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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Timepiece: Everything but the Squeal

Arkansas River Valley Business Directory

By Dr. Curtis Varnell

As we exited the house, the cold air burned our lungs and formed clouds of steam as we exhaled.   The trees and grass were covered by a glaze of alabaster frost.   It was hog butchering weather and a collection of kin folk were gathered to help with the task.  Lindal Parson’s, dad, and my step-grandfather William had been up early and had a fire blazing under two fifty-gallon barrels filled with water.  Planks laid across two saw horses formed tables on which the men planned to work.  On the tables lay the various knifes, saws, and utensils essential to completing the job.

My Uncle William James used the 22 rifle to end the life of the three hogs selected for butchering.  The pigs were pulled out of the mud and mire of the pen, hoisted upside down and bleed out.  Next, each hog was dropped into the steaming vats of water, scalded, and then removed and scraped. The heart, liver and other edible parts were removed and set aside.  

The hog was then quartered and divided into the traditional cuts.  Much of the fat was removed and thrown into the large black pots that one now sees decorating various yards.  Lard was rendered from the fat and was used for cooking or to make lye soap.  My grandmother even made her own lye by boiling ashes, skimming off the lye residue that rose to the top, and then mixing it with the lard and other ingredients to form soap. Crackling, the meaty material left when the lard was rendered, was kept and ate by itself or mixed with corn bread to form crackling bread.

All of the meat trimmed from the hams, shoulders, and back were thrown into a container. After going through the hand grinder, the fatty mixture was mixed with sage, salt, pepper and other spices to make sausage.  Some more enterprising neighbors cleaned the lower intestine and used it to make stuffed sausage links or cooked the intestine to make chitlins.  We generally just disposed of them. 

The back strap was usually cut into small pieces and used first.  Larger cuts, such as the hams and shoulders, were covered in sugar cure, a concoction of salt, brown-sugar, and spices.  Within in a few days, the salt dried and preserved the meat because refrigeration was minimal unless one had one of the new-fangled deep freezers.  Hog feet were boiled, placed in vinegar, and consumed as pickled hog’s feet.  The bones were cut into pieces and cooked along with collard greens or pinto beans.

The head was boiled until all the flesh left the bones; the resulting meat, gristle, and “lord only knows what,” was mixed with spices, cooled into a gelatinous concoction and cut into a lunch meat called souse.  My dad loved the stuff and I was always glad to give him, other kids, or even the dog my share. Even worse was the hog jowl which, combined with black-eyed peas, were supposed to bring you better luck in the New Year.  If you had to eat jowl and peas to start the year, you needed better luck!!

As the day waned, we put up the equipment, dumped the barrels of water, and sent tired neighbors home with fresh liver and choice cuts that required immediate preparation.  There was little to clean-up after they departed.  As my relatives stated, “we ate every part of those pigs except the squeal.”  

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