Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hog Killing Time at the Sloans

Hog killing time in Itawamba County created a lot of work for a family, but it was an exciting occasion since they knew that soon they would have fresh meat. Chickens and wild game provided most of the meat for the country table, although meatless meals were also common. Cows were generally used to provide milk, but when the occasional slaughter did occur, the beef could not be kept as long as smoked or cured pork due to lack of refrigeration or the ability to freeze meat for later consumption. In that case, a family usually would share their fresh beef with family and friends to avoid it spoiling and going to waste.

Hog killings took place in the late fall when a stretch of cold weather was usually guaranteed. The cold weather was needed to keep the slaughtered hogs from spoiling during the process, plus the curing of the meat took several days and if a warm spell came along then your meat could spoil. Better safe to wait for true cold weather although the anticipation of fresh meat sometimes overruled common sense.

Since it was usually a day-long, laborious event, the entire family participated along with perhaps some cousins, aunts and uncles from down the road. Back then, everyone helped everyone else out. If there was a particularly good butcher in the neighborhood or family, then he or she might be on hand to use their expertise in carving up the pork. Before the actual hog-killing day arrived, the hog or hogs would be put into a separate pen for about a month in order to fatten them up with a special diet of corn and other food. A fatter hog meant more meat, but it also meant more lard. The importance of lard to a farm family cannot be understated.

Preparations had to be made for the hog-killing day. Knives had to be sharpened, pots cleaned out, a table set up. A scaffold of sorts was built, upon which the hog was hoisted, head down so that when its throat was slit, the blood would run down and quickly drain from the body. This was an important process that kept the meat from spoiling, much like deer hunters do with their kill today.

It was the men's job to to kill the hog, scrap and gut it, but once a hog was gutted the women took over. In the above picture, the Gainey Sloan family had just killed a hog and the women were going about the business of turning it into food for the family. After being butchered for its ham, bacon, chops etc. the fat of the hog would be collected and rendered into lard.

Above, you can spot a ham on the table just in front of the washtub, and there are mounds of fat on the right side of the table. Fat was collected, cut up, and put into a pot where it became lard once melted. The guts of the hog had to be very carefully stripped of fat; some people threw the guts away because of the trouble involved in stripping them, but the Sloan family wasted not one part of the hog. The fat-turned-lard was a kitchen staple, used much like shortening and vegetable oil today. Although I have no memories of hog-killing days at the Pennington farm, I do remember that my grandmother Beck kept a tub of store-bought lard for making her biscuits and for melting to fry up her delicious chicken. Lard also was used in making soap and could be used in preparing salves and ointments.

On hog-killing day, there usually was a test batch of sausage cooked, something everyone looked forward to. Fat and seasonings such as salt, pepper and sage were added to ground-up, lean pork and then fried - usually over coals outside to avoid having to start up a fire in the wood-burning stove inside. If the first batch didn't quite have the right proportions, another batch would be prepared and fried until just right. The fresh sausage would keep a while but not as long as the other smoked and cured items. You can spot the sausage grinder on the table behind the little girl on the right.

Gail Newton Carter, granddaughter of John Gainey Sloan and Dora Belle Ridings shared this wonderful picture, such an unusual glimpse into an important occasion on the Itawamba County farm. Since I had not written down the names of those pictured, Aunt Tootsie identified them for me. She thinks that the two children standing in front are Gail, daughter of Una Sloan Newton, and Snooky, daughter of Grace Sloan Devall. Behind the table are Dorothy, Una, Gracie, Mrs. Willie Maude Newton, Aunt Dora Ridings Sloan, and Afton. Dorothy, Una, Grace and Afton were daughters of Aunt Dora and Uncle John Gainey Sloan. Miz Maude was the wife of James Elonzo Newton and daughter of Morgan Spears Bourland and Ollie Booth. She also was the mother-in-law of two Sloan siblings: Johnnie Ridings Sloan, who married Troy Newton; and Una Ione Sloan, who married William Forrest Newton.

Thank you, Gail, for sharing this photograph with us, and I appreciate also Aunt Tootsie - who was first cousin to these Sloans - for sharing her recollections of hog-killing day with me.


Anonymous said...

Mona, you "sorta" left out the name of the by-product of the lard rendering - guess you are much too young to recall this and easily overlooked by you mother's generation -mind you, I'm not an expert about "hog killing day" in the Stone, Robinson and Dyer families either. I do recall one time at each home - normally done in late Nov. after the killing frosts began. Lard rendering came from two places that I recall! The first I never tasted the by product - these were the cooked off product from the intestines and I can't recall what they were called - maybe chittlins?; I do remember they were a choice part shared with the family/neighbor blacks of the time. That other that had a rind on the fat and cooked until the rind and the small amount of the meat were fried to a crisp. This "byproduct" was what they put into cornbread to make "cracklin' bread". we also purchase these as pork rinds in the racks of potato chips etc. Don't over buy when purchasing the pork rinds! - once the bag is opened, those rinds get too tough to chew and don't hold their crspness well. I believe that the difference in cracklins' and pork rinds are the thickness of their cut on hog killin' day. The old fashioned lard fries that Sunday chicken to a crunchier and more crisp coating than Crisco. That may also make a difference in biscuits and pie crusts as well. Now I'm really getting hungry for foods I don't dare go near.

Both grandparents smoked their beef and hog meat products to prolong the life of the meats in a rather large dirt floored building that had a fire pit dug into the center of the floor - going in this bldg. with either grandmother was a special question and answer time for nosey Bettye!! They always answered my questions, always. . . .bettye

Ma Jean said...

Mona, you sure told it like it was, and as I remember. Yes, you were at one or two of those big hog killing days at the Pennington Farm. Wish I could help with just one more.

Arvel said...

Mona, this is simply an outstanding post. I remember hog killing day at our place. We used every thing but the squeal. Bettye I quit eatin' chittlin' when I found a kernel of corn in a chittlin' I was chewin' ....

Anonymous said...

Did you see that Snooky is grinding the sausage? I always loved hog killing days. Rita