Hog Killing Time
by Mike Cox
back on when I was in the second grade, it seems like a long time ago, but at
least all the dinosaurs had disappeared by then. The wild Indians were gone, too.
We had electricity and TV. Shoot, the Russians had even successfully launched
the world’s first satellite that year. (Hint: 1957.) |
One day, a skinny
classmate of only casual acquaintance did not show up for school. No one thought
anything of that, of course. But the next day he was gone. And maybe the next.
Finally, someone asked the teacher where Johnny was. Maybe he had lucked out and
caught measles or the mumps, which would keep him out of class for a week or more.
“Oh, it’s hog-killing time,” said Mrs. Shields, our teacher at what was then called
the Demonstration School at what was then called Texas State Teacher’s College
“He’s helping his family.”
For most of us in that class, the bacon we
enjoyed with our eggs in the morning came from a package Mom kept in the refrigerator.
That’s also where the makings for ham sandwiches could be found. We city kids,
even though Denton
was not all that big a city in the Eisenhower years, knew nothing of hog-killing.
Texas State Teacher’s College is now Texas Women’s University and hog-killing
time no longer constitutes an excused absence for grade school kids. (Cotton-picking
time and the first day of deer season also used to be officially sanctioned no-school
days in some rural Texas school districts.)
The latest norther to drop
the nighttime low to near freezing is what got me thinking about that long-ago
experience, my only personal connection to a piece of Texas folk history. I’ve
hogs, but that’s another story.
You don’t have to delve too deeply
into almost any written recollection of a Texan who lived in the days before refrigeration
became the norm to find accounts of hog-killing. That is the generic term for
the practice, always undertaken in cold weather (usually the first good cold spell
of fall) of slaughtering and processing corn-fed hogs.
As my recollection
of 1957 demonstrates, in some rural areas, the practice continued even after smoke
houses were as rare as outhouses.
Beyond being a necessary part of farm
life, hog-killing brought together family, friends and neighbors.
for those who might want to make their own bacon some time, here’s a primer on
First, get a hog. In the old days, all this involved was
walking to your hog pen and selecting the honoree. The “winner” got knocked in
the head with an object heavy enough to render – pardon the expression – it unconscious
or dead. Or the equivalent effect from a bullet to the brain.
immerse the hog in a barrel of hot water and scrape it until all its hair comes
off. Once that step is completed, the hog is strung up by rope and pulley to be
The heart and liver are saved for cooking, while the intestines
will be used for sausage casing. The head is removed to be boiled later and transformed
into souse – call it a form of lunchmeat.
All that done, the carcass is
cut in half. Each half is then set on a butcher table and divided into the traditional
parts: Should hams, bacon, loin, back and spare ribs. Lean trimmings will be turned
into sausage, a process, as they saying goes, similar to politics. You don’t want
to see how it happens, just to benefit from the results.
But since you
asked, this meat would be hand ground, seasoned and cooked. Next step would be
to stuff it into the cleaned intestines, tie off the links appropriately, and
then hang it in the smoke house to cure.
The other cuts of meat are rubbed
with coarse salt and allowed to drain and cool for a day. Another coat of salt
goes on the next day and then the meat is placed in the smoke house.
this time, of course, someone had already cooked and eaten the liver and heart.
While the men folks are cutting the meat, the women busy themselves making
lard. They take the fatty meat, and trimmed fat, and boil it until the fat melts.
The liquefied fat, containing small pieces of meat, is poured into buckets. Once
solidified, the fat would be used like modern cooks use shortening. Back then,
of course, no one knew about bad fats and good fats. It was all good.
other use for hog fat was making lye soap. Finally, the pig’s feet were pickled.
In the end, as the old saying went, a Texas family managed to use every
part of the hog but the squeal. Well, there is that other line about not being
able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
© Mike Cox
22, 2009 column
See Related Story:
Drives of the Frio Canyon, A Trilogy by Linda Kirkpatrick
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