Small Scale Farming: Raising Pigs, Curing Pork

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Raising pigs in a small scale farming operation needn't be any more complicated than raising cows or chickens if you work with nature  rather than against it.
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Raising pigs in a small scale farming operation needn't be any more complicated than raising cows or chickens if you work with nature rather than against it

Ah, the vicissitudes of time. Two years ago, when there
were NO currently relevant small-scale-farming introductory
handbooks available, many of us welcomed the publication of
Richard Langer’s
Grow It! with open arms. Now that we’re
all older and more experienced, however, some folks find it
increasingly easy to criticize that breakthrough beginner’s

Which brings us to another breakthrough book that is just
as important (probably more so) now as
Grow It!
was two years ago, and which may well come up for its
share of criticism in another 24 months or so.

Be that as it may, John and Sally Seymour’s record of 18
successful years of small scale farming on a 5-acre spread in England
is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to
today’s back-to-the-landers… both real and imaginary. Many readers will want a personal copy for their
home libraries. This chapter covers the process of raising pigs–and of slaughtering, butchering, and curing pork meat. –MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

A couple of flitches of bacon are worth fifty
Methodist sermons and religious
— William Cobbett

If you have a cow you will ultimately find yourself making
butter, and perhaps cheese, and then you will have skimmed
milk and whey and what are you going to do with these? You
can, in fact, fatten ducks or chickens on milk products,
but the best use to which you can put them is to feed them
to the pigs. Also, your fields and garden will by now be
yielding you much waste that you cannot eat yourself. There
is very little that a pig will not eat. True, you can
compost vegetable waste, but show me a better way of
composting anything than putting it through the guts of a

There are several ways in which you can have pigs. For the
individual or community seriously intent on being
self-supporting the obvious purpose of the job is to have
pigs to kill for meat. There is nothing wrong, though, in
having a surplus to sell, or to trade with other people for
other produce. Other considerations are: the fewer pigs you
have the more completely you will be able to feed them on
the waste products of your farm. A gallon of skimmed milk a
day will go a long way to fattening a pair of baconers, but
spread among a dozen its effect is not so noticeable: in
fact you will have to feed them primarily on other food,
the high protein part of it probably bought in. You are
thus getting further from the idea of being
self-supporting. But, say you only want two pigs, how are
you going to get them? To be truly self-supporting you must
breed them yourself. So you must have at least one sow. Now
she will give you, say, twenty to as many as thirty piglets
in a year (ours always used to give us twenty-four, never
more, never less). You need two pigs to kill for your
family. But of course you can always sell the others as
weaners (that is at eight or ten weeks old, straight off
the sow). But all this forces you to be in pigs in a bigger
way. Then from where do you get the boar? You can’t afford
a boar to serve one sow. There are ‘boar walkers’ though,
who go around carrying a boar in the back of a van, and who
will come when you telephone them, provided you can catch
your sow when she is in heat, which is not always easy. But
this boar problem is a problem. One answer is to have
enough sows to pay the wages, as it were, of a boar. My
belief is that if you have six sows, or even as low as
four, and they pay you really well, you can afford to
support a boar. But again it drives you into a bigger and
bigger commitment in pigs. From a man wanting a couple of
baconers for his family you now become a pig farmer.

Of course the whole problem is eased if you are part of a
like-minded community. Either the community can keep the
boar in the centre, as it were, and lend him out to the
communiteers, or else one member of the community can do
all the sow keeping, and swap weaners for other produce. I
say weaners; this is ecologically a sounder method than
that the one pig keeper should fatten the pigs too, and
simply trade pig meat with the other people. The pigs do
better, and more good, and are fed more cheaply, if they
are spread out among everybody.

But if you are on your own, and don’t want to go into all
the intricacies of sow keeping, you can simply buy a pair
or more of weaners. I will personally have no part in
suggesting to anybody that they should buy one
weaner. I have made the point that the husbandman is a
benevolent ruler and not a tyrant, and a benevolent ruler
does not keep anybody in solitary confinement. But you can
buy weaners, at this day and age, for from five to ten
pounds. My advice is, if you have milk by-products, to buy
the cheapest weaners you can. Normally weaners are sold at
from eight to twelve weeks, and the older they are the
dearer they are likely to cost. But if you have milk you
can buy them very young–and thus get them cheaper.

