Hog Killing and Nothing Wasted
Is a Pig's Tail Pork?
The article below is one from a book that I wrote a few years ago and recently edited titled Memories of Bull Town-Tuxedo a Cotton Mill Community . Daddy always killed hogs in the winter. Slaughtering hogs is a big job the way my dad did it but as a youngster, I learned much about the process and best of all having a good country cured ham or tenderloin for breakfast made it all worthwhile.
As a youngster growing up in the Western North Carolina countryside I was exposed early to farm animals. Dad had a milk cow and oftentimes she was bred and produced a calf. If the calf was a bull, it would be castrated later when grown to be slaughtered for beef to feed our family. If the calf was a heifer, she would be sold to someone who might need a milk cow. We also had chickens and hogs. I was introduced early to proper care of our stock and dad taught me how to butcher the animals he slaughtered.
When he slaughtered a hog the meat would be for home use and he would sell some to folks in the community. Pork was the preferred meat and beef rarely was eaten. When a new litter of pigs was born, the males had to have a certain surgery. This was done to ensure their meat would not be strong at killing time. There was a certain older man who lived on Mount Olivet who usually did the surgery, Mr. Everett Osteen. Dad would hold the piglets by their hind feet and the old gent would take his razor sharp pocket knife, make the incision and cut the testicles out (mountain oysters). It was my job to hold the anesthesia can which consisted of lard and turpentine concoction that was packed into the open wound. Done properly the piglet did not loose very much blood and rarely was there an infection. The young hogs would heal quickly and seemingly were not too bothered by the sudden loss of an important part of their manhood.
Dad would kill hogs in the winter. It always seemed to me to be the coldest day of the year. We would fill a fifty gallon barrel with creek water and heat to a boil with old tires and wood. This water was used to pour over the hogs bristles and made scraping and cleaning much easier. There was a science as to how to pour the heated water on the hog’s hair, too much or too little; too hot or not hot enough made all the difference in the world as to how easy the hog cleaned up. Dad said it had to be tempered just right.
When we killed hogs, nothing was wasted. When the hog was split and gutted, the heart and liver were placed in a clean pail and dad sent me to the house with them so mom could prepare one or the other for our noon meal. The lights or lungs were given to some folks in the village who liked these organs (Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Ward) and they were given free of charge
Although we rarely salvaged the intestines, there were those who liked and ate them, commonly known as chitlins. I have eaten chitlins and they make a nice addition to a meal. The head was saved and later cut up for souse meat (some call this head cheese) or scrapple. There was even one fellow who liked to drink the blood that gushed when the hog’s throat was cut (to bleed the hog) just as soon as he was killed. He was certain that there was a medical benefit derived by drinking fresh hog blood. Yuck!
After the hog was butchered, the portions that would be cured were rubbed with a mixture of brown sugar and salts. The middling or what is commonly called fatback (bacon to city slickers) and quite popular as a seasoning agent in Southern kitchens were cured in this manner. The hams and the shoulders received special attention since their curing process was usually an extended period of time, normally six to nine months. The other trimmings were ground into sausage and most folk had their own recipe which they preferred.
The tenderloin was some of the best eating and mom would prepare this favorite along with her fabulous red-eye gravy on many winter mornings. She would also make those tasty golden brown biscuits and cook a pot of grits on the old Roman-Eagle wood cook stove to go along with our scrambled egg breakfasts.
Excess fat was trimmed and then rendered into lard, which would be used as cooking oil in the country kitchen. After rendering the lard, cracklings remain and could be used in cornbread. Fatty bread, as my dad called it was a rare treat but was one of his favorites. Crackling cornbread was a great side dish when having dried beans or fried cabbage as a part of your meal. With all the pork that we used to eat, it is a small wonder that all our arteries weren’t clogged with cholesterol.
Lard or pork fat was used by many in the olden days to make the fabled lye soap. We never made any lye soap but it is interesting to know that a similar process was once used and may still be used in a more dignified and sophisticated manner by the Armor Meat Company who manufactures Dial soap. They add chemicals that gives their product not only a cleansing effect by breaking surface tension thereby releasing the dirt and body oils from our bodies when we shower but the product also creates a deodorant effect from the perfumes added to the mixture in the soap making process. We sure have come a long way from Grandma’s lye soap, haven’t we?
Hog jowls have long been a favorite at our house as part of our New Year’s meal. My wife, PJ, cooks them on a griddle getting them good and crispy much like thick bacon. Cured jowls have a better taste than bacon and add so many flavors to the meal. It is said that the hog jowls represent joy for the coming year and we always try to have an ample supply prepared for this festive family meal.
Everyone loves pork rinds and these have even been promoted in some high protein diets. My folks sometimes would cook the pork skins in the old Roman-Eagle cook stove. They would curl up and blister with most of the fats cooking away and were a favorite winter snack.
This brings me to a question that has been argued for years and was the subject of a serious class debate at my junior high school. Is a pig’s tail pork? To me, there is no doubt; since it is a physical part of the pig’s anatomy, the pig’s tail would be considered pork.
Finally, my dad always told me, you can judge the health of a pig by its tail. If the pig’s tail has a curl, the pig is healthy; if the tail is straight then the pig might have worms. He always gave his swine coal to eat as a preventative measure and all our pigs had those cute little curly tails and seemed to be happy little critters.