Butchering the Pig

An entry from Josiah's sister Bertha's memoirs, written for her grandchildren so they would know about what life was like when granny was little.

One of the tasks belonging to late fall was hog killing. Pigs were bought early in the summer and allowed to grow and as fall approached they were fed corn to make them fat. The corn was given to them on the ear and they did their own shelling.

One day in the late fall when the weather had become cool, sometimes after the first light snow, my father would call on Uncle John (mother's brother) to come and help with the butchering.

A big iron cauldron was hung from a tripod, filled with water, a fire built under it, and the hogs, usually two, were caught. Catching them wasn't easy as they seemed to sense something bad was about to happen. With a deft thrust of his sharp butcher's knife, Uncle John severed their juglar veins and they were allowed to run or stand until most of the blood had drained out.

Then they were scalded in the cauldron of hot water to loosen their bristles. After they were scraped, the hides would be white and clean. The pigs were then hoisted up on a tripod or tree limb, hind feet first, and allowed to drain more and cool.

While still warm, they were slit open so the heart, liver, and intestines could be removed. On the intestines was a reasonable amount of fat and they would be carefully put in a dishpan and carried to the house where mother would "riddle the guts' and so get a good amount of lard fat. The finer leaf lard was taken in sheets from the ribs of the animals later.

The liver was reserved for that night's supper when it was served fried in thin slices with lots of onion. After supper, Father and Uncle John would move the hogs to the cellar for the night. The meat must cool but not freeze. By this time the carcasses had been sawed in two parts from the top to bottom and the heads removed.


By the second day the animals would be cool enough to be cut up. No butchers could be more expert than Father and Uncle John and we children were always home from school promptly so we could watch. The spare ribs were taken out to be eaten fresh and perhaps shared with a neighbor. Such meaty ribs you do not find in stores now. How good they were cooked with the fat crisp and brown and the meat juicy and sweet.

We did not make bacon but put it all in a barrel for salt pork. The hams and shoulders went in one barrel with a special kind of pickle, while the rest was cut into slabs for salt pork which was tightly packed with a generous sprinkling of rock salt. When it was all in the barrel enough water was added to just cover and that made a brine that would keep the pork a year.

Mother made sausage too, spicing it to her own rule. Such tasty sausage made from fresh meat is hard to come by now. No other animal lends itself to so many varieties of meat. Since we did not have freezers in those days it was the habit to swap meat with neighbors. Not everyone killed pigs at the same time so we usually had several treats of fresh pork durning the fall.

Another custom connected with butchering in a way, was the making of soft soap. All through the winter, Mother saved pork rinds and any kind of uneatable fat. Then in the spring, Father set up the 'leach' which was a barrel with an open bottom set on slanting boards a few feet from the ground. It was filled with wood ash and kept wet. This made lye which drained through into an iron or copper kettle.

When enough lye had been made, Father set up the tripod outdoors, slung the big cauldron from it, and started a fire under it. All the fat Mother had saved was thrun in and 'tried out'. The impurities rose to the top and were skimmed off. Then the lye and fat were mixed just so and allowed to cool. You didn't want to get splashed with the lye because it would burn like fire. The resulting soap was used for washing and general cleaning. It was stored in a wooden tub in the cellar.

Our cellar was a veritable store house. It had a dirt floor which prevented things from drying out. Besides pork and soap, we kept potatoes and apples, cabbage, carrots, onions, and beets there. We did not can vegetables then but did put up a great deal of fruit. Corn we sometimes dried and it was good. We ate well off our own place.

One of our favorite entertainments in the fall was the husking bee. Corn was cut by hand and shocked in the field to dry. When the days grew cold it was brought into the barn to be husked, again by hand. As many hands make light work, we often had neighbors in to help and went to help them too.

After the husking bee, Mother would refurbish our beds for our mattresses were stuffed with the inner husks of the corn. These were more lasting and cleaner than straw and could be used for many years. The old husks were turned out to sun and air and then returned to the ticking with new husks added if needed. Our beds were firm and comfortable and rustled companionably when we turned over.

We kept ducks and had lovely duck feather pillows and ticks for our beds. A tick is a thin bag of feathers laid over the husk mattress for softness and warmth. We had chickens too but only enough to supply our own eggs and an occasional chicken pie. We children had the job of finding eggs for the hens were allowed to run loose and loved to steal nests in odd places.

Times were different in Bertha's day. I wonder what she'd think of a waterbed?