"Come sit in the swing under the shade tree and let me tell you of days gone by..."

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pj Thompson's daddy, Paul R. Howard, with his hogs. pj is the tiny girl standing just in front of him.

Well tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day we will be killing hogs. Every year since I can remember we have killed hogs on Thanksgiving Day. Hog killing is a neighborhood get together, the men kill the hogs, scald them, hang them up (nowdays we use a boom pole attached to the tractors), scrap them, gut them, take them down, cut off the feet and split the head and finally block out the hog to hand over to thewomen to be cut up. We usually kill about 10 to 12 hogs and process them in one day, hard work but the rewards are worth it!

The men and woman always teach the children as they are growing up how to kill hogs. A favorite saying is "What don't go in one block of the hog will go in another". Today we are killing 11 hogs. The men get to where ever the hog killing will be going on very early. They will get the fires started (these are to be used for the scalding vat and rending the lard). A scalding vat looks like a big bathtub in a way, after the hog is killed, the hog is lowered into the scalding vat. The water has to be just the right temperature or you will set the hair on the hog if it is too hot and if it is not hot enough then it will not loosen the hair. The way to check the water to be sure it is just the right temperature is three fingers. Now I know you are scratching your head. You run one finger through the water, then you run the second finger through the water and then the third finger through the water. Now if you can not run the third figure through, the water is too hot. If you can run the fourth finger through, the water is too cold. As soon as the hog is lowered into the water you turn it over and then then pull the hog up out of the water. The hog is then lifted and hung up, as I said nowdays on a boom pole on a tractor, but use to have to get a rope and throw it over a high tree limb then hitch it to a team of mules or a horse and pull the hog up by using a pulley. The hog is hung by the hind legs (this is somewhat like dressing a deer). 

Well we have the dang thing hanging, what do we do with it now? We scrape it, and how do we do this? An sharp ax or butcher knives (real sharp, they were sharpened on a whit rock this morning) is used to scrape the hogs. The hardest part of the hog to clean is the head. This is hard, back breaking work that takes every muscle. A man has to do this part of the hog killing. Every man hopes (ok now that is what the old timers called help) each other. It is a team effort. Now the gorey part takes place, using that one special ax or butcher knife (the sharpest, each man would try to have it) that is deemed the sharpest by all the men. The gutting commences. A man will start between the hinds legs and splits him all the way down being careful not to cut a gut (you would know it as an intestine). You have to use an ax to chop through the breast bone, then you start pulling guts out and cleaning out the inside of the hog (I like the sow better, best one we ever killed was a 422 pound sow). The last part of this is to wash out the hog on the inside with cold water.....now these days we use garden hoses but use to have to haul the water from the cistern to wash out the hog (so now you want to know what is a cistern?). Ok, a cistern is like a well that is dug but it is a big round deep hole. Attached to the top of this cistern will be a pulley and ropes with a cistern bucket hanging on it (ok now what does a cistern bucket look like?). A cistern bucket is a long tube like thing that is about 6 to 8 inches around, this is tied to the rope and you lower it into the cistern and let it fill with water and then pull it up and pour it out. Now all people didn't have the cistern buckets or tubes, I guess is really what they would be called, some people just had a real wooden bucket tied to the rope and would lower that to get a bucket of water. When you finally got a cistern tube, you were considered well off (like in having something special). 

Ok we have the hog killed, scaled, scraped, gutted and washed. What next? Well now is time to take the hog down and lay it on a flat bed wagon, of course the wagon has been cleaned and scrubbed for this day. We now use big cardboard boxes to lay on the wagon also just for an extra measure of cleanness. Ok now you weak stomached people, you may not want to read this part. When the hog is laid on the wagon the men take an ax (real sharp) and chop the feet off and spilt the head open in the center. You must remember ALL parts of the hog is used for one purpose or another. Even the squealer is given to the children to play with. The squeal is the only part not used for food consumption.

Well it is now about 9 A.M. and we have a hog on the wagon, a hog getting ready to get his head laid open and feet cut off, a hog getting gutted and washed, a hog getting scraped, a hog getting scaled, and a hog getting killed! Let's see that is 7 hogs already. Only 4 more to go for today. The women begin arriving, and a new world begins! Of course everyone had breakfast about 4:30AM this morning and got their chores done before arriving at the hog killing but now that the women have arrived, the men will take a short break for a cup of coffee (man is it cold out here, has to be to kill hogs) and cold biscuits and meat left over from a hearty breakfast of country ham (the real stuff) and eggs and red eye gravy and milk gravy with homemade biscuits with real butter and homemade jelly. Some had a little fat meat and some had salt back bacon so what ever was left over the wives and daughters have brought for a snack for the men. 

