THE FATTED PIG
Farm life has many advantages. Butchering fresh, homegrown meat is just one of them. Recently we butchered one of the pigs we bought last fall. We always buy two pigs, so they can keep each other company and so we can have plenty of meat to get us through the year and to share with family and friends.
Our pigs are raised on corn mash, pasture grass, organic material from the garden, and my occasional attempts at making dessert. We take them to a very good butcher where they are killed humanely and processed for us according to our specifications.
When I was a child, we did our own butchering. It was a big event every fall because we needed cold weather to cure the meat so we wouldn’t have to deal with flies. Daddy would shoot the hog in the head for an immediate death, then hoist him up by the hind feet on a massive frame with a pulley (it looked sort of like a doorframe made of huge solid posts). After the pig bled out, Daddy would take a torch and burn off all the hair from the skin. After he skinned it, Granny was waiting to start cleaning the skin inside and out so it could be cut up and later roasted to make “cracklings” (the better version of the pig skin chips in stores).
From the entrails, we would save the liver, heart, and kidneys. Some neighbors saved the intestines to use for sausage casings, but we liked our sausage just ground in packages so Mom could use it in many ways. Sausage was ground with a hand grinder, then mixed with Mom’s special mix of seasoning. I wish I knew what she used. Our butcher makes great sausage, but Mom’s had a taste all its own.
We used nearly every part of the hog. Jowls was a favorite for breakfast, Mom pickled the feet, Granny liked the brain, and we always made our own lard. When I was small, we used the big cast iron yard kettle to render the lard. Granny cut the lard into pieces, filled the kettle, and put a slow fire under it. She would sit most of the day by the fire, occasionally stirring and skimming impurities from the top. When all of the fat had been reduced to a liquid, it was carefully dipped out with a metal dipper and poured into quart jars and buckets and then stored in our pantry/well house where it was cool year round.
Hams and bacon sides were heavily salted and hung in the smoke house to cure, then be smoked. The rest of the pig was cut up in chops, roasts, tender loin, etc., wrapped in freezer paper, and stored in the freezer.
We butchered 10-month-old calves in the same way, but without the cracklings, lard, pickled feet, or brain. A few times Daddy tanned the hides to use, but that takes a lot of work and he decided he just didn’t have time to properly attend to it. Granny did make “calf’s foot jelly” and Mom used it as a base for soups, stews etc. Granny just liked it spread on bread.
Today, I am making lard from our pig. Our butcher kindly saves it for me, and makes sure it is clean and well cut. I cut it into small cubes, put it in my cast-iron dutch oven, set the regular oven for about 100 degrees and leave it for about 12 hours, stirring it about half way through. It is a nice clear oil when I take it out. I carefully skim all of the leftover pieces off the top, letting the oil drain back into the pot. These make nice treats for the dogs and chickens. Then I pour it into Pyrex bowls with rubber lids and let it set overnight. The next morning it is a beautiful white, solid mass. I set the bowls in my freezer and simply thaw them out as I need them. Lard, coconut oil, and olive oil are my staples.
Granny always cooked every thing with Lard. Her cookies were the most amazing things! And her cakes were out of this world. Cooking with lard is making a come back. One of my favorite cookbooks is the LARD Cookbook by Grit Magazine (Capper’s sister magazine). You should be able to find it in the book stores for both Grit and Capper’s. Using home rendered lard is actually healthy for you, and gives me a sense of nostalgia. It brings back those frosty autumn days when the whole family worked together to accomplish a major chore. And what tasty rewards!