is, the better it will render down.”
His mom and aunts came to the table with a large white agate basin. “Dump the fat on the other end. You can help your Aunt Mildred cut fat while Aunt Hazel and I clean the casings.”

The fat attached to the skin was firm and easy to cut. Internal fat was loose, hard to hold on the table and hard to cut. He and Mildred cut fat and tossed the small parts back into the bucket.

The mother and Hazel turned the small intestine inside out and scraped it clean. She glanced at her young son. “Put a bucked of hot water in the basin. Be careful, don't scald yourself.”

He used a clean ten-quart bucket and poured the water into the basin. His mother held up a finger for one more. He quickly bailed another from the kettle and filled the basin.

Everyone was busy doing different jobs. Uncle Spence and Mickey were cutting out small pieces of lean meat for the sausage. The father and Norman were trimming out the second hog. They were tossing the fatty pieces of meat into a kettle that had the fire raked away and was allowed to die down but not completely out.

Marvin and Farrell were setting up the meat grinder and the sausage stuffer. Later it would be used as a lard press.

And hour later all the small pieces of fat were in one kettle. The fire had been raked up against it and wood added. One person was continually stirring with a long paddle. The young boy was turning the grinder while his mother dropped in the meat destined to become scrapple. The father was making the pieces of meat ready for the smokehouse.

The smokehouse had a small chicken house coal stove to provide smoke. It had just a small amount of coal to keep it burning. On top of the hot coals were added hickory twigs and small limbs. Old timers would only use hickory. But the father would also use sassafras, gum and poplar. He would hang the small pieces, like the shoulder and bacon, with fronds from the yucca plant growing around the graveyard.
The scrapple was ready to be cooked. All the spices and seasonings had been added. It was put into the second kettle and the fire increased.
Frank was now turning the grinder as the mother fed it lean sausage meat. Different seasonings were added, especially hot pepper. The sausage and seasonings were thoroughly mixed in the third kettle. Sometimes it would be run through the grinder again to mix and have finer meat particles.

They were ready to stuff the sausage. The clean casing was put on a spout at the bottom of the stuffer. As the handle was turned forcing the sausage out through the spout, Aunt Mildred had her hand on the casing, only allowing more casing when the casing was full. She had to be careful. Too much sausage and not enough casing could result in a burst. Too little sausage and too much casing would make a thin and loose sausage with some empty areas.

The father had put two inches of coarse salt in the wash tub. The hams, shoulders, bacon, and other items to be salt cured were placed in. Then two more inches of salt was poured in to completely cover the meat.
Everyone stood around the scrapple pot. It was boiling and falling away from the side of the pot. A sure sign that the scrapple was nearly done. Farrell lifted the paddle with a bit of scrapple.

The women tasted and decided it needed more sage. That was mixed in and tasted. The three women declared it OK. The scrapple was ladled out into small baking pans. The scrapple was so fatty that it didn't need any preserving. A layer of liquid lard rose to the top. It was placed in the smokehouse even though the smoke did not affect it.

The last thing to do was to press the lard into lard tins. The boiling liquid was bailed from the kettle and poured into the lard press. A wire strainer prevented fat particles from going into the tins. After all the liquid had been bailed out, the lard press was filled with the cooked fat pieces. A heavy metal plate was cranked down and pressed the liquid into the tin. This was done again and again until the kettle was empty. The pressed fat was called cracklings. It was rich food and mixed with table scraps for the dogs.

By four o’clock all the meat was either in the smokehouse, wash tub or in the icebox. The kettles, knives, hooks, scrapers and paddles were clean and ready for the next family.

The family would feast at supper with spareribs. The kerosene lamps would be lit, the boys would play pinochle for a while and go to bed early. It had been a long day.