The last thing the men have to do to the hog at this point (when it gets on the wagon with its head spilt and feet chopped off) is to block out the hog in 4 sections so the women can handle the meat for cutting it up. The women have the men fed and back to work so now they commence. One woman will start tearing sausage sacks, yes tearing, they use unbleached domestic (this is a material). The next woman has the old treadle type sewing machine flying making the sacks, I never saw anybody that could tear and sew sausage sacks as fast as my Mama could! There is at least two women in the kitchen cooking a hugh dinner (yes mid-day meal, supper is the evening meal) for everyone with some of the teenage girls help and the smaller children being the runners (that is to fetch something
their mama's might need). 

There is a about 8 to 10 women and bigger girls circled around the wagon with their knives (they keep them hidden from their husbands for fear that take them instead of their own) ready to cut up the meat. The bladder of the hog has been cleaned and given to the children to play with, this makes a great ball. The bladders can also be used and was used for a water bag when going on a trip. First thing they do is trim the fat, now this goes into a big wash kettle (they were used for many purposes) that is over the other fire that was built this morning, a little of the best fat is saved to grind in the sausage so it will fry itself.. This is called, rending the lard. One of the men by now can pull off the killing to start rending the
lard, you have a big long paddle that is used for stirring (this paddle is also used for many purposes). You can not have this fire too hot or you will scorch the lard and it will not be pretty and white, it takes alot of patience and back breaking work to do this. After the lard cooks off, it is then poured into lard stands (this is a big tin can with a lid that is used to store the lard all winter and until it is used up) and set aside to let cool for each person to take their lard home. Now guess what we have when we cook off the lard? Crackling! If you have never had crackling corn bread you have missed a treat, crackling is the leaving of what the fat has cooked out of, good and crunchy and really good to eat by themselves (sort of like your pig skins of today). The highlight of the day for one and all is when all the lard has been rendered. You leave just a little of the new rendered lard in the bottom of the kettle, throw in a double handful of popcorn and let it pop. You can not put salt on the popcorn in the kettle because it will pit the kettle (this is when little holes get on the inside of the kettle ). 

Ok so we have men still killing and doing all the gorey stuff, we have a man rending the lard and the women cutting up meat. As I said the first thing done is to cut the fat away, then you trim your hams out and set aside to be salted down tonight (we will get to this later) along with the side meat or middleings (this is bacon), hogs jaw, shoulders and what ever else you want to salt down. Now me, I grind my shoulders into my sausage, sure does make the sausage better! Nowdays, this is and always was my job, grinding the sausage, seasoning it, frying some to taste to be sure I have it seasoned just right and then get some of the younger girls (boys don't dare help the women) to hold the sausage sacks while I fill them, with my hands of course. Back to the women at the wagon, each family decides just what they want, either pork chops and ribs or backbone and tenderloin (this is the best!). We usually have to grab a man with a hand saw to cut the ribs out but you can rest assured that soon as he has done that back to the group of men he goes!

Well it's dinner time and we have all the hogs laid out so we cover them with table clothes long enough to go eat, of course the men ate first (this always happened in the old days, men ate, women ate and then the children ate, when there was a crowd). On the table for dinner was a big plate of fresh sausage that I had fried for tasting, hot homemade biscuits, a platter of fresh fried pork chops, another platter of tenderloin, corn, green beans, soup beans (this
is white beans), fried tatters, candied sweet potatoes, a big steaming bowl of turnip greens,fresh crackling corn bread, jugs of tea, coffee, apple cider and cold buttermilk that was put in the cistern this morning for chilling....for a sweet tooth we are having, hog killing day cake, coconut pies, chocolate pies, fried peach pies. 

Ok back to work. Well it is about 2 P.M. now and we are loading our meat in our trucks or on our wagon to take home to salt down. From the old days you had to salt down all the meat to keep from ruining. Nowdays we can freeze some. You have a building called a smoke house. In this smokehouse you have a salt box, now this salt box is about 4 to 5 feet long and about 4 feet tall. This is what you place the meat in to salt it down. In the smokehouse you have a cooling shelf. When you get home you place all the meat on this cooling shelf to cool overnight, better known as chill out. You rub all the meat down with salt and pack the joints. So you want to know how to pack a joint, well you take your index figure and open up a hole to joint in the hams and pack the hole with salt. The next morning you salt down the meat. You put a heavy layer of salt in the bottom of the salt box, 2 to 3 inches, then you place the hams on the top of this salt and cover the top of the hams with another thick layer of salt, next you place the shoulders and cover with another thick layer of salt and finally on the top you place the sides or middleings, the jaw and cover this with an extra thick layer of salt. The middleings and jaws are taken up out of the salt in 2 weeks, the shoulders come up in 3 weeks and finally the hams come up in 4 to 6 weeks depending on how salty you want the hams to be. As the meat is taken up from the salt, you wash each piece real good with water. Next step is to hang the meat, this is done by running a heavy wire through the shank of the hams and shoulders, the corner of the middling and jaws. The wire must be long enough to hang over the ceiling joist in the smokehouse and let the meat hang down. You put sheets of tin over the top of the ceiling joist so the smoke will go on the meat. Now it is time to smoke the meat, this is the final process in curing it. You build a fire, yes inside the smokehouse, in a kettle or a dug out hole (they have dirt floors). You bank the fire so it smokes only. This smoke will rise to the small opening you have in the roof (something like a teepee) and this goes on for several weeks. You don't want to smoke your meat too fast this will dry it out. After it is smoked you take the meat down and rub them down with skipper compound, this is to keep the skippers out of the meat. So now you want to know all about skipper compound. Sometimes it could be bought at the local farm stores but if they did not have it then you had to make your own. To make skipper compound to rub on the meat you use lots of red and black pepper and molasses. Mix a big handful of red and black pepper in enough molasses to make a paste like substance. At the shank end of the hams you rub this mixture on thick. Place the hams in a bag, paper bag or koker sack (this is the same thing as a toe sack). Fill the end of the bag with quite a bit of the skipper compound made from red and black pepper and molasses. I bet you are really confused about the koker sack, well. it is similar to a burlap bag. You rehang the meat in the sacks and this is the way it stays until you get ready to take some down to eat. You never want to cut a ham until after the July sweats but the rest of the meat has been eaten all along. Now is time to cut a ham. Oh no you take the ham out of the sack and it has mold all over it! It is ruined, no it is not ruined. Using a stiff wire brush and water you clean the ham up and slice it. Now some folks want to have their hams sliced, but not me. When you saw through the bone of the ham it changes the taste so I will do my own slicing with my good sharp butcher knife.  You put the ham back in the sack and leave it on the work table in the house or somewhere out of the way.

The day after the hog killing is a busy day, not only do you have to salt down the meat, you have to do something with the feet, head, liver, lits, sweetbread, heart, brains and guts (remember now I told you every thing in the hog is used). The feet of the hog is pickled. First thing you have to do is place the feet in the fire, this is to loosen the hooves and make it easier to remove the hooves after this is done you will singe the fine hair off the feet. The next step is to boil the feet in clear water until they falls all to pieces. This has to be drained really good so you pour everything into a flour sack and hang up and let it drain all night. Now at this point you can either eat the feet or pickle them. To pickle the feet you use
vinegar, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper and can in fruit jars or put in a stone crock to be eaten soon. The brains has a great purpose and that is to scramble eggs and brains for breakfast, no better eating than this. You can cook up a big stew with the melts, liver, lits, sweetbread and heart (I am going to let you figure out what all these parts are) or you can fry these or just use in many different ways. To the head, we make head cheese or souse out of this, you boil the head, ears, and snout until the skin comes off. This needs to be drained. Throw the skin away and some of the fat, save back some of the leanest meat for mince meat but grind the rest of the meat and some of the best fat, add salt, pepper, and sage and mix real good. You then press this together real tight in a stone crock or bowl or some sort of pan. The head cheese or souse will get a jell to it, you must store where it is cool. The way most people ate this was to slice it and place in a bowl of vinegar and let sock for several hours and then eat it with crackers, as a sandwich or what ever they liked. The extra lean meat you have saved back is used to make mince meat. You grind this meat along with apples, raisins, brown sugar, molasses and spices to your own taste. This is canned in pint fruit jars to have throughout the winter to make the real mince meat pies. The tenderloin of the hog is cooked so fast it never has time to go bad on you as well as the ribs. There is
nothing any better than on a cold winter morning to have tenderloin, hot biscuits and gravy. That's the best eating you will ever have. Now to the guts, there have to be cleaned, tough job, these are used for casing, casing is stuffed with meats such as sausage that is hung up to be smoked. Some people even boil the chitterlings (this is the casing or gut) or fry them. If you have pork chop you eat on them for a couple of weeks, they were kept cool by use of cellar or cistern, and what is left is canned for future use in the winter. Fruit jars during those days had a rubber ring and a glass top. 

Well we have the meat salted and laid out on the cooling table, the lard can put in the cellar, now is time to do the chores and cook supper...have to milk the cow, slop the hogs (I have seen enough hogs today), feed the chickens, gather the eggs, bring in the cook stove wood and the regular firewood and then cook supper. Oh me... I guess we will have sausage, biscuits, gravy, brains and eggs, that is simple and easy to fix. I really thought about including my sausage and hog killing day cake recipes but decided to wait until I write about the old time cooking and recipes for wood stoves.

Written by a woman that has lived all of this!
Paula (pj) Howard Thompson; A Native of Weakley Co, Tennessee; December 6, 1998


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