Hog-Killing Time on the Farm

                                                                             Hog-Killing Time

 By Elton Camp

            A chill was in the air. The time had come. Soon after sunrise, orders to mules, the clattering of wheels, voices of women and the shouts and laughter of children accompanied the arrival of visitors. They were expected, so Milas had all in readiness for the day’s activity.  Neighbors from the nearest three farms congregated to help with hog killing.  It was not only a necessary work to assure meat for the coming months, but a social occasion.  Entire families came, although the hardest work fell to the men.  The children had an exciting day of fun in store.

            The families had brought their wash pots to supplement the one owned by the Camp family.  The men heaved them over the sides of the wagons and lugged them to the side of the house.  The round, black containers would be used to heat water to scald the hogs. As when clothes were to be washed, fires were laid under the pots after they were filled with water from the spring.  While they heated, two of the men attached a block-and-tackle to a strong limb on the old oak tree that sheltered the west side of the house. 

            “Chillun git outsid’ ’n’ play.  Y’all don’t b’ comin’ ’n’ th’ hous’.  We’ll b’ fixin’ dinner ’n’ heer.  Stay out o’ th’ way o’ th’ menfolk.  They don’t need y’u gettin’ ‘round when they’s workin’ wif th’ hogs,” one of the mothers charged. 

            Hog killing was a bloody, stinky mess, and extraordinarily hard work.  It would be afternoon before the job would be completed.  Such opportunities for group play were limited.  They meant to take full advantage of it. 

            “Hid’ ’n’ seek,” one of the boys called out.  “Not hit,” he hurriedly added. 

            To be “It” was the most undesirable position in the child’s game.  That meant having to seek out and chase the others.  That was considered to be less fun than hiding. 

            Others quickly affirmed, “Not hit.”  The children pointed their fingers at their comrade who was judged to have spoken last.  “Yore hit,” they called out gleefully.  “It” then took over direction of the game.

            “This here’s home,” he declared as he slapped his hand against a corner fence post well away from where the men were doing the hog killing.  “No fair hidin’ anywheres ’round th’ scaldin’ pots.” 

            “It” leaned against home base, covered his eyes with his hands, and began to count slowly.  When he reach twenty, he called out, “Reddy ’er not, heer I com’.” 

            Most of the youngsters had blended into the surroundings.  Any child not yet well hidden jumped behind the nearest available object. 

            As “It” searched behind the smokehouse, a lanky girl with long, brown hair rushed from her hiding place inside a fig tree and made a mad dash for home base. 

            “Hom’ free,” she cried out in triumph. 

            That meant that she was exempt from consideration for being “It” in the next session and could relax as the present game continued. 

            A boy jumped from behind a massive tree and attempted the same thing, but was spotted.  “It” called out, “I spy Robert” as he pursued him.  Laughing the whole time, Robert made a series of fast turns to avoid being tagged before reaching home base.  This time, “It” was the victor.  “Yore out,” he shouted as he touched the boy’s shoulder.  Having been tagged, that youngster couldn’t play for the duration of that game session.  Hide-n-seek continued until all had been found, or “It” tired of the play. 

            “Olly, olly, oxen free,” “It” chanted to signal his playmates that the game was over and that they could safely emerge.

            Two of the boys decided to hunt doodle bugs. Their lairs could be found in dry, sandy soil where they looked like unsteady, miniature funnels. 

            “Heer they air, unner th’ house,” one boy said as he pointed to dozens of depressions separated from each other by a few inches. 

            The other boy inserted a straw into the bottom of the pit, twirled it, and chanted, “Doodle bug, doodle bug, com’ out o’ yore hole.  Yore house ez on far ’n’ yore chillen will burn.” 

            When the ant lion larva moved, it was attributed to the charm.  In fact the larva reacted as if an ant had fallen into its pit.  By pulling away the sand, the doodlebug caused the victim to tumble into its devouring maw. 

            If the boys were quick and determined enough to uncover the larva and to extract it from its pit, the insect would play dead as long as it perceived danger.  If they’d known that the larvae would someday grow wings and fly, the fact would’ve astounded them. 

            While the children continued the day of play, far more pressing matters occupied the adults.  The family’s principal meat supply for the months ahead must be prepared. 

            Albert made an unnecessary visit to the outhouse when he saw a group of the men open the gate and enter the hog pen.  One of them carried a butcher knife.  As main caretaker of the three hogs, he didn’t want to see it when they were killed.  He’d become fond of them, particularly the one with black patches on an otherwise white body.  He’d named it Elmer. 