Let us deal with this plan of buying weaners and fattening
them first. The countryman who used to keep a pig at the
bottom of the garden (all too often alone, I fear) used to
show him to you and say: ‘I’m only a “growin’ ” on him now
o’ course.’ He meant that he was not feeding him a
fattening ration, but just enough food to keep him growing,
in good lean condition. When the time came, in would go the
barley meal and the pig would be fattened. ‘That’s no good
a “fattenin’ ” on him twice,’ the owner would say. So when
you first get the weaners your should feed them well, with
plenty of milk, until they get over the shock of being
weaned from their mother, and then feed them on a lower
diet, and keep them active and happy, until they are fully
grown. Then you should confine them in a warm place and
simply push the food into them.

When I worked on a farm in Gloucestershire, as a boy, we
fattened a hog until it was enormous: twice as big or
bigger than any baconer that is killed today. We turned
this pig into bacon and the bacon was nearly a hundred per
cent fat. There was hardly a streak of lean in it. This
bacon was never fried, but boiled. It was boiled in great
chunks, and every morning the cold chunk of fat was put on
the table for breakfast and we ate slices of it with dry
bread and a boiled egg, and mustard. To have eaten it with
butter would have been revolting, but as it was the stuff
was perfectly delicious, marvellously digestible, and it
kept us working at very hard manual labour, out of doors in
the severest winter England had had, for many years for
many hours a day. This is how pigs used to be eaten.
Cobbett says: “Make him quite fat by all means–the
last bushel does the most good if he sit to eat it.” He
goes on to say that if the pig can walk a hundred yards he
is not fat, and that lean meat is only fit for wasters and

Nowadays apparently we have a population of wasters and
drunkards because the only baconers the market will accept
are–like Cassius–lean and hungry pigs. Such pigs
are dangerous. The fact is, of course, that people who live
hard and out of doors can relish fat bacon, and it does
them good. We all know the executives’ nursery rhyme:

Ring a ring a roses
Coronary throm-bo-ses,
A ‘seizure!
A ‘seizure!
We all fall down!

Animal fat only gives seizures and coronary thrombosis to
people who do not get enough exercise. When this nation was
fed on fat bacon and fat beef and mutton the disease was
unknown. Now, as meat gets leaner and leaner until it
nearly fades away, thrombosis is increasing faster than any
other disease except lung cancer. It is idleness that
causes diseases of the heart. True manual workers never get
coronary thrombosis, and nor do self-supporters. But it’s
all a matter of taste. I like fat bacon–boiled, mind, not
fried in yet more fat. If you don’t, well don’t have
it–kill your pigs when they are lean.

If you want good fat bacon buy your weaners in the spring
and kill them just before Christmas. At Christmas you
should be eating hams killed the Christmas before; hung a
year they are so much better. And it’s nice to have some
fresh pork at Christmas anyway.

I do not like to see pigs kept indoors all the time. If you
let confined pigs out of their confinement it is pathetic
to see them snort and gallop and leap about in their
happiness to be free at last. During the last month or two
of fattening a pig keep him indoors by all means, he seems
to get his pleasure then from the thing a pig likes, after
all, to do more than anything else–eating. But until
this fattening stage–when you are ‘a “growin’ ” on
him’, let him out. Of course you can’t let him run anywhere
or he will do endless damage. And this is where we draw on
the resources of the modern world. The electric fence is
your answer. You can keep pigs in with pig netting, with a
strand of well-strained barbed wire at the bottom, but it’s
a running battle. Electric fence is the thing, either two
single strands or the new electric netting which is very
good. If you use single strands and find they don’t work
try erecting wire netting behind them, for its
psychological effect. Pigs are tryers. In a world with no
electric fencing I would say, tether your pigs. A rope or
leather harness with one strap in front of the pig’s
forelegs and another behind them will do the trick.
Incidentally, if you want a quiet life never try to keep
prick-eared pigs, like the Large White, out of doors. The
flop-eared pig is far more likely to stay behind a fence,
for his ears hang down over his eyes.

But while we have electricity let us use it, and part of
your garden thus fenced off, and well pigged, will benefit
enormously. It is the way to bare-fallow land. If you like
you can grow a fodder crop and put the
pigs into that, or you can put the pigs into your potato
patch after you have harvested it (the pigs will find the
last potato) or you can just bare fallow. On a
small enough area the pigs will destroy every
weed, if you leave them there long enough even the horrid
perennial weeds like spear grass or twitch. They will bring
valuable elements up from the subsoil, they will heavily
manure the land, and they will leave it twice as valuable
as it was before. Don’t ring them. Let them dig. Don’t
expect a couple of pigs to do much good to half an acre
though, concentrate them.

Meanwhile you have got to feed them something as well as
what they can find for themselves. While they have plenty
of milk (skimmed milk is just as good for them as whole
milk would be) milk mixed into bran or other wheat offal is
all they need. Milk and barley meal are very good too, but
unnecessarily expensive, if you can sell your barley or
have to buy it. In the fattening stage milk and barley meal
is the finest food you can give them. If you can’t give
them milk then you will have to buy in some protein. The
easiest thing to do is to give them proprietary cake;
‘outdoor pig nuts’ are the easiest. They are big and won’t
get trodden into the ground easily. Just throw them down at
half the rate recommended on the bag and let the pigs hunt
for them. Or you can buy fish meal and mix it with any kind
of meal at the rate of about ten percent fish meal. Or
twenty percent beans in a mash will give them enough
protein: feed them as much as they can clear up in twenty
minutes and squeal for more.

You can give the pigs all your small or misshapen potatoes.
You can often buy ‘stock feed’ potatoes at very little a
ton, or spoiled carrots (but if these have been washed they
won’t keep) or other spoiled food. Kitchen swill is always
fine for pigs. I know a man who buys tons of stale bread
from a bakery and his wife has to spend hours pulling the
wrappers off sliced loaves. (Ugh!) Fodder crops you can
grow specially are fodder beet, carrots, potatoes, kale and
greens of all sorts and, most important on light land
anyway, Jerusalem artichokes. The latter are marvellous;
they grow in the roughest and most weed-infested land,
their foliage smothers everything, and the pigs thrive by
rooting them up. Take the pigs to the artichokes though,
not the artichokes to the pigs. Let the pigs do the work.
Or plant a special pig field, a field you want to ‘pig’
anyway, to clean it and fertilize it. Plant, say, a strip
of Jerusalem artichokes, one of fodder beet, one of kale.
Give them a little of all three. Then, when they have
cleared that up, move them on. Variety is the spice of

Always keep a pig bucket in the scullery. When we have a
pigless period we don’t know what to do. What do we do with
that lovely greasy rich washing-up water? Criminal to throw
it down the sink. What do we do with the celery tops, the
potato peelings, the carrot tops, the waste food? Out in
the garden what do we do with the bean and pea haulms, the
sweet corn tops, the scythed nettles, the pulled-out weeds?
If we have pigs they will either eat it or tread it into
the soil as good compost.

As for how much concentrated food to give your pigs, give
them as much as they will clear up quickly. If there is any
left after half an hour give them less next day. Keep them
a little hungry for concentrates.

As for housing, if pigs are running out of doors they will
need the minimal, but they will need some. They will need a
dry place and some shelter from the rain. That is all. What
form it takes every man must decide for himself as long as
it is the cheapest and easiest, and the most mobile, for
you will be dragging it around with the pigs. You can
buy Pigloos.

Now for sows and pig breeding. I will say very little about
this, only that sows thrive out of doors, provided they are
not overstocked on the same land for too long. At a high
rate of stocking I like to move pigs on to fresh ground at
least once every six weeks, otherwise a worm infestation
builds up and the pigs suffer. Let loose in a wood pigs do
wonders. If you give them two pounds of pig nuts a day when
they are dry that will do them. After they have farrowed
though you must give them from six to eight, depending upon
how much other food they can get and how many piglets they
have. All this business of feeding animals is common sense
really. You can find pages of complicated instructions and
tables and starch equivalents and all the rest of it in the
text books but if you just keep animals, and watch
them carefully, and note whether they are growing or not,
are hungry or not, and use your common sense, you don’t
need a whole lot of scientific gobble-de-gook.

As to housing and management of breeding sows, there must
be a shelter–no matter how rough (and it doesn’t
matter) but more or less waterproof–available for a
sow, for her sole use, when she farrows. That is all. The
books will tell you to put no litter in a farrowing pen. We
put as much litter in as the sow thinks she needs. Throw
straw or bracken or what have you outside if you like;
before the sow farrows she will carry as much as she needs
in herself in her mouth. We then leave the sows completely
alone. Don’t go near them. We have never worried about
farrowing rails (although there’s nothing wrong with them)
nor infrared lights, or any of the rest of it. In eight
years at the Broom we kept sows all the time, up to six of
them, and our losses of piglets were as nearly nil as it
was possible for them to be. In eight years I seem to
remember burying two piglets. Once you start to interfere
with nature, with sows, you’ve got to interfere more and
more. Keep them too confined and they get worms–so
you have to confine them even more, on concrete. Keep them
on concrete and they can’t get iron, so you have to inject
the piglets with it or they get anaemia. Farrow them in a
confined space with plenty of straw and they get confused
and smother the piglets.

