January ritual provided us with fresh meat rest of year

By Mary Kate Durham, Local Historian

Hood County News – January 3, 2001

Perhaps some may wonder why I mention our cellar so often in relating my “growing up” years.

From the time “Uncle Frank” built it, we found untold uses for it. We played on it and in it. We stored foodstuff inside and dried peaches on top. Several times we even retreated there when the storm clouds looked ominous.

Our sandpile was nestled in an outside corner. I recently found a photograph of the kind gentleman who built it. His name was Frank Thorp and his home was in Cleburne. My father had known his work for many years from examples in Acton and Fall Creek. I can’t confirm it, but I believe I read that he had also constructed the Cresson bank building.

Since it is January and my father never failed to remind us that the worst weather of the year would be here on the 8th of January, I am reminded that it is hog-killing time. Since we needed to depend on Mother Nature to provide the refrigeration for the fresh meat, January was the time.

This also brings us to mind another black family that we relied upon very much.

If Bob Keith and his family could not come to direct the hog killing, then we waited. Everything was made ready before they arrived. We had big wash pots filled with water for boiling. A fire was laid beneath the pot. A large metal barrel was ready. Table tops were set in place and every good, large knife had been well sharpened.

All of this working area was near the hog pens and away from the house. Please remember that I am relating all this from very early memories. I was fascinated by the entire procedure and, if lucky, I wouldn’t be pushed away too often or sent to the house.

The best hog was selected and shot between the eyes but below the brain. It was stuck and bled. Remember this animal weighed several hundred pounds. It was very difficult to move it about. With great effort the hog was dipped into the barrel that had been filled with the boiling water. This was to soften the hog’s hair. The knives were brought out for scraping all the hair away. No one wanted hog bristles in the pork rinds. I think we called them cracklings.

The hog was hoisted into a tree with a block and tackle and hung by its back feet. This made it easier to remove its “insides” and to let it drain. Everything was caught in a tub and set aside. We kept the heart and the liver but the Keiths chose other parts that they wanted. After this I was sent to the house or I was so cold that I decided this on my own.

The hog was placed on the working table and cut up. Hams and shoulders were removed along with the tenderloin along the back. Much of the meat was dropped into a tub for sausage. The hog’s feet were saved for my mother. The brains were removed and carefully saved. The tongue was removed and placed with the heart and liver. The head was set aside for mincemeat.

As the meat was being cut and trimmed, there was another tub waiting to receive every piece of excess fat. It really is true that everything except the squeal was used when we killed a hog.

Even with the Keiths and our work force, there would be a neighbor or two coming in to help. As the day was finishing, the tenderloin and other choice meats were divided with everyone. The Keiths also got their share plus salary for all the hard work and directing the operation. This had been an “all-day” job, but there was plenty of work to follow but not so strenuous. Before everyone left, they helped to place the numerous tubs into our frigid dining room for the night.

Using a kitchen food grinder, the sausage was made ready. My dad had his own mixture that was carefully worked into the ground meat. Some of it was then pushed into narrow cloth sacks that my mother had sewn; however, most of the sausage was put into No. 2 tin cans, sealed and processed in the big pressure cooker. When cooled these all went to the cellar.

We did not have a smoke house. My dad preferred sugar-cured hams and bacon. Here again his secret mixture was made and then rubbed into meat.

When it was finished, brown paper and burlap were carefully wrapped around each piece of meat. It was hung in a safe place for curing. Mother boiled the feet and ate them herself. No one else seemed interested. The brains were cleaned and mixed into scrambled eggs for several days. My sister would not eat an egg for most of the winter for fear some had been left over. With catsup added I found them rather tasty.

The most fun was making mincemeat. Turning the grinder was my job. Meat from the head had been cooked along with some other small bits. As I began to grind it, mother would be adding lots of our dried peaches, raisins and other dried fruit she had bought. Pecans were also added. Then all the honey and sorghum that had turned to sugar during the summer was put into the mixture. Fresh sorghum was used as needed as were certain spices.

This mixture had been placed in a large pan and it was now ready for heating to a boil. No cooking was really needed. The very hot mixture was put into pint jars and carefully sealed. This also was taken to the cellar until needed.

Mother made many pies. Some time later, she experimented with a banana nut cake recipe and substituted mincemeat. It proved to be a favorite and was similar to a light fruitcake. I have never tasted mincemeat that even resembled ours; so it is never in my menu today.

Since it would not spoil, the container of fat had been pushed aside. Later the fat was placed in an iron washpot with a fire underneath. It was cooked and stirred for many hours. From this there would be liquid fat with rinds floating in it. These rinds were strained out and put aside to drain. I think they were placed in the oven to be cooked and made crisp. They were the cracklings and were very good for nibbling.

We didn’t know about calories in those days. The grease in the pot was our lard. It was stored in smaller containers.

My mother seldom did the other part that finished the hog killing. Some of the grease and maybe even some cracklings had a proper amount of lye added. With more hours of stirring and stirring, a supply of lye soap would be the finished product. Honestly, I have never known what happened to the squeal!