Appalachian Food Heritage

Hog Killin Day

hog slaughtering day

Hog Killin Day by Keith Jones

When it starts to get cold in the fall, the old-timers would always say, “Getting to be about hog-killin time.” This was indeed a memorable time of the year. Many families slaughtered at least one if not two or three hogs to provide meat, lard, bristles for brushes, and more. I’ve always heard the expression used, “They just had a real hog-killin time!” by which it was usually meant that they had enjoyed a great frolic. But hog killin also involved a lot of work.

The hogs would have been fattened all year, being fed regular feed like dried corn, plus buckets of ‘slop’ (leftover food from dinner plates, sour milk, excess cooking grease, etc.). Some farmers also would feed the hogs the ‘skims’ from the syrup making process that immediately preceded or overlapped with hog killin time. Others would use the skims to sweeten up the mash for moonshine, but that’s another story for another time.

Usually families would join together and ‘make the rounds’ over several days, doing the same chores at several adjacent farms. It took a lot of dishpans, pots, canning jars, etc. to get everything done.

My uncle Blueford Dyer was the designated person at Granddad’s to do the actual killing of the hog. He had a 22 rifle that he usually used. He’d put a little fresh corn in the trough to attract the chosen ‘victim’, and knew the exact spot on the pig’s snout to lay the barrel against so that the bullet went through the hog’s sinus cavities without breaking much bone, and entered the spinal cord, which usually instantly dispatched the pig. Not only mercy was involved in this method. “Everything but the squeal” was used from a hog carcass, and the brains were considered a delicacy. My granddad always had scrambled eggs and hog brains for supper on the evening of a hog killin. But one year, Uncle Blueford put the gun against the pig’s snout, pulled the trigger, and after the shot, the pig just shook its head and went on eating. The 22 rifle short cartridge hadn’t had enough power to break through the hog’s snout! So Uncle Blueford got a 22 long rifle shell and fired it-same result. Just a little trickle of blood, and you could see the back end of the bullet embedded in the bone of the hog’s snout. Blueford got mad! He went to his truck and pulled out his 30-30 deer rifle. Needless to say, granddad didn’t get any brains to eat for supper that year. They were too full of bone fragments.

Once the hog had been killed, it’s throat was quickly slit and the blood drained. Some people caught this blood for use in sausage (remember, I said everything was used but the squeal). The hog was suspended by its back legs and hoisted up. The body would have been rinsed off somewhat, and dipped down into a barrel of boiling water to loosen the bristles from the skin. The abdomen would be slit open and all the organs and intestines removed. The intestines were chitterlings, but I never heard them called anything but chitlins until I was in college. After rinsing and washing out several times, the chitlins were cut up into small pieces and fried to eat. Sometimes people would use some of the cleaned intestines for sausage casings. The liver, lights (lungs), kidneys, and other organs were use for meat too.

Supposedly the large McEver Meat Packing Company near Talmo, GA was started because Mrs. McEver had anemia and needed to eat liver every day. The only liver available was hog liver, and that left the rest of the carcass to be disposed of, Mr. McEver sold the meat door-to-door until his company got established.

The meat was now cut up into tenderloins, loins, hams, shoulders (sometimes called picnic hams), etc. The meat from the head was used to make souse. Every bit of fat was saved and cooked down into lard, which was the farmers’ shortening for use in bread, frying, etc. The cracklins (bits of skin that cooked up from rendering the lard) would be saved to flavor cornbread. The hams and other cuts of meat would be seasoned and placed in the smokehouse for preservation. Bits of meat from all over the carcass were dumped together and ground into sausage. My granddad’s sausage recipe was a little bit hot. He put hot, fried sausage balls in sterilized hot quart mason jars, and preserved them by pouring hot lard over the sausage to cover them. When those were fried up, a little flour, pepper, salt and milk were added to the leftover grease to make sawmill gravy. Redeye gravy was made by adding water to the pan in which cured country hams had been cooked. 

