Carrboro, North Carolina
Born and raised in central Maine, my youth was spent mowing the lawn, kicking a soccer ball against the garage doors, and trying to sneak sugar cereal out of the kitchen cupboards after I was put to bed. More about Tim
South Royalton, Vermont
I am a baby boomer who grew up in a time when the trend in food was convenience and speed. It wasn't the fast-food era, but a post-World War II time when ... More about Warren
We live in Holliston, Massachusetts. When we bought our house in Holliston about 27 years ago, Holliston was a rural/residential town of about 13,000 people. More about Barbara
Wallace, West Virginia
My name is Autumn. I'm 24 years old, and I live in rural north-central West Virginia. I was born and raised in West Virginia, and in 2005 I graduated from ... More about Autumn
My personal interests revolve around the environment, both knowing more about it and getting outside and enjoying my surroundings. This led me down an educational path to ... More about April
Posted at 10:54 AM on October 21, 2008 by Autumn Long (4 Comments)
Well, we slaughtered our pig over the weekend. My parents-in-law wanted no part in the butchering process, so they sent their pig to the butcher several weeks ago. We split the other pig with my parents, who are skilled amateur butchers and who led Dan and me through our first hog butchering experience. We had been waiting for cool enough temperatures to hang the meat without fear of spoilage or insect pests. Those temperatures finally arrived late last week.
We realized it was time to finish off the pig when he began escaping from his pen on a somewhat regular basis in recent weeks. The odd part is that it was our horse's doing -- the pig escapes, that is. The horse and the pig were buddies of sorts; on many a morning as I walked down the lane to feed the pig his breakfast, I would find the horse standing next to the pig pen, his big horse head leaning over the fence, his big brown horse eyes staring down at the pig. The pig, in turn, would be seated on his rump on the ground, his little piggy eyes staring up at the horse. I don't know what they talked about during those early morning conversations, but I suspect it had a lot to do with food. Our horse is, well, something of a pig when it comes to food, and I think he was somewhat jealous of the pig, who was fed by humans twice or three times daily, while the horse was out to pasture with only the donkey for company and no one to hand-feed him snacks.
In truth, I cannot begin to ponder the workings of these barnyard minds, nor can I fathom the horse's motivation for repeatedly knocking down the pig's fence. Did he suspect the pig's tragic fate and wish to free his friend from captivity and impending doom? Was he venting his frustration at us for feeding the pig so many delicious morsels of vegetal rubbish? We'll never know the truth, 'cause the horse ain't talkin'. All I know is that he knocked the pig fence over at least five times within the past two months. (Elements of Animal Farm and Charlotte's Web meet rather uncomfortably in this scenario, yes?) Luckily, pigs are not known for their stamina as long-distance runners, and it is not difficult to convince a pig to return to his pen with the simple promise of food. Most recently, the pig had followed the horse and donkey halfway up the hill to the apple orchard, a remarkably long haul for a 300-pound pig. Boy, was he tired by the time he got home.
But I digress: This story is supposed to be about butchering a pig, not a psychological profile of large domesticated animals. The bottom line is that it was time to kill the pig, and so we did on Saturday morning.
My parents have raised a wide variety of livestock, including pigs, over the decades, and my father is an excellent butcher. Every winter, all the neighbors bring him the deer they don't want to bother processing, much to the delight of our venison-loving family. My parents hadn't butchered a pig in 20 or so years, but I hear it's just like riding a bicycle. Likewise, I think I'll always feel comfortable participating in the process of butchering because I grew up around it and consider it a necessary part of my life as a carnivore.
Also -- and I cannot emphasize this point enough -- my father knows how to kill an animal quickly and humanely, with respect for the animal's life and with as little suffering as possible. Granted, there is a certain level of clinical detachment that comes with the act of killing an animal and eating it. If you can't muster up that kind of willpower, you're best off going vegetarian, in my humble opinion. But the act of killing an animal for food in no way indicates a lack of respect for its life. You do not want to reap the kind of karmic retribution that results from inflicting needless pain on another living being. You can't carry out that kind of transgression against the universe and expect to get away with it, and you'd better believe me when I tell you, buster. Killing an animal is a serious responsibility that should not be taken lightly, and I cannot overstate the value of knowing how to take an animal's life in as quick and painless a manner as possible.
I won't go into a whole lot of detail here for fear of offending my gentle readers, so let me just say that everything went as perfectly as we could have hoped. We dispatched and gutted the pig at our farm, then loaded it into a pickup truck and drove to my parents' house. There, we hung the pig in the garage and skinned it. (Yes, hogs are traditionally scalded and scraped rather than skinned, but skinning is much easier for home butchers like us who have no need or desire for a whole lot of pig skin in the first place and who lack access to kettles of boiling water large enough to hold such a big animal.) We let the carcass hang overnight to cool the meat before butchering.
The next day we spent about 10 hours butchering the pig from top to bottom. We started with the front legs, from which we cut hocks, arm roasts, and plenty of scraps for sausage and fat for lard. From there, we worked through the neck, which is a messy bit on a pig and not particularly well suited for anything but sausage and small steaks for stir-frying, fajitas, and the like. We had ground about 15 pounds of "country-style" sage sausage by the time we got to the torso. From the torso we cut tenderloin roasts, chops, soup bones, leaf lard, and thick slabs of bacon, which, along with the hams, we delivered to a local smokehouse to be cured. From the back legs we cut and trimmed the hams, as well as plenty more scraps to make about 10 more pounds of sausage, this time seasoned Italian style. I got a little crazy with the garlic in the Italian sausage, but who wants vampires lurking around the kitchen at night, eh? There won't be a vampire within a hundred yards of anyone who eats this sausage.
It was a long, tiring day of sawing, cutting, slicing, trimming, wrapping of meat in freezer paper, grinding of sausage, sharpening of knives, and rendering of lard. But what results! It also saves big money not to pay the butcher to do the same job; and this way, you get exactly what you want out of it. We learned a lot from this experience and definitely plan to do our own butchering in the future.
Autumn, this is one fine post, rich with detail. As with many of your blogs, I felt like I was right there with you. Love the horse & pig story - as you illustrate, there is much we don't know about communication among animals. In addition to the books you mention, I highly recommend The Good Good Pig. Sy Montgomery, the author, helped me understand the connection between our values and the food choices we make. You have done the same thing. Well done.
Posted by Donna McClurkan | October 21, 2008 8:15 PM
Donna, thanks for sticking it out through this long and rambling post. I am adding your book recommendation to my reading list. Thanks for the kind words! Happy local eating,
Posted by Autumn Long | October 23, 2008 2:35 PM
Would love to come next year if you do it again. I'll bring the wine.
Posted by christine | October 28, 2008 1:56 PM
It's a deal, Christine. Kicking back with some good wine is just the ticket after a job well done.
Posted by Autumn Long | October 28, 2008 2:15 PM