So you give them no straw. They then lose their natural
chain of instinctual actions–nest-making and all the
rest of it–so they lay on, or eat, their piglets.
They are mixed up. So you confine them in a farrowing crate
where they can’t move at all and attract the piglets away
from them with a warm infrared light. And the piglets get
virus pneumonia. So you go in for embryotomy. You kill the
sow and take the piglets out of her belly in aseptic
conditions and bring them up in sterile boxes. This is
actually being done on a large scale in America and more
and more in England. Pigs are now being kept, all their
lives, in total darkness except when they are fed, and in
tiny wire cages like battery hens. Where do you go from

Right back, I should say, to keeping sows under the most
natural conditions possible, allowing their proper chain of
instincts to work itself out. We used to get a pound a head
more for our piglets than other weaner producers because
the fatteners knew they would never get virus pneumonia.
They had spent their lives running about in the open air,
and getting what minerals they wanted straight from the
soil, and they were as tough and hardy as wild boars.

Slaughtering Pigs

In most parts of Britain at least there is a public
slaughterhouse somewhere in the vicinity; although these
get fewer and fewer and further and further as the great
philosophy of the twentieth century–Bigger Means Better–has
its sway. Where at one time a bullock was quietly walked a
mile or two to the village slaughterhouse, rested in the
butcher’s paddock for the night, and knocked on the head
next morning, now he is crammed into the back of a huge
cattle truck with thirty others, banged and lurched,
terrified, over up to a hundred miles of roads, forced
bellowing into a blood-reeking meat factory and eventually
slaughtered. All in the sacred name of Progress.

However, if there is a slaughterhouse not too far away you
can send your pig, or pigs, there and have them slaughtered
for a fee. You have to get them in there though, pay for
the job to be done, and go and fetch the meat back again.
You make, in other words, four journeys. It is therefore
very much better, if you can, to slaughter them yourself.

In most real country districts there is at least one man
who will kill you a pig for a small fee. He makes it part
of his living. Or perhaps there is a friendly village
butcher who will do it for you. If you can entertain such a
man with friendship and home brewed beer he will do it the
more willingly, and be the more likely to come and do it
again. Pig killing may seem to the townsman to be a brutal
and grisly business, but in fact the occasion can have a
kind of boozey, bucolic charm.

I kill my pigs with a .22 rifle, which I claim is the most
humane method there could be. I have killed three pigs a
year for sixteen years and only once (when I first began)
did I have to use a second shot. I lure the pig quietly out
of his sty into the cow shed with a little food in a bucket
(he has had no supper the night before) and put the food
into a dish. As the pig starts to eat the food I shoot him
in the brain. Anywhere in the head will stun him actually,
but I always shoot him in the brain. Draw a line with your
imagination from his left ear-hole to his right eye, and
from his other ear-hole to his other eye, and where the two
lines cross, shoot him. You could not shoot him thus with a
humane killer because he would not stand still for you. As
soon as you put the humane killer near his head he would
move away. Therefore if you use a humane killer you will
have to rope your pig (getting a slipping noose in
his mouth and round his snout) and he will squeal and
struggle, and his last moments will be violent and unhappy
and not perfectly peaceful as they should be. The .22 is by
far the kindest way to kill a pig. One moment he is happily
eating–the next moment he is in Heaven.

lmmedlately after you have shot him, stick him in the
front of the neck. The place to stick seems easy to see in
practice. Suffice to say that you should use a shortish
knife (6 inches is long enough), stick it two inches in
front of his breastbone at an angle of 45 degrees from the
horizontal line of the pig and keep it dead central.
can easily feel the breastbone if you are in
doubt, then remember, insert the knife two inches in front
of it and at an angle of 45 degrees up towards the back of
the pig. Thus will you cut both the carotid arteries and
the jugular vein. Two things will happen. One is that blood
will gush out in great quantity and now is the time for
your wife to be at hand to catch it in a basin if she wants
to make black pudding and has a stronger stomach than most
people’s wives (our blood goes down the drain I am afraid),
and, secondly, the pig will begin to kick as though it is
trying to win the Grand National. Let it kick, and remember
it can feel nothing–its soul is in Heaven playing a
porcine harp. If your wife has caught the blood,
incidentally, she must stir it or whip it immediately
otherwise it will clot.