            A bit of slop poured into their trough enticed the animals into a corner of their enclosure.  The men pounced on one of the hogs and shouted encouragement to one another as they wrestled it to the ground.  It squealed wildly, kicked its legs, and attempted to bite them, but it was no use.  A burly man plunged the knife deep into the swine’s throat and made a savage slice.  The men released the mortally wounded animal and jumped back to avoid being hit by its spouting blood.  The hog continued to squeal, this time in pain.  It ran until it became weak from blood loss, fell, struggled to its feet, and ran some more.  Slowly, it collapsed and began to quiver.  Then it lay still.  The men laid it on a homemade table and admired their work.

            With the block-and-tackle, the men raised the hog by its back feet.  Before beginning the slaughter, they allowed time for any remaining blood to drain from the carcass.  They then placed a large barrel underneath the suspended hog and partly filled it with hot water. 

            “Let hit down, boys,” Milas called out. 

            The hog soaked in the hot water for a few minutes.  When they pulled it up, the men began to scrape away the bristly, but now loosened hair.  Up and down the hog went.  Scraping followed scraping.  Despite the cool weather, the workers mopped sweat from their brows. 

            “Water’s gettin’ too cool,” one of the workers observed. 

            That resulted in more hot water being brought for the barrel.  Others refilled the wash pots from the spring to have a continuous supply.  Several scaldings were required.  There must be no hair on the rind of the ham or bacon when it was cooked. 

            The cleaning completed, the men removed the internal organs, cut up the hog, and commenced to prepare the meat.  They sliced away the excess fat and then rubbed the surface with a mixture of salt, spice, and seasonings.  The aroma only partly overcame the stench of the butchering process.  Then it was time to kill the next hog and repeat the process. 

            When the hardest work was over by the middle of the afternoon, it was time for the visiting families to go home.  Except for a dinner break, all but the children had worked for several hours.  A day of vigorous play, which would be remembered for a lifetime, left the youngsters happily exhausted and sleepy.  

            “Afore y’u depart, com’ help y’r selves t’ som’ meat, fellers,” Milas called out. 

            It wasn’t an act of generosity, but expected for all who’d taken part in the work.  Milas would be repaid in kind when he assisted each of them.  The parts that couldn’t well be preserved were always divided up.  The families would enjoy fresh ribs for a few days, depending on the temperature. 

            After the neighbors left, much work remained.  Miranda and her older children took over. Milas made an occasional appearance to observe and supervise.  Meat for sausage was sliced into strips and put into the manual sausage grinder along with fat.  When it was ground, they added spices, peppers, and sage to taste.

            “Y’u thank thet’s ’nough sage?” Miranda asked. 

            Milas took a pinch of the raw sausage and tasted it.  “A speck mo’s needed,” he judged.  Trichina worms and other dangers of eating raw pork were unknown. 

            “Better git goin’ on renderin’ th’ lard,” he said when the sausage was done. 

            Miranda placed piles of glistening, white fat into the wash pot to cook out the lard.  The lard, stored in metal buckets, would be used throughout the year until next hog killing.  It was used for soap making.  Worse was its liberal use in cooking.  Nobody knew the health risks of saturated fats and cholesterol.  Strokes and heart attacks crippled many people and ended lives prematurely. 

            A by-product of lard rendering was crisp bits of fat called cracklings.  They could be eaten while fresh and hot, but most were used to make cracklin’ bread.  The cracklings were mixed with the batter when stirring up cornbread. With the brown and white cracklings, the hoecake was a delicious, though greasy, treat.  When eaten with turnip greens, it was a particular favorite of rural people. 

            The family hung hams and bacon from the joists of the smokehouse to cure.  Because the bacon didn’t have bones, it was easy to cut off a hunk when it was needed during the year.  It would then be sliced into individual strips called “rashers.”  Ham was harder to manage. 


            “Git down thet biggest ham, Leamon,” Milas directed later in the year.  “I’ll holt hit whilst y’u saw threw th’ bone. 

            The unwashed hacksaw cut easily through the meat, but slowed, with a rasping sound, as it ground through the dense bone.  The cured ham was a special treat to be enjoyed in small amounts and only on occasion. 

            Timing was everything in hog killing.  After the first hard frost, the temperature usually stayed low enough for the meat not to spoil.  Occasionally, a prolonged warm spell meant loss of the precious food.  When thoroughly cured, the meat wouldn’t ruin whatever the weather might do.  Nobody wanted to kill hogs too soon.  An accurate projection was simply impossible.  It was one of the many uncertainties of rural life. 

There are no messages yet
Short Story
writing Elton4562

Bookmark and Share

You must log in to rate.
This has not been rated.

Hog killing day was a time of work for the adults, but of play for the children.
© 2014 WritingRoom.com, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED