Back in the sixties when I was growing up, almost every family did its own butchering and ours was no different. When the weather got cool enough, my dad and some of the uncles would kill a couple of fattened hogs while the women folks got ready to put up some pork.
We had one of those big old cast iron pots with three little legs on it sitting in the backyard. The men would build a big fire and place that pot with water on it in preparation for scalding the hog. They had to dip the hog in the hot water and quickly scrap off the bristles. If there were some bristles that were stubborn, they would dip the hog in the hot water again in order to loosen the bristles. You didn't want to leave the hog in the water too long as it wasn't the best for the meat to get too hot. Particular care had to be taken around limbs and other areas that weren't smooth, flat surfaces.
I loved watching the men at work. They all seemed to know what to do and worked with an amazing efficiency. Just as soon as the women had any pieces of meat to work with, they got busy. Once the head was scraped clean, it was put on the stove to boil. Literally every part of the head was utilized, including the tongue and the brains.
My mother always made hogshead cheese, or souse, as we called it. This was made by grinding up all the little bits of meat and fat and whatnot that came off the head together with some of the brains. There was a fair amount of gristle that went in, but that didn't matter since it was all ground fine. We used a hand grinder for this and I was allowed to turn it as my mother pressed down on the meat and other items that were being fed into the top of the grinder. As this mixture came out of the grinder, it was pressed down into a bowl and covered with vinegar, which slowly soaked into the souse. Later, after the souse had been cooled in the refrigerator, it was cut into slices and eaten. I loved this tangy pork treat, although I will admit it was pretty rich. At any rate, you didn't want to eat too much of it in one sitting.
My favorite part was the making of cracklings. These were chunks of pork skin that had ample amounts of fat attached to them. As they were cooked down to render the lard, the cracklings got crispy and, with a little added salt, were amazingly delicious. I still love fresh cracklings. I'm not talking about the blow-dried excuses for cracklings you find in the grocery store, but real cracklings fried in lard -- the kind that still had a hog bristle or two on them in places. I know they are death to the cardiovascular system, but you simply can't beat the flavor.
After butchering, we would always have fresh pork for supper. This was so good with biscuits and pork gravy and mashed potatoes or sometimes white rice. Momma would fry the pork in its own grease and then make the most tasteful gravy. I don't know anyone who makes pork gravy as good as Momma's. But then Momma was a terrific cook who almost always had something cooking on the stove. She took her role as cook seriously. Plus, she simply loved to cook. I can remember many times the look of pride on her face as her family ate her offerings of food with gusto. With six boys in the family, she oversaw the eating of a whole lot of food.
Once the butchering was done, we boys would fill our pockets with cracklings and head off to the woods to play. We roamed over a pretty big area as we played. Sometimes we would make interesting finds, such as a baby deer lying in the leaves, or maybe a honey bee hive in a tree, or wild muscadine grapes which had such a good flavor. You couldn't eat the grapes because the skins were tough and the insides were a pulpy mass, but they tasted good. We would chew on them, relishing the sweet juices, then spit them out.
Mother was always happy if we brought muscadines home with us because she liked to make muscadine jelly. I liked muscadine jelly on my biscuits for breakfast. I also enjoyed mayhaw jelly. Mayhaws are a wild fruit that grow near the bayous. They look like little apples growing on a bush. I don't think anyone ate the berries straight from the bush, but many folks made jelly and preserves from them.
There is actually a Little Miss Mayhaw beauty contest down in one of the towns in northern Louisiana. That's one of the things I like that about the South. They have some of the most interesting activities. There is another little town in southern Arkansas which has a Purple Hull Pea Festival. All I can say about that is it must be in the center of God's country. Amen.
Sam Byrnes is a Gentry-area resident and weekly contributor to the Eagle Observer. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 11/11/2015
Print Headline: Butchering Time and Other Things