We thereupon haul out pig up on a tackle, to make sure that
all the blood drains out. Most people don’t bother.

Scalding and Dissecting

Some people drop their pig into a huge half tub containing
scalding water. We used to but now do not. We went through
a phase of pouring methylated spirits over the pig and
lighting it and letting it burn like a Christmas pudding
but have given that up too. Now we do what all the local
Pembrokeshire people do around here, we let the pig lie on
the concrete floor and pour the scalding water over the
pig. The object of this is so that you can scrape the
bristles off the pig. Now great skill is needed for this,
and this is one of the arts that you had better learn from
your local expert.

The water must be from 145° to 150° F (63° to
66° C) and no more. If it is too cold it won’t get the
bristles out; if it is too hot it will ‘fix’ them and
you’ll never get them out. The local wise man will know
whether the water is right by looking into it (as a brewer
does). If he can see his face in it it is right. Or he will
put one part of cold water into three parts of boiling
water. That is as good. You must have plenty of hot water
ready–ten gallons is not too much.

Pour some of the scalding water over part of the
pig–slowly–then keep plucking at the bristles.
Suddenly they will come out easily in your fingers. Now is
the time to start scraping. Don’t scrape with a knife, the
lid of a tin is ideal, or a tin coffee-pot lid. Don’t cut
the skin. Just scrape until the bristles come out and if
the pig started off by being a black pig, it will end up as
a white pig. Colour, in pigs as in humans, is not even skin
deep. Meanwhile your wife/mistress/home-brew-drinking
neighbour is busy pouring more water on a different place.
Scrape away. Put each trotter right into a jug of scalding
water, pull it out, scrape it, and yank the horny hoof off
with a pair of pincers or a hook. In a very short time the
pig will be clean. Do his head too–every part of him.
Suffer not a bristle to remain and mar his beauty. Besides
hot water you need plenty of home brew to go with this

Now ‘hock’ your pig, or ham string him, that is cut behind
the tendons (ham strings) at the back of his hind legs just
above the hoof. A glance at a pig carcase in a butcher’s
shop will show you how to do this. This tendon, although
slender, is amazingly strong. Put the ends of a gamble
through these tendons. A gamble is a spreader: a metal or
wooden stick, maybe fifteen inches long, hung from its
middle by a block tackle, and with flattened out and
curving ends for hanging a pig on. See them also in any
butcher’s shop. Now split the breastbone of the pig with
knife and chopper. Do this immediately. Haul the pig off
the ground with the tackle.

We always cut the head off at this juncture. I think it
simplifies things to do so. Some people leave the head on
and split it when they split the pig, but you cannot do
this until next day. We cut the head off at the first
vertebra and put it where no flies can get to it (but
normally we kill pigs in the winter when there are no
flies, and I do not recommend killing them in the summer
anyway) and now we gut it. This takes skill, and common
sense. Get on a chair behind the pig and encircle its anus
with the point of the knife. You do this so that the bowel
will drop out when you get the guts out and not tear,
leaving the anus behind where you don’t want it and
spilling excrement all over the place. You very carefully
cut the actual anus, or arse-hole, of the pig right round
so as to separate it from the rest of the pig. Before you
cut the last bit you grab it with one hand, cut it away
completely, haul the bowel out a few inches and get a
friend (it seems a little indelicate to ask your wife) to
tie a piece of string round it. This is, as I hope you have
guessed, to stop any excrement coming out of it. Now you
let it go and the weight of the rest of the bowels pulls it
down inside the pig.

This grisly business over you get down, and round to the
belly of your pig, and you very carefully insert just the
point of your knife in the middle of the belly just about
where our solar plexus would be. Only let the knife
just cut through the skin–you are not Jack
the Ripper. Then insert your forefinger in along the back
of the knife and move the knife upwards (i.e., towards the
tail of the pig) with your forefinger acting as a guard to
prevent that unforgivable happening: shoving the knife
point into the paunch or guts and thus fouling your meat.
Cut right up to where the two hind legs join. Dissect out
the penis and urethra and bladder if a male pig, and
bladder if a female. Now as you open the belly the paunch
and guts will try to get out. You now see why you were told
to split the breastbone while the pig was on the ground: if
you had not done so the guts would be hanging down out of
the pig and you wouldn’t have been able to.

