Old Ways of Processing Pork at Home

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
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Though I don’t actively practice any religion, this past Friday I did seek peace and comfort in the one prayer I know, minutes before our pigs got killed. Probably mostly for my own sake; I needed peace and comfort, they just wanted breakfast.

We kill our pigs right in their pen. With the right kind of gun and confident aim we ensure an instant and painless death for our pigs without hours of transport and fear. We also stay in control over the whole process taking care of the meat and can use the odd bits that otherwise would go to waste. Like the brain, for example, that we fried up for breakfast the next morning and spread on bread, or the heart, big enough for several meals.

The Scalding Process

We shoot them between the eyes, and cut the throat to bleed them out. When the pig is dead we attach a gambrel to the tendons by it’s rear hoofs and with a rope and pulley we hoist it up and lower it into a barrel with steaming (160F) water. This is to scald the skin so we can scrape the hair. Usually the pig is too big to be submerged so after scraping the front half, we attach a hook in it’s lower jaw and hoist it up to dip the rear half. Once clean we cut the head off and hoist it up again to take the guts out and hand saw the animal in half from top to bottom.

Curing and Smoking Pork

We use some old and tried techniques for how to process the meat, like curing and smoking the big cuts so they’ll keep without being put in a freezer. The ham, shoulder, bacon, back fat, tenderloin and loinalong the the jowls and the trotters (feet) get rubbed down with a sugar and salt (1:4) mix to cure and preserve them. We keep the pieces in plastic tubs and as water drains from the meat and accumulates in the tub we empty it out to keep the meat as dry as possible. Since the hams are so thick they are the hardest cuts to dry. We put weight on them, a board and some bricks, to press more liquid out of them. In a few weeks we’ll get our smoke house going to seal the cure and add flavor by smoking them.

Not too long ago in the west livestock was too valuable not to use every bit of it, and still is, in many parts of the world. It’s inevitable that some of the animal will always end up buried in our garden, or as bone meal fertilizer from charred and crushed bones or boiled down and fed to the chickens, but we’re constantly striving to learn new, mostly old ways of utilizing and preserving more of the pigs for our own consumption.

Making Headcheese

Headcheesehas nothing to do with cheese, but is usually enjoyed the same way, on crackers or bread. We make it by cleaning the head (taking out eyes and ears) and boiling the meat off the bones together with the tongue. After boiled until it’s tender and well broken down, the meat is packed in jars or molds and covered with the gelatinous broth created while cooking. We also make confit, which is an excellent way to use the small bits of meat that accumulates while cleaning up bigger cuts. We chop the meat fine and put it in a Dutch oven with rendered lard and let it boil for a long time until all the water is gone. The mix is put in jars and cooled and covered with a layer of fat, as a preservative. Both the headcheese and the confit we keep in our root cellar during the winter. We make soup stock by boiling off all the bones thoroughly and saving the liquid in jars, and we render the fat to make lardthat we use as cooking grease, skin lotion and to rub down our leather boots and mittens.

Still, we have much left to learn. The liver is a substantial part of the pig that could be processed and eaten, and the blood could be used for blood pudding and blood sausage. We’ll try our hands on salami one of these years and we’ve already saved the earsand the tail for further processing and fearless eating experiences.

There is no more Louise and Clark, at least not out in the pen. Our pigs become part of our lives and daily routines but as with all life and death; we know the end will come, still we’re so poorly prepared for how strangely deserted the yard suddenly feels. But to say that the pigs are gone is an ill-conceived statement, our pigs will live on, through us, in the many abundant meals they’ll provide.