Chapter 15


Much of our meat in my childhood was from pigs. You could raise enough corn for pigs on a small acreage compared to what was needed for a cow, and beef sold for a lot more. Many people sold beef and kept pigs for their own meat. We ate both. Pigs love table scraps, and excess milk not used for higher priority needs, such as family use, sale or raising calves. Most of the cooking was done with lard which comes from hogs. Some people remember to this day how good biscuits made with lard were!

Pigs are a lot smarter than cows, and they are escape artists. The pig pens I remember were often built with boards. In fact, I remember Dad building a pen with walnut boards. You could use woven wire above ground, but at ground level you needed boards. The pig's nose is used to dig below the surface of the ground. It finds succulent roots, insects, worms, etc. by smell and touch, which it eats. When I was young the best store-bought pork was Virginia Ham. This meant they were raised on pasture.

Most pigs were not so fortunate, and were confined in a space with just a few square feet per pig. This is doubtless the reason they were always trying to get out. They had to live in their own filth (like they had for millennia) and liked to "wallow" in a wet place to get evaporative cooling in hot weather. This caused their reputation for being dirty. "Filthy as a pig" was a common standard of comparison.

Their food was called "swill" (an older word) or, more commonly, "slop" and was delivered into a trough made by nailing two boards identical in length, the edge of one to the edge of the other with the ends capped with a short board nailed onto the "V." Corn ears (corn on the cob) were thrown in the mud, which they ate with relish, and the slop, consisting of table scraps, unneeded milk, and sometimes some "mill feed," as some called purchased grain, and water, went into the trough. Since two to a dozen hogs fed from the same trough, they were quite aggressive, even when there was an abundant supply of food. They had the reputation of being quite willing to over-eat. To "eat like a pig," meant to over-eat, or to gulp ones food rapidly, without regard for manners.

Since pigs "rooted" for food by moving soil with their noses, they would frequently work their way under the board at the top of the ground, or break it. An important part of the feeding process was to look for weak spots in the fence. The weak spots had to be repaired with no delay. When they did get out it was a disaster. Pigs have little or no herd instinct. When cows get out they keep somewhat together, especially when threatened. Pigs tend to go in all directions. They are not as afraid of people up close, either.

Animals have a "circle of avoidance." This is a characteristic distance around themselves which will cause them to move away if someone invades it. They avoid you if you get too close. You use this to push them the way you want them to go. Obviously, several people work better than one, because they can approach the circle from different points. Driving animals is something like "zone defense" in basketball.

Pigs, in the wild state, were adapted to brush conditions, apparently, and they are sprinters, not long distance runners. They are difficult to drive, and particularly hard to put through a gate. Often they have to be caught to be put back into the pen. Several people are needed, it's hard work and there is some danger of small injuries. The exception is when you can lure a single pig back into the pen with food.

Butchering took place in the fall. This was usually a cooperative venture, with people trading labor. The pigs were shot in the brain to make them insensible with a .22 rifle and immediately "stuck" with a long knife, usually a butcher knife. The jugular vein in the neck was cut to allow the blood to flow out. The hog was unconscious because of the shot in its brain, but the lower centers of the brain kept the heart beating. It was important to remove the blood, because the meat would not keep well if the blood was not well drained out.

No one kept the blood from either pigs or cattle, although it is a very rich food. I remember eating blood pudding only once, at the parsonage, when Rev. M. C. Van Horn and his wife Erma were there. I don't remember the circumstances, but it was considered somewhat of an adventure for all of us, including the Van Horns.

If you are delicate you should skip the following seven paragraphs, because I intend to explain how the butchering was done. In this day when everyone lives in his own ivory ghetto, not knowing where his food comes from, or the dirty details of each other's work otherwise, some might take offense. People were closer to reality then, I think.

The hide was skinned off cattle with a knife. There was a ready market for cattle hides, which were salted and shipped off. Pig hides were not valuable. Local leather making was before my time.

When the pig was thoroughly drained of blood, incisions were made in the area above the hind feet and tendons were pulled out of the leg. These were used to suspend the pig above a barrel (55 gallon drum) that contained hot water. A large kettle of water was kept boiling, sometimes by building a fire around it, sometimes by heating pieces of iron in the fire and dropping them in the kettle. Molds from a glass factory were often used for this. Water in the barrel in which the pig was dipped was heated with water from the kettle, kept at the right temperature, not with a thermometer but by judgment. If the water was too hot the hair was "set," meaning it was hard to scrape off, if it was too cold, it wouldn't come off well either. Knives were sharpened often. Scraping the hair was relatively unskilled labor, and I helped with it from the days I was a child.


Pigs were grown only for domestic consumption. These near mature steers were known as "baby beeves." Encouraging their production was a fad in the late 40's and 50's. The idea was to finish an animal somewhat younger than the usual "harvest" age, to achieve very high quality beef for a premium market. The fad passed in a few years. Sister Lou and I in the barn with our animals.

The scraping was done one end first, and then the other. When the scraping was done, the pig was thoroughly washed and hung up to be "gutted." Gutting was skilled labor and I never did it. By the time I was big enough, I was in college and away from the farm. Dad had given up growing pigs by the time I got back to the farm. We used beef after that, because one could use a cow that had failed to conceive a calf.

An incision was made around the anus of the pig, between the hind legs and around the outlet from the urinary bladder down to the middle of the belly, to the end of the sternum (breast bone). Once three or four inches of the large bowel and the outlet of the urinary bladder were exposed, a strong cord was tied around them. This was to prevent an accidental evacuation. The body wall was opened down the belly with a sharp knife and the "h" bone of the pelvis was cut with a sharp, clean hatchet. The intestines were removed down to the diaphragm, rolled into a washtub. Then an incision was made to one side of the sternum and the bones were cut with a sharp hatchet, the diaphragm was cut with a knife and the rest of the "guts" were rolled into the tub.