Let the guts flop out into a tin bath.

Carefully remove the pluck. This is the liver,
heart, and lungs, with a few oddments, all hung together on
the windpipe or trachea. Cut the gall bladder out, very
carefully so as not to splash gall over anything at all,
and throw it away. Stick a hook through the windpipe and
hang the pluck up in a fly-proof place.

We always chuck a couple of buckets of cold water into the
eviscerated pig to wash the blood out of it. Some experts
might tell you that this is not a good idea. I think it is

Then go and finish the rest of the home brew. You deserve
every drop of it, you and your companions. About the only
part of the pig that is fit to eat for supper that night is
the liver.

Next morning go back to your pig. He has been hanging up
all night, we hope, in a nice cold draught, where neither
rat nor cat can get at him. Cut a score down his back,
through all that back fat, from his tail to where his head
used to be, right along the central line. You can feel this
for part of the way with the finger, but much depends on a
good eye and judgment. Next take a light sharp
chopper–not one of your vast axes such as beheaded
Mary Queen of Scots–and chop the backbone right down
the middle. Split your pig right in half. Now obviously
when you pull one half of that pig off the gamble the
latter will tip up and deposit the other half on the floor.
You must allow for this either by tying the other half up,
or getting somebody stronger than your poor wife to take it
off while you take your half off. And half a large baconer
is very heavy indeed let me tell you.

Lay your half on the table and cut it into suitable joints
for curing. Our plan is to lay the side skin-side down, put
the knife in under the tail (or where the tail should be)
and with the blade slanting towards the head end of the pig
cut a good generous curve until you hit bone. Then start at
the belly side of the pig and do the other half of the
proposed generous circle until you hit the bone again. Then
a few strokes of the meat saw (or any old saw) will cut
through the bone and complete the job. Like this, as you
started under the tail, you miss the spine of
course. You now have what looks very much like a ham. Cut
the trotter off but below the first joint, so that
you have plenty of leg to hang the ham up by.

Cut the pig straight across, at right angles to its back,
about nine inches from the tail (at the point at which the
spine suddenly curves upwards). This odd bit of meat, which
is good, we use as a roasting joint in due course. It is an
awkward shape for salting though.

Now inside the side of the pig is the belly fat, which
makes the finest lard, and this we rip out. All fat is cut
into little pieces and put into a big crock, with a little
water, and put into the slow oven. Do not overheat it as it
will burn. From time to time pull it out of the slow oven
and pour the liquid fat off it, and put it into basins; but
more of that anon.

Now pull the kidney out, and then carefully cut out the
tenderloin: that strip of lean meat inside the carcase near
the kidney. This should be baked in due course draped with
the caul of the beast: that thin membrane with dollops of
fat all over it on which the small intestines were hung.
With onions it is quite delicious.

Separate the forequarter from the side. To do this cut
right across the carcase between the 4th and 5th ribs, just
behind the shoulder blade.

You will now have a ham, a forequarter, and a side. The side
is a big one. Maybe you will prefer, for ease of handling,
to split it right down the middle, sawing through the ribs,
so as to leave a back and a belly. The belly will be poor
tack: a thinnish sheet and mostly fat. We used to roll this
and put it in a wet pickle, but it is good for sausages.
You can dry salt it, only don’t leave it in the salt for
more than a week. You also have a couple of good roasting
joints from where the loin was. You can cut the forequarter
into joints and roast it too if you like, or you can salt
it like the ham. First cut the blade bone off if you like,
and use that fresh as a joint.

Curing Ham and Bacon

There are scores of methods of curing ham and bacon, but I
will give you the simplest and most widespread, in England
and Wales at least. I will just describe what we do, and
what most of my neighbours do (or such as still cure their
own bacon).

