Today begins the annual pig slaughter at my home. It is always a momentous occasion. Of its many unforgettable moments I think my favorite is when the pig’s carcass has been split in half lengthwise, and laid out on our antique oak butcher board.
A side of a pig is one of the great wonders of the natural world. Here intersects the life of an amazing animal with the nourishment and conviviality of people. A shoulder is a cluster of muscles, tendons, etc. that enable this cloven hoofed animal to amble through pasture or woods. It is likewise the perfect object for barbecuing and pulling unto a feast fit for the marriage celebration of a princess. The side that provides insulation for vital organs can be smoked and broiled in strips whose odor speaks of Sunday morning with family, and whose savor is perhaps the most universally approved of tastes. The rear leg that renders a pig truck-like in strength is transformed through months or years of salt and sugar curing into a food of connoisseurs and backwoodsman alike.
Were there not so much to do during the slaughter it would be worth standing back for a while. Studying that side carefully one can see, maybe even smell and taste, so many moments of human life. This too is a great moment of human life. Standing at the butcher board flanked with friends and family, there are few places that I would rather be.
Photo: Starting the process of eviscerating. If I look a bit tentative, it is because this is the first pig I ever slaughtered. That was ten years ago, under the watchful eye of my mentor Jimmie Seal. May you be enjoying unending life, Jimmmie; your generosity will not be forgotten.
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I have heard many stories of my maternal grandmother avidly participating in hog butchering in the fall in northern Alabama. My mother never ate beef till she was an adult, so ubiquitous was pork. And lye soap, made from pig lard, was a laundry staple.
This brings to mind my speaking with old-timers here in the Shenandoah Valley. Upon hearing that I’m doing a pig-slaughter, they inevitably have a fond memory or two to share of when they were young…all the work, all the togetherness…
Thanks for sharing.
Of what kind of wood was your tripod constructed ? The hog looks like he weighed not much shy of 200# —
My tripod, like most of those made by people around here, are of eastern red cedar, or in other words–juniper.
Sorry, second question: do you finish out on acorns? and, if so, does it affect the color or consistency of the fat?
Yes I do. I can’t say for sure whether the color of the fat is very different–since for years I’ve been finishing on acorns. But I can tell you that the taste quality is simply superb. Someone who slaughters with me has suggested that the acorn fattened bacon fat, when rendered, remains liquid at a room temperature when other lard would solidify. That seems true to me.