We always saved the heart and liver. Liver was highly prized, unlike the present when knowledgeable people avoid it. It is the body's detoxifying organ. God only knows what might be in a liver with today's chemical additives, antibiotics, disinfectants, etc. used by the highly concentrated pork industry. You certainly can't count on ethics to protect you from a food corporation. Well cooked liver from a clean animal is delicious.

Next the head was cut off. The brain and meat from the head was used for "mince meat," delicious stuff used in cookies and pies. In addition to the finely cut pieces of meat, it contained raisins, orange and grapefruit peel, spices and plenty of sugar. We ate lots of sugar.

The feet were cut off and discarded, new incisions made above the knee to hang the animal, and a cut made down all along the spine. Then the spine was cut out, using a knife and a hatchet for the bones, so the animal was cut into two halves with the spine detached most of the way, but connected at the rear of the hog to one half.

At this point the animal was moved indoors for further dissection and, for much of it, salting. Morton's Salt, a seasoned salt was preferred by our family. The meat was salted several times, which preserved it. Hams and shoulders were slipped into a cotton bag with the leg through an opening in the bottom of the bag. This could then be hung in a smokehouse (smoking was a practice more common in an earlier day, but which was considered to produce a superior product, more below) or some other unheated place and kept until warm weather, perhaps April or May. You could push up the cotton bag and cut off the size serving you wanted any time. The salt was soaked out before cooking.

In addition to the hanging meat, mom canned a lot of pork and beef. It had to be cut up in sizes that would go into a wide mouth quart jar, packed and sealed. The jars were glass, the lids were zinc with a glass inner lining and sealed down against a flat rubber "ring," the lower edge of the lid compressing the ring against a lip below the threads on the jar. These were then boiled several hours in a wash tub on the stove, checked to see they were properly sealed, removed to cool if they were, and resealed and boiled more if they weren't. Mom could do sixteen at a time in a square tub, and would sometimes do fifty to seventy quarts. Most of the input to our food was our own labor. Natural gas, tools, and electricity to pump water were cash cost. New jar rings were used each time, and of course the initial cost of the jars and lids, which were used over and over. The cash cost was very few cents per jar.

The government eventually outlawed the screw type lids as unsafe because carelessness might cause botulism. The new lids sealed by air pressure. When you boil the canned material the atmosphere between the lid and the canned goods is water vapor. The new lids clamped on the jar with a screw lid and had a sticky stuff around the edge which made contact with the jar. When you took the jar off the heat source, air pressure against the lid pushed it down into a relative vacuum in the jar caused by condensation from the water vapor as it cooled. This is another case of the government protecting us from ourselves, I guess. No doubt food companies wanting to eliminate cheap competition had a lot to do with it, too. Dad's sister, Aunt Lotta, the Home Economics teacher, had used this type of lid for some years. Mom didn't can long after the new type became mandatory.

One final thought on pigs. They, like humans, are omnivores. That is they eat both animal and vegetable matter, about everything. It has been known for a long time the pig was domesticated in the orient, rather than the Middle East, like much of our domestic livestock. Recently a very old picture (thousands of years old) from China was analyzed carefully and seen to have a type of privy still used in China, over what was obviously a pig sty. Apparently pigs were domesticated because they could survive on human excrement alone. When I was a kid and Dad had a lot of cows feeding on silage, he kept up to fourteen pigs to cleanup the corn grains that went through the cows without digestion.

Obviously, I am playing on your prejudices in the previous paragraph. But the facts are clear. The Chinese have used "night soil" and have created a very efficient agricultural technology using the output from one food product to feed and/or fertilize another. They have been working to support a very dense population for four thousand years. In the coming decades as the entire earth approaches it's carrying capacity, we will need to rethink our ideas about sanitation and safety.

Aside: "Globally, the November-to-January period 2001-2002, was the second warmest on record, 1.03 degrees Fahrenheit above average, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration) said. The last three months were the warmest on U.S. record books, and January was the balmiest in the 123 years temperatures for the month have been recorded globally, government scientists said on Thursday." Item from the New Scientist 2-21-02

February 9 and 10, 2002. Both days I have worked out doors in my shirt sleeves. At night it gets just cold enough to frost. Most unusual! All winter has been unusually mild. We usually have cold, wet weather this time of year. May of the same year: there was scattered frost on the 20 and 21.

February 19, 2003. We have had the worst winter in memory. There has been no time from Christmas to the present without snow in sight. The last two weeks the weather alternated between snow and freezing rain. The northern jet stream and the southern jet stream have hit each other and this remarkable storm is the result, making it very difficult for people and cattle. March 15. Snow still in a few isolated, protected places on the hill. I take comfort from an old family saying, "When the time is right, the grass will grow, even under the snow."

January 21, 2004. Another hard winter is in progress.

April 12, 2006 Last winter was about as we usually have, but this winter it was very mild again, with a lot of rain in late March and early April. By this time everyone has accepted Global warming except the most diehard "conservatives."

June 26, 2006 I read in Science (the AAAS Journal) the Bush administration has taken the climate sensing instruments off the forthcoming next round of weather satellites, the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and reduced their number. Can't stand the bad news, I guess.

December 2007, at final reading before publication - some bad weather in Northwest and Midwest, but very mild and dry here. (January turned bitter cold, lasted until March.)

Copyright © 1998, 2006, 2008, 2011 S. Tom Bond (stombond at