We have a big slate salting bench. We dump some dry salt on
this (you will need at least forty pounds of salt to do a
pig in comfort. If you wish to be more economical with salt
you will have to be a lot more careful and take a lot more
trouble. We just use a lot of salt and bury the pig in it).
Lay a ham on the salt. Sprinkle as much saltpetre as you
can hold between your finger and thumb on the cut end of
the ham. Take a handful of soft brown sugar and shove that
on the cut end of the ham. Rub it, and the saltpetre with
it, in hard. Then rub salt in, and rub in hard. Then treat
the skin-covered part of the ham the same. Now I know that
all the books tell you to weigh the saltpetre, and mix it
thoroughly with the salt, etc., but once you have to start
messing about weighing dribs and drabs of this and that the
meat will go bad while you are fussing. The method I have
described has worked for perhaps a hundred hams with me and
they have all been excellent. Bury the ham in salt. Do the
same with all the other joints. Add enough saltpetre just
for the merest sprinkling. The saltpetre is supposed to
preserve the colour of the meat. I have a shrewd suspicion
that if you didn’t use it at all the ham would be just as
good but I don’t know. You needn’t use sugar, but most
people do, particularly for the hams. It makes them
sweeter. Squeeze the hams hard and a gout of blood will
come out from a certain vein. See how much of this you can
squeeze out.

Then every day, for three days, take the joints out and rub
them hard with salt. See that they get dry salt in contact
with them all over, and put them back again, probably
upside down. After three days just leave them be in the
salt. Take the bellies out in a week, the sides out in a
fortnight, the forequarters out in a fortnight to three
weeks depending on how big they are, and the hams out in
three weeks to a month (three weeks if they are just
ordinary sized hams). Rinse the salt off them and hang them
up in an even temperature somewhere and let them dry off
for a week or two. We hang ours straight in the simnai
The simnai fawr is the big chimney over
our fireplace open to the sky. There is a bend in this
chimney so part of it is not exposed to the rain, and there
are pipes up there as a rack. I hang the meat up there,
high above the fire, where it gets the smoke and does not
get too hot. It must not get too hot, or the fat goes
rancid. It wants to be a good ten feet above the fire. If
you haven’t got a simnai fawr you can build a
smoke-house, and this I will describe in a later
installment. Smoke for a week or a fortnight, depending how
often you have the fire alight, and then take down and
store. Smoking preserves meat and gives it a fine flavour
but it is not necessary. Plenty of people around here don’t

We store ours by just hanging it up. Many people bandage
their hams and hang them up or, better still I believe,
wrap them well and store them down in a chest buried in dry
ashes, or dry bran or oats, but you must watch for mice or
mites with the latter. This prevents the hams from drying
out. If hung it should be hung in the dark, and in fresh

When you need a bit of bacon, cut a big slice off one of
the sides, bone it (troublesome–but watch a grocer do
it one day), and slice it as you need it. But it is saltier
than shop bacon (which is not meant to keep) so soak the
slices in fresh water for up to half an hour before frying
it. If you wish to boil a lump of it soak it for twelve
hours first.

Keep the hams, if you can, a full year. Scrub well, soak
all night, put in water with plenty of pepper and simmer
(not boil) for 25 minutes for every pound of ham. Let it
cool in its own liquor. Eat cold.

There are plenty of sweet pickles for hams. These generally
involve plunging the fresh ham into a brine made with such
things as beer or cider mixed with treacle, sugar, spices
and salt. Keep turning it in the pickle for, say, a month.
Here is a typical cure, such as one of our Suffolk
neighbours used to recommend:

1 qt. old ale
1 lb. brown sugar
2 lbs. salt
1 oz. peppercorns
1 qt. malt vinegar
3/4 oz. saltpetre
1 oz. cloves

Boil it all together, cool it, soak the ham in it for a
month. I tried this but found I needed a lot more pickle.
The ham was very good though.

Curing bacon and ham is much simpler than people think, and
if you follow the above simple instructions for the
ordinary dry cure you will have no trouble and not go
wrong. (But don’t blame me if you do–and don’t try it
in the summer!)

Now what has your faithful wife been doing while all this
has been going on?

Why, the very first day she has taken the stomach and large
intestine, hereinafter called the chitlings, down
to a clean brook if she has one, or in the sink if she
hasn’t, opened them and carefully washed the excrement out
of them. She has then cut the large intestine into six-inch
lengths (if she doesn’t want it for sausage), put it and
the stomach, also cut up, into a clean bowl, taken them
back to the house, scalded with boiling water, washed in
cold water, and then filled the bowl with brine. She
changes and charges the brine every day for a few days,
then she boils the stuff for two hours, lets it cool, and
fries it with onions. It is perfectly delicious.