At supper after a long day of helping with all the tasks of the hog killin, there would be a big meal. Usually the main course was fried tenderloin, with scrambled eggs and ‘cat-head’ biscuits (called that because of their size). Of course, there was cracklin cornbread and sawmill gravy too. And after eating what you thought was your fill, and sopping up the last of the gravy from your tin plate, somehow you’d always find room to put a big hunk of homemade butter in the middle of the plate, pour on sorghum syrup, mix it up and sop THAT with a couple more catheads.

You’d be ‘wore out’ at the end of such a day, but you’d be full, happy, and would sleep the sleep of those who’ve done a REAL day’s work.

———————————–

Hope you enjoyed Keith’s memories of hog killin day as much as I did. If you did-leave him a comment and I’ll make sure he reads it.

Tipper

 

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31 Comments

  • Reply
    mac mckay
    November 20, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Here is a little technical information in case you want to kill one: The water needs to be 142 degrees when you put the hog in. If it is hotter than that, the meat will start to cook before the hair slips. It also helps to put a cup of lime in the water. Keep it in the water until the hair slips on the head and feet.

  • Reply
    Reb R
    February 22, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    From NW PA, and that’s about the way my grandpa and grandma did it too. They use to make what was called Hungarian saluna (sp?) that was the fat back slathered with salt and Hungarian paprika, which was then hung to dry and cure in a cool dark place. I crave that still. Yum!!!

  • Reply
    rebyll
    June 20, 2010 at 6:42 am

    I’m 47 from eastern NC and I remember Hog Killins. I was too young to participate too much and had to go to school (Daddy insisted) I did get to help him start the fire, dip ’em in the vat, and help scrape ’em down before the school bus came. One time the bus was late and he even let me shoot one of the hogs. I nailed him!!! Still had that 22 up till I was broken into a few years back and it was stolen. All day I could taste the freshes. When I got off the school bus I’d run down the dirt road to Granmammys house. She & her sisters would have cooked up turnip greens, boiled eggs, biscuits, baked cornbread, fresh link & patty sausage, hot cracklin’s and sweet taters…. and yes Brains and eggs….. Love ’em to this day. Even have a can of Rose’s in my cabinet…. Might just have ’em for breakfast this morning…. Yum

  • Reply
    Larry Orr
    June 16, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    I grew up in West Tennessee in the 50’s. My dad did not raise hogs, but I vaguely remember being at neighbors’ hog-killings. Do I correctly remember that a special stick called a “gamlin stick????” was used to hang the dead hog by the hind legs? And there was a handmade tool used to squeeze the hot lard out of the cracklings??? Too bad my memory’s not better–help me out, folks!
    Larry Sweetwater, Tn

  • Reply
    Carter McEver
    March 30, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I enjoyed your stories. One correction though. the McEver Packing Company in Talmo was started because Mrs. McEver was ordered to eat lean meat. So R.H. started killing hogs and making sausage to buy more hogs for the lean meat. This was my Grandparents.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 14, 2010 at 9:41 am

    As I read these comments…which I love…
    They jog more memories of the stories my Father and Mother told about hog killing time…Patty the one about the bladder and ball I had completely forgotten about and David the peculiar odor int the air..I even heard my Mother say later as we were in the city then…something smells like hog killing time here..LOL
    I really love this web site…It’s like having family around discussing old times…Thanks Tipper and all who comment…B. Ruth

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 13, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    That’s my son telling about Hog Killin’ Day at my father’s house! He does have a knack with words, with story-telling, and with Appalachian ways. The Hog Killin’ was a regular event in the Community of Choestoe in Union County, Georgia. When the weather got cold enough for hog killin’, it was from one house to another as neighbor helped neighbor until all the hogs were butchered and salted down to cure, or smoked in the smokehouse. My father had regular customers year by year to come from Atlanta to purchase his specially cured hams. We never did know exactly what his “formula” was for curing them, but were they ever delicious!

