Brown County Historical Scrapbook: Hog killing

Brownwood Bulletin
Ronnie and Donnie Lappe

This article was taken from Pierce Burns' memories of his life recorded in a book titled A FEW GOOD HORSES, which is for sale at the Brown County Museum of History. It is told from his perspective.

When the first major cold spell blew in, the adults knew it was time to kill hogs. Late in the day, Daddy separated six two-hundred -pound hogs from the ten or so in the lot and put them into a small hog pen. The hog pen was made from closely spaced logs and much stronger than the lots for cattle and sheep. Hogs could easily root a hole in a normal lot fence.

Daddy tied a metal hanger with two hooks about two feet a part in a tree next to the hog pen. This was to hang the hogs for butchering. A large wooden table was cleaned with lye soap and hot water and placed near the tree, so the meat could be cut up there, The table was in a clean grassy area away from the mud of the hog pen.

Daddy brought the .22 rifle down to the hog pen and loaded a single cartridge into the chamber. The rifle was kept hidden from my brother and me, and was only brought out when it was needed to kill hogs or rattlesnakes.

Daddy shot the hog first. The hog collapsed into a heap and never moved another muscle. Then he butchered the hog.

When the hog had been butchered, Papa carried buckets of scalding water from iron pots heating over a woodfire and poured them over the carcass. The scalding water softened the hog's bristles. It's thick, tough skin was scraped by Papa with one of the razor-sharp butcher knifes to cut the bristles from the skin. More scalding water was poured on the hog to wash the bristles and any traces of mud away.

When the hog was clean and free of bristles, Daddy cut it into quarters and carried the quarters to the butcher table. There, he cut off the skin and large pieces of fat and took them over to Mammie who put the skin and fat into one of the big cast-iron pots which was not empty. I was right behind him watching everything. The skin and fat trimmings shriveled as they cooked while the lard separated and started to fill the pot. The pieces of skin and trimmings floated in the boiling liquid lard. We called the fried skin “cracklings.” When the pot was almost full, Mammie dipped the lard out of the pot into cans and jars. When most of the lard had been taken from the pot, Mammie scooped out the cracklings and placed them in a pan on the table. I ate some as soon as they were cool enough to pick up. They were crisp, hot, and had the tast of freshly fried pork, but with a more robust flavor.

The mesquite wood burned like charcoal with almost no flame. I replaced some of the wood under the pot as it burned away, while pot after pot of fat was rendered into lard. Lard was used for cooking.

That cold, biting wind blew from the north and I didn't have enough clothes to stay warm in the freezing wind. My face and hands hurt and my ears felt like they might fall off.

For a while, I stood close with my back to the fire. The back of my coat and pants got so hot that I couldn't stand it. My front was freezing then, so I turned around to warm my legs chest, and face. My hands never felt warm, but burned and tingled. The north wind felt thick, like it had turned into a cold, clear liquid.

It was hard, exhausting work for everyone, No one quit or complained. Not having to buy food meant a little more money that could be paid on loans made on the land. The cold wind and blowing dirt only made it harder.

After all the hogs had been butchered, Daddy salted down the bacon and hams. I sat on a low stool outside the smokehouse door and watched. The smokehouse was just behind Mammie and Papa's house. There was no refrigeration. People preserved meat by smoking or salting. It was a small, clean room and as far as I know they had never smoked any meat there. The family used salt rather than smoke to preserve meat. Daddy rubbed the hams in a mixture of cayenne pepper, black pepper, cloves and brown sugar, He carefully placed each one in a large crockery container and covered it with salt. The bacon, or salt pork, was buried in salt without any other seasoning. The hams were so good that they didn't last very long. The salt pork was the only meat we had left by the end of the summer, and it had to last until the hogs were killed the next winter. We never bought pork in the grocery store.

A favorite meal of mine was fried salt pork, cream gravy and biscuits. The salt pork was boiled in water for a short time, before it was cooked to remove the salt.

The Brown County Museum of History has exhibits showing pioneer life.