Appalachia Appalachian Food

No Meat was Wasted

the tradition of butchering hogs in appalachia

“When Father butchered a hog no meat was wasted. Not even the bladder. Mother or Father got a hollow reed or stick for us and we inserted it in the neck of the bladder and blew it up as you would a balloon. After a piece of twine was tied firmly around the neck of the bladder it was hung on a nail behind the stove or near the fireplace. Slowly the skin would dry out and harden. In a few days the bladder-balloon would float in the air when we played with it. Each one lasted all winter and served as a toy for the children.

Mother cleaned the head of the butchered hog and made souse (as she called it). Other people call it head cheese.”

—Sidney Saylor Farr – “More than Moonshine”

I’ve read and heard folks talk about using the hog’s bladder as a balloon, but never the part about letting it dry out and harden into a ball.

To read Pap’s memories about hog killing day go here. Follow this link to read a great guest post about hog killing day written by Keith Jones.


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    William J. Boone
    January 19, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    By the time I came along, my grandfather no longer raised hogs. But every year when the weather got cold he would buy pigs feet, only front legs because they had more meat, and ears. Mom-Mom would boil the feet and ears until the legs fell apart. The bones were removed and everything left was cut into pieces. She added salt, pepper and apple cider vinegar and poured the mixture into flat pans and baking dishes. These went into the little room where stairs led up to the bedrooms, all completely unheated. The melted fat rose to the top and the natural gelatin set. The fat was scraped off and the souse was cut into bite sized pieces. This was my mother’s favorite food. She ate the cubes of souse like candy. I never acquired a taste for it as I don’t eat gristle of any kind. The ears were part of the recipe for the sole purpose of adding more gristle. What you call liver mush is called scrapple up here along the Mason-Dixon line. The liver and other bony scraps with some meat on was boiled. The bones were removed and any meat was pulled off and ground with the liver. Corn meal and a little flour was added to the broth and cooked, stirred constantly until the mixture pulled away from the sides of the pan during stirring. This was put in loaf pans and went into the cold room until set. Slices were cut off and fried in a cast iron skillet until crispy on the outside. It was eaten with either Mom-Mom’s homemade ketchup or with a local favorite called King Syrup, a light version of molasses made in Baltimore. I didn’t eat this either because I detest liver in any form.

  • Reply
    Michelle Davis
    January 1, 2021 at 5:41 pm

    My momma always tells stories of her childhood. All our family is from eastern Kentucky but my momma grew up around Laurel Indiana after some of the family moved north. She said when Peepaw would kill a hog, the head was always saved for great grandma Icie because she knew how to save every lil bit and she always would show up a few days later with head cheese and they called it souse too. Sometimes mom will buy head cheese if she finds it available at Aldi or Kroger so we can eat and hear the stories again.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 30, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    I may have mentioned this before…Daddy had four brothers. Close together in age. All did their part on the farm. Daddy was the youngest so he was a Go-fer…go for everything he said…He said he hated hog killin’ time. He said the hog was either shot right twix the eyes or slammed with a big ball-peen hammer…He said the smell of dipping the hog in boiling water and taking hair off made him sick at his stomach…Only thing worse to me would be smellin’ chicken blood during slaughter time…done that here…ewwww…My Dad’s family had a huge smokehouse and hams hanging everywhere curing…I don’t like the taste of Kentucky Country Ham…but NC country ham is OK…No, I don’t know the difference, except NC ham maybe sugar cured…I saw my Kentucky friends mother slice some nasty looking stuff off a country ham before slicing the beautiful meat for frying for supper…Maybe that was what triggered me thinking that it was just old spoiled meat…LOL
    My aunt in NC…could fry up ham that would be the caviar of WNC to some…It was soooo good. Same way with her old roosters she decided to put in the pot…never knew they were mean old roosters they were so good and tender…
    Thanks for this post..
    PS….Daddy said he went to college to get off the farm…and told me he didn’t know which was worse…pickin’ ‘baccer worms off the tobacco or hog killin’ time….Best part of all was the fresh meat, corn and vegetables ….

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 29, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Growing up I participated in many a hog killing. I have memories of watching Daddy kill and butcher them as well as others. The last killing I was at I had forgotten about until my sister reminded me of it. That was close to 50 years ago and to forget details are expected. But the very last one I forgot completely. What was odd to me was that I killed and butchered the hog by myself.
    When my sister told me about it a year or so ago, I didn’t remember the event at all. In fact I told her she must be thinking of somebody else. She was adamant about it. Over the ensuing several days I thought a lot about it. I just couldn’t understand how something that should stand out in my mind would be completely gone. But as I continued to think it began to come back to me. Not all of it but enough bits and pieces to lead me to call my sister and admit I was wrong.
    I have no qualms about killing an animal for food. I don’t revel in it either. But I don’t, to this day, understand why I would forget something that should remain a more vivid memory than any of the previous hog killings I participated in. Maybe someone with a better understanding of the human mind could explain it to me. Anybody here a PhH in Psychology?