  • Reply
    Matthew Burns
    January 13, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I enjoyed this post immensely. It reminds me of growing up on the mountain. Tipper, you probably remember that I wrote some of my recollections of hog butchering that Keith may enjoy reading. Here is a link to mine.
    http://appalachianlifestyles.blogspot.com/2008/11/time-to-give-thanks.html
    I remember hog killing day was always Thanksgiving Day for us. Oh the buzz of activity that was afoot early in the morning, everyone was doing something and it was an event we all looked forward to. Aint nothing tastes so good as a fresh cracklin’ or the first heaping plate of pork chops.
    I never did much care for helping carry hams to the smokehouse, I didn’t like the smokehouse, I always found it really hard to breathe in there, not so much from the smoke but from the salt that has accumulated on the ground in the smokehouse. It was nearly overwhelming, and that is one smell I do not miss and hope to never have to experience it again.
    Do give Keith my thanks for sharing his story with us, I enjoyed it a great deal.
    Thanks Tipper for keeping the old ways alive on your blog.
    Matthew

  • Reply
    olecrowsnestnan
    January 13, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Sounds like a lot of work! It was good that so much of the hog could be used. Thanks for sharing a good story!

  • Reply
    Stacey
    January 12, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    We raised up a pig to slaughter one year. That pig loved dog food, so we led him up into the trailer with the dog dish & hauled him off to the slaughter house.

  • Reply
    Mary
    January 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Tipper,
    Yes, everything was used but the squeal. Grandma used to render the skin and make pork rinds. They were good. The head was made into headcheese. Nothing was wasted.
    I certainly enjoyed this post. It brought back memories.
    Blessings,
    Mary

  • Reply
    SandyCarlson
    January 12, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    I enjoyed the story of the Hog Who Wouldn’t Die. What an interesting post. I imagine this is a lot of work–and it wouldn’t do to be too attached to these critters.

  • Reply
    Becky
    January 12, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    That’s a lot of information.
    Thanks for sharing that, Mr. Jones!
    I just don’t think I could bring myself to eat hog brains, tho.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 12, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    That’s a great article, thanks Mr Jones. I’m really curious, if everything but the squeal was used then there were a lot of “parts” that I don’t know what happened to. I know about the meat, the fat, the sausage, the salting and the rendering. I don’t know what the bones were used for, the lungs the organs, the feet,the skin, I vaguely know about souse from the head. I sure hope you’ll be talking about some of these things. Perhaps Mr Jones more of these details.
    I sure enjoyed this. And thanks for the top picture. That’s my father and his two younger brothers. He looks a bit like the Deer Hunter….both handsome men!!

  • Reply
    Michelle
    January 12, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Very detailed. Loved the section on Blueford. 🙂

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    January 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Tipper: Certainly a complete look at the process of getting the hog ready for processing. We don’t think that all needs done to produce the meat in the market.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee ♥
    January 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Dee from Tennessee
    I have a vague memory (I think) of being at my grandparents one time when they killed hogs…but I know I didn’t go “within a 10 foot pole” of the actual event…lol. And I think it was Thanksgiving??
    One room where I work usually stay so cold, one hears the remark: “It’s cold enough to kill hogs in here!”

  • Reply
    Nancy
    January 12, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Hi, I just gave you a Happy 101 Award. Go to My Ancestors and Me at http://www.nancysfamilyhistoryblog.blogspot.com to learn more about it.

  • Reply
    Vera
    January 11, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Enjoyed the story. I remember hog killin day!!!!

  • Reply
    Patty Hall
    January 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    What was said here about using everythign but the squeal reminded me of my mom saying they would take the bladder, rinse it out really good, blow it up, tie it off somehow and use it as a ball.

