It’s hog killing weather

Peasants slaughtering a pig, by Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel Photo credit: I, Sailko [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

It’s been an unseasonably warm fall in Alabama. Here we are in late November, and the mercury has still been rising to nearly 80 every day, but we’re about to get a little relief. It’s about to be hog killing weather.

Hog killing weather? Is that a good thing, you might wonder. Well, if you’re depending on Petunia to feed you through the winter is is.

You see, before we could all just run down to the Pig for a package of Conecuh sausage, you had to look your dinner in the eye and kill it. Granny told us of how neighbors and family would come around to help, and there would be a very celebratory atmosphere. After all, not everyone was so fortunate as to have a hog to kill.

Traditionally, the time to kill a hog was in the fall when weather is cool enough so the large quantity of raw meat doesn’t immediately start to spoil but not so cold that it freezes. And having the slaughter this time of year meant hams for the holidays and food throughout the winter when the diet was more dependent on meat. As Granny said, they used everything but the oink.

The hams, ham hocks, sides of bacon, tenderloins, shoulders, and pork belly would all go in the smoker along with the ears and tail. There would be meat ground up for homemade sausage. The fat would be fried into cracklings or rendered into lard. The intestines become chittlins. The head would be boiled and the meat from it formed into head cheese which has nothing to do with dairy and everything to do with gelatin and meat bits. It’s called souse when served with vinegar.

Every little bit, every little scrap had to be used. Nothing could be wasted. That’s why now when we say someone goes whole hog, it means just that — all or nothing.

Now I am a lover of the swine flesh in all it’s succulent and delectable forms. From bacon to barbecue, tenderloin to sausage, smoked ears to pickled feet, I love it all (except souse, I just can’t stomach meat jelly with vinegar as I’ve said before). But I have to say, as much as I do love pork, I would give it up if I had to kill it. I’m happy, very happy, that now I can go to the Pig, the Piggly Wiggly grocery store that is, rather than to the real, live pig for my dinner.

Happy as a pig in slop, you might say.