  • Reply
    December 29, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    I never saw a hog killed and butchered but my parents told me all about it as they grew up doing it. In NE MS, it had to be cold before they could start. When I was grown and married my parents retired and moved back south to NE MS and at that time there was local butchers that bought hogs, butchered them and made the best country sausage I have ever tasted. One time I had gone over with my Daddy to get some sausage and they had a truck to the side yard. I was just sitting in the car and I heard gun shots and the most awful screaming. Daddy said they were killing some hogs. I loved that sausage but I left pretty quick, could not stand to hear them hogs screaming. These butchers sold to the public and to little local grocery stores in the area. I think it was in the 90”s that they retired. You cannot buy sausage at a grocery store today that tastes that delicious.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2020 at 10:45 am

    Now you have taken me back to a memory that was not pleasant at the time. but as I reflect back it seems to have lost its sting. We always raised hogs until my early teens, and sorry to say the only thing I miss was that delicious tenderloin Mom fried up in the morning.
    My earliest memory was Dad purchasing a rowdy piglet which was placed squealing into a gunny sack. Then they placed it in the trunk for the ride home. Not for the faint of heart, but folks back then did not usually have special crates for carrying animals. It was automatically assigned to me as the oldest to feed the pig 2xD until slaughter time. The pen was far from the house for obvious reasons. There was a cute little house with windows where feed was stored. and I had to take the scraps (no onions) and mix with something they called “chop” into a large bucket. Then came the job of carrying that heavy bucket to dump into what was called the pig trough. Being a child and not cautious, I would sometimes succeed in dumping the feed mixed with water on that old hog’s head, and it would splatter all over me. Also being a child I would get distracted and forget the evening feeding, whereas the pigs would tattletale and squeal so loud I would occasionally have to feed them after dark. I enjoyed feeding the chickens, but not the pigs. Fortunately, I was not included in slaughter and probably mean of me, but I was always relieved that I no longer had to feed the pigs. The kitchen was spread with meat and freezer wrap way into late evening. Many of my friends at school did not live on farms, so I was not as proud of my Appalachian upbringing then as I am now. I am not thankful for the experiences growing up that were not always sunshine and roses.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2020 at 10:13 am

    This is for Wanda and maybe for some others. I was young and never saw the actual killing, but over the years I learned how it was done by my family. First you did not want the hog excited . My daddy was a crack shot with a 22 rifle and would shoot the hog first and then grandaddy would cut or stick the the hog’s throat to let it bleed out. Daddy would never do this. I feel like the hog was dead when this was done. I think he only used 22 shorts. Both he and my father in law said you would image an X between the eyes and shoot the center of the X. If done correctly the hog would drop in its tracks and not run. Again you did not want want he hog to run and get excited after being shot. I have head of some that would skip shooting the hog and would just cut their throat. It would seem to me this would cause the hog to be excited. Mine and my wife’s family would not do this as they thought of this as being cruel. I have heard the shot but no squealing.

    I have friends that deer hunt and they have told me that they will not shoot a deer if it is running, they all say the meat will have a stronger gamey taste. I guess it is like not wanting the hog to be excited

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      December 29, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      Ideally the gunshot only renders the hog unconscious and it died from blood loss. That’s why you have to stick it as soon as you can. Its heart will continue to beat until the heart itself dies of blood loss. The pigs brain will be dead quite a while before the heart stops beating. If all is done properly the animal will never know anything has happened and so not release its fight or flight hormones (adrenaline) into its bloodstream an then into its muscles. That’s what gives the meat an off taste and smell if the pig was frightened.
      If a pig is dispatched humanely, is allowed to bleed out and then hung to drain (overnight or longer depending on the temperature), the meat will be much better to eat. Too much store bought meat has been slaughtered, butchered and put immediately put into plastic bags then shipped all over the country with a lot of blood still in it. When I buy meat from a grocery store I usually take it out of the packaging, rinse it in cold water then let it sit for 24 hours or more in the refrigerator to drain and off-gas. That helps but it is not the same.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Hog killing was a neighborhood event, everyone in the family had a job. Most family’s had two hogs and Thanksgiving week normally was the time.ive noticed some of my neighbors have started killing hogs again.the biggest difference I’ve noticed is they don’t raise the hogs, they usually buy them at the stockyard and slaughter them within a couple days.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2020 at 9:41 am

    My job was to keep the hot water going. That meant drawing water from the cistern, keeping the fire going and carrying the hot water to those butchering and getting yelled at because I didn’t get it there fast enough.

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    December 29, 2020 at 9:37 am

    The last hog killing I witnessed, I photographed for posterity. My grandchildren would be appalled, but they love pork chops.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2020 at 9:07 am

    Dad killed a hog every fall like most country folks did. My cousin recently made the comment about how you would know when fresh pork was being fried as you could smell it all the way down the holler. The store bought pork just doesn’t have the same taste or smell. The bladder is one part of the hog my parents did not save. We never had balloons or balls to play with. I don’t understand why they didn’t treat us with a homemade ball made from the bladder.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    December 29, 2020 at 8:54 am

    Long ago when I was a young child, hog killing took place after cold weather so the meat wouldn’t spoil. My brother & I would go into the “back room” and put pillows over our heads till the squealing was over. I don’t know how the killing was done. I do remember the big hog hung up between two trees–they scraped the bristles off after scalding the pig. I have wondered how they managed that as we had no running water.

