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 Texas : Features : Columns : Somewhere in the West
Hog Drives of the Frio Canyon
A Trilogy


Part II: “This Little Piggy Stayed Home”

By Linda Kirkpatrick
Part one of the Pig Trilogy addressed getting the little wild pigs from the Frio Canyon to market. Part two will enlighten you, kind reader, of the little pig who stayed home. I must warn you that you will never look at your packaged meat from the market the same way again. This story is about the important but disgusting details of butchering the ill fated little pig and preparing the meat for the table. It is not for the faint of heart. It is somewhat of a true tale and if a pleasant story is what you want, then kindly hit the back button.

The early settlers and cowboys in Texas relied on pork as one of their staple meats. In the Frio Canyon, the folks sent a lot of the wild hogs to market but always “put one up” during hog killing weather. The first cold snap to hit the canyon, usually about November, was the perfect time for this event. You have now learned your first lesson and next time you hear someone say, “It is cold enough to kill hogs,” you will know the origin of the term. Most of the hogs that ended up on the table were the feral-cross hogs that roamed the ranches. The Russian Boar hogs that are here in the canyon crossed with the domestic hogs and the results are quite tasty. During my younger days on the ranch, my dad and uncle would ride out with sacks tied to their saddles. Upon their return the sacks would be full of baby pigs that they had captured. They would share their bounty with neighbors and kept a few to feed out for our family. Those pigs never did gentle and it was always treacherous going out to feed them. We kept them in very sturdy pens because they would always try to attack, with their vicious teeth, the person, usually me, who had to feed them.

During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the hog’s would feed free range with their main diet being acorns. The hogs that we fed out, received a concoction of table scraps and something that my uncle would mix in a bucket and soak with water. The smell of that mix was atrocious but the pigs didn’t seem to care a bit and they fattened quite well.

Without the use of television news weathermen predicting the first cold snap, the old timers seemed to have within them some weather predicting element. They would always know when the first cold snap would hit. It could have been a bug in a box or leaves on trees but what ever it was, they always knew. They then organized the necessary implements for the hog killing day.

With water boiling in the pots, a well aimed bullet between the eyes would put the pig down. Immediately after shooting the pig it is important that the pig be bled. Bleeding improves the quality of the meat. The next step is the scrapping of the hide. To do this, immerse the pig in the boiling water until the hair loosens. Using a sharp knife remove the hair in a manner similar to shaving.

Now if you are still with me, the next step is a bit easier. Locate a sturdy tree limb and with hooks in the hind leg tendons, hoist the pig into the tree. Now it only stands to reason that we are down to just a few more steps. The next being the gutting process. With a sharp implement and a few correctly placed strokes of the knife, the gutting stage is complete. Wash the inside of the cavity with fresh water until it is clean.

The real processing is now about to begin. Excess fat is used to make lard and lean meat is removed for sausage. In the next step you quarter the carcass and remove the head. When the pig is finally finished all that remains will be the squeal.
Porky’s Favorite Recipes

Lard

To make lard, the fat is slowly cooked over a wood fire until the water has evaporated. Someone must stir the lard the entire time. When the cracklings brown and rise to the top, the lard is done. The final step is straining and storing the prepared lard for baking and frying.

Sausage

Sausage is just another way of preserving meat. Most sausage contains pork of some kind, usually the fat with some lean. Sausage can be 100% pork with beef and venison varieties running a close second. And there are about as many ways to make it as there are different kinds. It can be a simple procedure or more involved. You can grind the meat yourself or have a butcher grind it for you. With the meat ground the mixing and addition of the spices is up to your taste. The final step after the addition of spices is the packaging and storage.

Good sausage contains 20 to 30 percent fat, lean pork or other lean meats and just the right amount of seasonings. You may purchase prepared packaged seasoning along with artificial casings for those faint of heart. You may add the seasonings before or after the grinding process. Once mixed, pan sausage must be wrapped and either cooked or put in the freezer for later use. Cased sausage proves to be a bit more work intensive project.

The natural casings, made from the intestine, are available from your local meat market or you can prepare your own but we won’t go into that procedure. Artificial casings are a good substitute with the same results. The tube attachment on the grinder stuffs the casing. The casing is put on the horn and is filled as the meat feeds through the horn. You have to control the sausage by your hands as it feeds through the tube into the casing. This process requires art and skill to avoid over filling which results in the case busting and having to begin the process all over again.