  • Reply
    Christina
    January 11, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Wow. What a great recollection! Not only did I learn many-a new term, but I must say, I feel slightly gypped by missing out on this tradition growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix, AZ. We did eat rattlesnake though… 🙂

  • Reply
    Nancy Simpson
    January 11, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    My hog killing experience did not take place here in the mountains. I am not Appalachian born, but It’s a strong southern connection. At about age five, on my Grndfather Simpson’s farm in what is now within the city limits of Atlanta, there was a lot of excitement. I heard the pig squeal and I must have followed someone down to the creek where there hung the huge hog from a tree branch. It was a violent scene.I couldn’t understand what my grandfather and my father were doing. Clearly I was not supposed to be there. Later in the day we were on a wide flat field with large kettles and all kinds of outdoor cooking going on and kids playing base ball, and everyone was having a wonderful time. I got sick eating too many chitlin’s.

  • Reply
    Shirley
    January 11, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    We did these same things when I was a kid. The one thing I remember most was the curing salt. You would pour it in the big pot, and it would crawl. I thought that was spooky. but I did love the cured meat.

  • Reply
    Diane ( Crafty Passions)
    January 11, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I saw a pig killed once and a cow as well on my Grandmother’s farm,something I will never forget.Love your blog, so interesting so real life.
    Diane

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    January 11, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Sounds real familiar! Except my husband shot the hogs just above the eyes — not wanting to have to eat the brains.
    My older son, watching me run the meat through the grinder for sausage said –‘I hope you’re right about the pigs going to Heaven because it looks like that would hurt.’

  • Reply
    Farm Chick Paula
    January 11, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve heard my Hubby talk about hog killin’ and how much work there was to do, Tipper! He said they used to kill one around Thanksgiving, but in the last few years it’s been to warm around here. As cold as it is here right now it would be just right!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    January 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Whether specially trained and educated in writing skills or having a God-given talent for writing and telling stories, Keith is a writer one can read and enjoy and forget they are reading. You find some good ones, Tipper.
    I remember a hog that didn’t fall, assaulted the same way as Keith describes, gun to a precise point on the brow of the pig. Sometimes a .22 just wouldn’t penetrate the skull. The pig would grunt, maybe squeal, but just stand there.
    There was a peculiar aroma or odor in the air around the slaughter set-up. The hot, steaming process water, the piles of warm innards steaming, the other natural offal, all combined to give a smell that was the same and distinctly the same, year after year, such that one would only have to get a whiff of that air, if they could nowadays, to be carried back instantly, as if struck surreal, back to hog killin’ time.

  • Reply
    JoLyn
    January 11, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I experienced something with hog killing many years ago in Taiwan.
    Every seven years the city held a festival and a contest to see who could raise the largest pig. The pigs were so fat they couldn’t even roll over–probably as big as cows. Then they were slaughtered as you’ve described, but their carcasses were decorated (very similar to how we decorate floats for a parade) and hoisted up on stands. They were then displayed for everyone to see, just like at a fair, with each stand lined up and eerie music loudly playing as the crowds walked around looking at each decorated pig.
    It was really creepy.

  • Reply
    Eggs In My Pocket
    January 11, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Oh, how this brought back memories. When I was young, we raised pigs/hogs. On the day my parents decided to slaughter one, all of the relatives showed up to help. It was an all day….unpleasant looking event. My cousins and I played and stayed away from the site after we had seen enough. Even though it is the one reason I have decided I do not want to raise pigs, that meat lasted us all through the winter. Enjoyed reading. blessings,Kathleen

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    January 11, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Cracklin bread, cat heads,red-eye gravy, etc…great memories from Applachia…
    Lot of folks don’t know how to make red-eye gravy or what the difference is from regular brown or white gravy…so good..can’t have ham without red eye gravy…
    Thanks Keith for sharing your memory of hog-killing time!
    I used to hear my Dad tell about ‘using everything but the squeal’…must for sure be a mountain sayin’…He hated hog-killing time..being the youngest he must have had to do a lot of the worst part of the chore that the older brothers wouldn’t do..LOL

  • Reply
    Jill @ Liv'nGood Jewelry
    January 11, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Thankfully I missed out on this, but I remember my granpa talking about hog killin’ time. Apparently one year they had a real mean old hog that wasn’t a hardship to dispatch 🙂

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