    We also had the tenderloin fried for breakfast with biscuits and sausage was made up & canned–seems they were in patties. Granny had 19 children and she used every possible food. Mama said she saw a pig head boiling at Grannie’s & the eyes were still intact. Needless to say, I never eat souse.

  • Reply
    December 29, 2020 at 8:53 am

    I remember the days when we had and killed our own hogs. We always killed ours and my granddaddy’s on the same day . Granddaddy would not let anyone cook (render) the lard out but himself. I think one of the worst things you could do would be to scorch the lard. I have the black cast iron wash pots that was used for this. Seems like I remember something about the Deer Hunter throwing rocks at someone when they were going to kill his pet hogs. I did the same thing when mother sold some turkeys one time, don’t remember if I got some hickory tea, but do know they had to keep me in the house until the man left.
    Very little would be wasted, my daddy always said even the squeal would be sold to Chevrolet! When Chevrolet had bodies made by Fisher the doors would squeak when open or closed and this is is the reason he joked about this.
    One other thing, I have never liked cracklings in my cornbread.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 29, 2020 at 8:32 am

    It has been many a year but when I was a boy Dad would butcher one or two hogs when it got cold enough, usually in November. It was a long day. I was too young to be very deeply involved. Mine and my brother’s job was a “go fer” whatever was needed at the house or vice versa.

    My Grandma on Mom’s side made ‘souse meat’ but I do not recall ever seeing the end result, much less eating any. We were not strict about using everything; no chittlins, pigs knuckles, etc.

    I do recall that it was tradition to share fresh cuts with family and neighbors.

    As a boy my favorite breakfast was a pork tenderloin biscuit. The meat was white and very firm. Just the memory makes me want one now. After Dad quit raising his own, he never did get reconciled to store-bought pork. In mass productuon they do not remove the glands that can make for a strong taste. One of Dad’s pet peeves was to get ahold of pork where, as he would say, the hog was mad when killed. It taints rhe whole carcass and even smells up the house when cooking. I have gotten to where I can’t get interested in store-bought bacon. I think they know how to do it right but it is just too.much trouble and time consuming. When serving the masses the guiding light is “good enough”. Excellence is for those who can best afford it. I’m not resentment, just aggravated but resigned. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    December 29, 2020 at 7:57 am

    I must be getting old….I remember “hog killin’ day” well.!!!

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    December 29, 2020 at 7:47 am

    Raising and procuring ones own food results in appreciation of God’s bounty and respect for his critters. I think one’s health also benefits from growing food and I did read the HAPPIEST occupation is FARMERS. I’d PAY GOOD MONEY to get some decent sausage as it’s impossible here… smh in disgust…. I did hear this last evening “ their head is swelled up as big as a blue ribbon hog!” That’s a real know it all for sure! Lol and have a blessed day all!!!

    • Reply
      December 29, 2020 at 5:46 pm

      Margie, I don’t know where you live but I think you said you have friends in the Starr area of SC. I know of two places in Honea Path, SC that has the fresh sausage like the ones we had at home. One place also sells the other cuts we have talked about, fresh tenderloin, hog heads,pig knuckles, fat back , etc. the other has fresh sausage, and fat back. The sausage is not ready until Wednesday of each week. Both of these places are inspected by the health department. If you or anyone else are interested you can contact me at [email protected] or I will post names and address on the blog if ok with Tipper. We keep the sausage all the time and I had fresh tenderloin, gravy, and biscuits a couple of weeks ago.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    December 29, 2020 at 7:10 am

    This brought back memories about hog killing day. Ours actually wasn’t a day as I remember, but stretched out into about a week before everything was done. We separated the fat from the intestines and rendered “lard” from them while saving the “cracklins” for other use such as “cracklin corn bread”. Some people used the intestines by turning them wrong-side-out for cleaning. I think these were called “chittlins”? We always discarded the intestines which were always eaten by various other animals. We also blew up the bladder some years but I do not remember ever drying them.
    Thank Sidney Saylor Farr for the memories!

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    December 29, 2020 at 7:03 am

    In the early years of Mardi Gras in Mobile and New Orleans, before rubber balloons were even invented, hog bladders were inflated and dried, and were painted in traditional Carnival colors of green, purple, gold, and silver, and used to adorn the floats. They were also tied onto sticks and carried by costumed revelers. Often they were saved year to year, and repainted, and recycled. Waste not…

    • Reply
      December 29, 2020 at 7:50 am

      Vann-thank you for sharing that tidbit! Very interesting!

  • Reply
    Donna W.
    December 29, 2020 at 6:22 am

    In the very first “Little House on the Prairie” book (there were several of them), they butcher a hog and talk about turning the pig’s bladder into a toy.

  • Leave a Reply