Pig Slaughter: A Retrospect.

I can honestly say with complete conviction that one of the people I admire most in this world is my grandfather William Lacefield - known to us grandkids as 'Grandad'. His fascination and enthusiasm towards food has helped to fuel many of my culinary endeavors. If there ever was an adventurous eater in the family it was him - surprising given his humble upbringing on the farms of Owensboro KY. He is always encouraging the members of our family to "Try it! You'll like it!", and my current occupation can most likely be attributed to this encouragement. I thank him for that.

Throughout the history (All 2 years of it. Ha!) of this blog, there's always been one thing I can count on. An e-mail response from Grandad concerning the recent post - usually no less then 24 hours from the posting time. Sometimes it is just a simple hello and an update on how the family is doing. Other times, the e-mail includes an entire story of his own food experiences triggered from what I have written. I believe that food experiences are some of the most powerful, as they more often than not include family and friends and are surrounded with relaxation and fellowship.

A story in the last e-mail he sent me was particularly moving, and I wanted to share it here. The details he included are expressive and strong - it's easy to find yourself drifting back to a different time...

"Beautiful story and photographs bring back vivid memories from my childhood.  

When I was about 5 years old, the farmer who lived next door kept pigs/hogs (this was before there were zoning laws).  In November of that year (about 1939) they killed and prepared the hogs.  The hogs were killed with a shot from a .22 cal rifle between the eyes.  They were immediately dunked into a near boiling tank of water (the tank was a 55 gal drum cut in half and on a heavy wooden frame.  The hog was hung head-down and the hair scraped off.  Careful evisceration with preservation of all the innards followed.  Then it was my job to walk into that carcass and remove the kidneys (a five year old with a sharp knife and it didn't kill or otherwise harm me!).  

The hog was separated into its component parts.  The hams, shoulders, bacon, etc. were taken to the smokehouse and cured for several days in a mixture of salt, brown sugar, etc then smoked.  The layers of fat from the whole animal were removed and cut into good sized cubes.  These went into a big black iron pot and were cooked until the molten fat separated and the tissue remaining was browned lumps.  This slurry was scooped out with a big ladle and poured into a press.  The liquid fat was caught in 5 gallon cans which were sealed with lids and stored outside where the fat soon solidified into pure lard.  The brown lumps after pressing came out in to form of cakes of "cracklins" which were used in all sorts of cooking such as cornbread - yum!  
The brains and eyeballs were removed from the heads which were skinned and boiled to produce what is variously known as head cheese or souse (it was all sorts of bits of meat in gelatin and was prepared in blocks which could be sliced for plate eating or sandwiches.  The brains, organs, tenderloins and other perishable parts were divided between the farmer and neighbors who came from miles around to help with this winter chore.  Everything on that hog was used except the squeal.  Oh, by the way, my part was the bladder which had all the openings tied off and was inflated by a puff of air.  I played with that thing for a couple of days (kickball, etc.) until it became a little malodorous and was banished to the garbage barrel. 
So, we both enjoyed a very similar food preparation event some 72 years apart!
The farmer whose pig I helped(?) slaughter would take his horse and wagon over some 20 miles of road to Owensboro, KY where he would acquire several wooden barrels of slop for the hogs.  This slop was the spent mash left from the preparation of good old Kentucky Bourbon.  The lot in which he raised hogs had shelters and troughs (the hog trough).  He would pour the slop into the troughs and the pigs would come running from all parts of the pig pen to partake of what to them was fine dining.  Another example of waste not want not applied to the pork industry.  Even the spent mash after distilling bourbon was used.

This hog lot or pig pen happened to be located in a grove of apple trees.  We (my nephews Mike and Jimmy) would make a game of out running the hogs to climb up into the trees.  We would sit up there on a limb and eat apples until the pigs tired of waiting for us and wandered off whereupon we would climb back down and run like the dickens for the gate."
Saying too much here would simply ruin what has just been said. In short, food experiences are important. Whether it's carving a pumpkin, or carving a whole animal. Make those experiences real and cherish them.


  1. I'm the Jim in the tale; and can say that for a fact that was the way it was done! It I guess has just about become a lost art on the US main land. However I had the good fortune some years ago while living in Puerto Rico to share the experience again with fellow work mates. It is a major event there for Christmas and Three King's Day. For sure the only part left unused was the squeal.



About Cooking Curiously...

This is a place for food nerds to roam free. A place for me to document my tales and experiences concerning that wonderful substance known as FOOD. I find it incredible how many forms it can take, and the impact it can have on our lives. Hopefully, I can make some of those forms tangible here. The following posts will range from travel stories to new dishes and recipes, some restaurant reviews, maybe just an interesting food thought. Regardless, this is meant to be an open forum for both myself and any followers. Feel free to post and comment. Enjoy!

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