Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hog-Killing: A Forgotten Way of Life

Today's topic is a little off-topic from my normal jewelry-related posts, but this one is very important to me. I think I come from a dying breed of people: subsistence farmers. My dad's parents have never held a "day job," ever. How would they have had the time? My granddad, back before his 85th birthday, was up and out of the house before sunrise every morning except Sundays. He'd feed his livestock, tend his fields, do a little weeding in his garden, clean and "grade" produce for selling, canning, freezing, and more. My granny, bless the woman, still gets up and cooks three meals a day, every day. She turned 90 in May.

Which brings me to today's topic: hog killing. We've done it every year since I was born, and many years before then. A lot of readers may be going "wait a minute, meat has to be USDA approved and meet FDA standards." Well, yes, but only if you are selling it. We don't sell it. This meat is split up among the family until we kill hogs the next year. It's just been amazing to me over the last couple of weeks that when people asked me what I was doing on Martin Luther King Day, I would respond "killing hogs." It's not out of disrespect, as I was lectured by one woman. It's just a day that EVERYONE has off from work. I think they used to do it just after New Years Day back when most businesses gave you more time off at the Christmas and New Year holidays, but since many businesses give the bare minimum of days off, they moved it to Martin Luther King Day so everyone only has to take the second day off from work. It's a two-day process: there's a lot of meat.

Unfortunately, I was unable to participate and help this year. I'm in my seventh month of pregnancy and my doctor was like "I don't think so." He told me to stay off my feet and not to handle any of the uncooked meat. I told my dad this, and he told me to stay home because he knew that if I showed up, I was going to either be on my feet all day, helping out in the kitchen with the meals and preparing for the meat-packing on the second day, or I would be outside and someone would hand me a slab of ribs or a ham to take to the smokehouse. I stayed home. My husband went because they need young muscles to help. I think they killed eight hogs this year.

Today is Day Two. Husband was supposed to go, but we have just enough snow on the ground and roads that driving an hour to the farm would be hazardous, and if I had any complications at home, it would take him over an hour to get back. Daddy told him to stay here. Enough people usually show up on the second day that they can get everything done, and since North Carolina shuts down when it snows, they may have a third day to finish up on.

I just hate that I am missing it this year. It's amazing to watch the men chop up the meat and grind it down into sausage as they add in the herbs and spices, smelling the skins and cracklins cooking in the cast-iron pots on open fires, watching my dad on the sausage press as he fills the casings with meat to make stuffed sausage. The humor of watching my uncle cut pork chops, ribs, fresh ham and more on the meat cutter. (There is usually a lot of cussing involved, but he likes doing it.)

I'm just praying that my granddad (now 92) has sense enough to stay inside where it's warm and trust that my dad and uncle, who have been doing this since they were wee things, know what they are doing.


kaslkaos said...

Thanks for sharing your traditions. There is so much about the world that I don't know and this is but a reminder. Now I've learned something new. Thank you.

MyPaperEden said...

Intersting. I've never heard of it.

peggyk said...

Wow……what a great story. I love the old traditions like this that are handed down from one generation to another. I have never liked the idea of hunting animals just for the sport of it, but I do think growing your own food and then sharing it with the family is a wonderful thing from the past. You do not see much of that these days. It sounds like you have a fantastic family. Congrats on your pregancy.

Geekbride said...

Cool! Home grown pork! Sorry you had to miss it this year though. :(

And why would this be disrespectful? The hell? People need to just clam up about 99% of the time!

Carol said...

Wow! You sound like my little Amish friend, Katie! I hope your granddad kept warm!! Thank you for sharing this with us.

Little Lovables said...

What a neat post. I wish we were a little more self sufficient!

Your grandparents sound a lot like mine. They are in their 80's and my grandpa wakes up at dawn to chop down trees, sell firewood, turn the compost pile, garden...