Smokin’ and Sugar Curin’

Many times the hams were sugar cured and smoked. This process assured the folks that they would have meat until next time “hog killing weather” came around. There are numerous ways to cure and smoke hams and bacon. Salt may be used alone, with sugar, or with sugar and nitrite. The last method, sometimes referred to as "sugar cure," uses dry ingredients, liquid ingredients, and combinations of both.

The dry sugar cure is safest if you have no refrigerated curing room or equipment for brine curing. Make up the curing ingredients as follows:

8 lbs salt
3 lbs cane sugar
3 oz sodium nitrate
1/2 oz sodium nitrite (or a total of 4 oz nitrate if no nitrite available).
Remember, excess nitrite is toxic.

Use 1 oz of cure per 1 lb of pork (for heavy hams weighing more than 20 lbs, use 1-1/2 oz cure per 1 lb of ham). Hams should be rubbed three separate times at three to five day intervals. Bacon should have one thorough rubbing with a light sprinkling over the flesh side after rubbing. Picnics and butts should have two rubbings at three to five day intervals. Place the rubbed meats in boxes, on shelves, on wooden tables to cure but not in tight boxes or barrels where they rest in their own brine. Do not use cardboard or galvanized containers. The length of curing should approximate seven days per inch of thickness. For example, if the ham weighs approximately 12 to 15 lbs and is approximately 5 inches thick through the thickest part, this ham should be cured 7 x 5 = 35 days. If a bacon is 2 inches thick, it should be cured for 7 x 2 = 14 days. It is advisable to rub some of the curing salt into the aitch bone joint and hock end of ham to guard against bone sour. It is all right to leave the product in cure longer than the recommended time since the saltiness does not increase. Dry curing should be done in a cool place to reduce the risk of spoilage.

University of Minnesota Extenstion
http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/nutrition/DJ0972.html

Salt Pork

Salt pork was a staple food for many years. It works well when building dishes like beans, stew, gravy, etc. It is hard to find these days, but it is easy to make—although time consuming.

Use thick slabs of side pork, the more fat the better. Using a wooden box, layer the side pork in and cover each with ½ inch of salt, (you can get commercial cure salt). Cure for a minimum of 20 days at a temperature below 40 degrees, but not freezing. It will store this way for a very long time.

If you want to use your salt pork in beans or something similar, you will want to “freshen” it by placing it in cold water over night, or bringing the water to a boil. Pour off the water to remove the extra salt.

Sowbelly and Sourdough by Scott Gregory

Fried/Baked Pork Skins
All Adkins Diet followers are familiar with Pork Skins. This is a much touted snack food to the dieters and they are quite yummy. Pork skins are just that, the skin of the little pig. To prepare them the old fashioned way, merely cut the skin into chunks and fry until crispy in hot lard. Another more fashionable, up to date recipe from www.foodnetwork.com tells you to salt the skin, arrange on a baking sheet and bake for about three hours until crispy.

Scrapple

To make scrapple use the less desirable scraps of a pig. The head, heart, liver and tongue are the most common ingredients. Boil the meat off of the head. Those meats along with the other parts are now minced together. This is then mixed with cornmeal to make a mush. The mixture is then seasoned and chilled in a loaf pan. To serve, the scrapple is thinly sliced and fried. The outer edge will be crisp. Serve with eggs and potatoes.

Lauren Newkirk Maynard is an editor and food writer in Buffalo

Hog’s Head Cheese
5 pounds pig feet or fresh hocks
5-6 pounds Boston Roast, cut in chunks
2-3 chopped large onions
2 chopped bell peppers
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons vinegar
Salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper to taste
2 bunches finely chopped green onion
1 bunch finely chopped parsley

Put all ingredients except parsley and green onions in a large heavy pot. Cover with water until about on inch over meat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low simmer. Cook 3-4 hours. Strain out meat. Add green onions and parsley to liquid. Carefully remove all bone from feet and hocks. Chop meat but not too finely. Add back to liquid. Taste for seasoning. When hot it should taste a little over salty and peppery. Pour into any size pans or molds and let cool. Refrigerate overnight. If after cooling you feel it needs more salt or pepper you can melt it and re-pour and cool again.

John Major in Tell Me More by Junior League of Lafayette, Inc.

And there you have it, the pig from pasture to table!

Trilogy: Hog Drives of the Frio Canyon
Part I "Git Along Little Piggy"
Part II “This Little Piggy Stayed Home”
Part III “Here a Pig, There a Pig”

Copyright Linda Kirkpatrick
Somewhere in the West January 5, 2008 Column
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