Lagniappe: Butchering the Hog


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Chickens (still) enjoying the good life in Fort Collins, Colorado – 1957 or so

I grew up on a 5-acre “tract” in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the 1950s and we had a few sheep, a few cows, a pig or two and some chickens and turkeys. But those were mostly so my brother and I could have the 4-H experience. We didn’t count on them for our food supply. The only remembrance I have of using our animals for food was my dad cutting off a chicken’s head, on top of an old tree stump in our back yard – and the headless running around that resulted. Dramatic and traumatic, but that was it. Short-lived, so to speak.

My brother maintains it was he who cut the head off  – and it was a turkey, not a chicken –  and it was just prior to Thanksgiving.  Memories seem to be variable.

Our Baton Rouge neighbor, Katie, and her brother Joe (see last week’s blog) have vivid memories of the yearly late fall ritual in Crowville, Louisiana, when the “fattening hog” was slaughtered. Though both recall that children never witnessed the actual killing – in fact, Katie doesn’t know how it was accomplished – the butchering was a joint endeavor of several-families, children included. Please don’t wince as I recount a little of the procedure. It’s good sometimes to be aware of how meat reaches – or used to reach – our table.

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Eating pork loin must be  “livin’ high on the hog”

The (now-dead) hog was first dipped in a vat of boiling water so that the hair could be scraped or shaved off. Then the animal was hoisted up on a pulley for the shaving and the removal of the entrails. Skin (to become “cracklins’ – considered a great delicacy) was immediately cooked and the fat rendered for lard. The whole hog was used for food – brain, skin, feet, head, entrails.  The family that owned the hog always got the hog’s head.

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The drawing above comes from an article on the specifics of hog-butchering – which seems to pretty much mirror what Katie has told me about the event.

Because large home freezers didn’t enter the picture until the 1950s – and Katie and Joe grew up in the 1930s and 1940s – the meat from this hog, which would be a main source of meat for the entire year, would need to be preserved –  with salt and smoke.  Shoulders, hams, bacon slabs, and sausages were all preserved that way.  Only a few parts, such as the tenderloin, were eaten (and I’m sure greatly enjoyed) immediately, since those parts didn’t preserve well.

In Joe’s wonderfully informative paper about life on a Franklin Parish farm, he remembers how school children’s lunches were primarily ham and sausage and biscuits – and how wonderful the cloakroom smelled because of that.  And his insightfulness continues:

Southern vegetables were flavored with pork, usually “fat meat.” It is fortunate that cholesterol had not been invented in the 1930s and 1940s otherwise life expectancy in the region would have been greatly reduced. (Editor’s note: 🙂 )

 Cooking was almost exclusively with hog lard. Vegetable oils only began to come into use in the post war period.

It goes without saying that far too much animal fat and too much salt was consumed on the Macon Ridge and throughout the South. Considering the intake of fat and salt, the general health conditions and longevity were surprisingly good. Hot weather and hard manual labor perhaps helped to dilute the effects of these unhealthy items. Furthermore, I recall very few cases of obesity of people at any age during the war years.”

Before I invited our friend Lynne over to eat our Louisiana meal, I advised her to do some serious work in her yard and garden….preferably on a 90 degree day with high humidity.  Following that, here’s what we served her: Gaga’s Angel Biscuits, Southern Creamy Butter Beans with Ham (recipe below), Collards with Bacon, Sweet Potato Pone and Eggplant Fritters.  As we always said, growing up in Colorado, you’d think we’d “died and gone to heaven.”  Or was it “hog heaven?”



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Butter Beans with Ham (and collards and angel biscuits)

Butter Beans with Ham

We don’t have a family recipe from Katie for cooking butter beans – since who would possibly need to write down something so simple – so we went to another Louisiana authority, Chef John Folse, for inspiration. Note: there are MANY theories as to the best way to cook dried beans.  We’ve opted for the quickest, simplest – and possibly tastiest.  Also, don’t salt until the end of the cooking time – not because it keeps the beans from getting tender (it doesn’t) but because the ham will add saltiness during the cooking process.

  • 1 lb of dried butter beans (aka lima beans); Camellia brand is the Louisiana favorite
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 c chopped onions
  • 1 c chopped celery
  • 1 c chopped bell pepper – either green or red
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 oz ham, diced
  • 2 ham hocks
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Tony Cachere’s Seasoning, if you happen to have it
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)
  • rice to serve with the beans (optional)

Rinse the beans; put them in a large pot, covering the beans with about 2″ of water.  Bring the water to a boil and let the beans boil for a few minutes.  While that’s happening, heat a large skillet, add the butter.  When the skillet is medium hot, add the onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and diced ham.  Saute, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

After the beans have boiled for a few minutes, turn down the heat so they are just simmering.  Add the vegetable/ham mixture and the ham hocks, pepper, Tony Cachere’s, and thyme and stir to combine.  Allow the beans and vegetables and ham hocks to simmer until the beans are tender, but not mushy.  I partly cover the pot.  My beans cooked in about 1 hour.  Taste and add salt, if necessary.  Stir in the parsley.  Serve over rice, if you wish.

These beans may be even better the second day! Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.





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