Another fate waits the small intestines, and maybe the
large too. These, as soon as the pig is killed or at least
the next day, are separated from the fat that clings to
them and unravelled. One end is put on the cold tap and the
tap turned on, whereupon they writhe about like a snake,
but eventually all the excrement is washed out of them.
They are then turned inside out on a smooth stick, which is
easier than it sounds. They are then laid flat on a board
and scraped with the back of a knife. This gets the gut
lining off them. They are then coiled down tight in dry
salt and put away until they are needed as sausage casings.

The bladder is washed out well. A small funnel can be poked
into it and hot lard poured in. The lard cools and the
thing is hung up as a storage vessel for lard. As for the
rest of the fat, as the days go by you will render out more
and more beautiful white lard which you can pour into
sterilized jars or bottles, cover well, when it will keep
for some time. If you have a deep freeze put some of it in
that to keep longest. You will have free cooking fat for a
very long time indeed.

Now for that grisly memento mori, the head. As
soon as you have time, that first day, shove it in a big
crock and fill it with brine. Let it soak for two or three
days or more until you have some leisure. Then the bath
chaps (which are the cheeks) can be cut off separately and
hung in the smoke and cured. They are very delicious boiled
and eaten cold with plenty of mustard. Whether you do this
or not shove the head, with or without its cheeks, in a
large boiler together with the trotters and any other
gristly bits and simmer for four hours or so. Pull it all
out and take all the meat off the bones. Cut the meat up
small (you can mince it if you like), mince six large
onions, put plenty of pepper and other spices on the meat
(the more the merrier in my opinion), skim the fat off the
soup that you boiled the meat in, put the meat back into
the soup and simmer for two hours, or until the liquor is
reduced to what common sense tells you it ought to be. Pour
the stuff hot into basins and let cool. You now have a
delicious brawn, which will keep for a month or more in a
cold winter, and for ever if you bag it and put it in the
deep freeze. Or you can pour it boiling into kilner jars,
boil the jars for 20 minutes, and seal.

Making Sausages

English and Welsh home-cured bacon and ham is as good as
any in the world, but there is one thing that the British
have never cottoned on to, and that is the Continental-type
sausage. The whole idea of this is that it is a
way–and a delicious way–of preserving meat. Our
English sausages are fine to eat fresh, or to keep in the
deep freeze, but it is an enormous advantage to be able to
make a big glut of meat into sausages that can be hung up
from the ceiling, and left for months, and one hauled down
whenever you feel like it, and sliced and eaten raw. If you
have bread and butter and that kind of sausage you always
have a sumptuous meal waiting ready for you.

We have tried dried sausage (if one can call such a
delicious thing by such a pedestrian name) with casings
from the small intestine of the pig, and these are fair
enough but are too small to keep moist for very long or to
provide conditions necessary for producing that succulent
thing, a true, smoked, spicy and garlicky Continental
sausage. To make such a thing you need the large intestine
of the ox, if you can get it, or the sheep if you can’t, or
large intestine of the pig, which you must treat in the
same way as I have described for treating the small
intestine above. You want to produce a sausage as thick as
your wrist.

There are a hundred different recipes for producing what I
must call, for want of a better word, Continental sausage.
Some of them are contained in a very useful book:
Charcuterie and French Pork Cooking by Jane
Grigson (Michael Joseph). All such recipes call for an
ounce of this and half an ounce of that and it all sounds
terribly complicated, and of course by making small
adjustments in the ingredients you can make small
differences to your resulting sausage; but the principles
of the thing are simple enough, and if you keep the
principles in mind you can make what sort of sausages you
like, and very good they will be too.

You need some lean meat and some fat. The lean of course
will be from the ‘cheapest’ cuts of your pig. You can put
beef in too if you like. We used to use one part lean pork,
one part lean beef, and one part belly fat of pork. Two
parts of lean pork and one part of fat are a good mixture.
Bacon fat will do too.

For every three pounds of lean-and-fat you need:

1 oz. salt
2 tsp. of pepper
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
As much spice of whatever sort you have
Some people like 1 Tbs. of brown sugar
If you haven’t marinated the meat in wine a glassful of any
kind of wine is useful, or liquer.
A big pinch of saltpetre

Mince the lean meat and cut the fat into small dices (it is
the latter which gives the cut sausage that white-speckled
appearance). We have always marinated the lean meat for
twelve hours in elderberry wine and it works very well. You
should really, of course, use grape wine. Or you don’t need
to marinate at all. Try both.

Whether or not you marinate, mix the whole lot up together
and stuff it all, raw as it is, into your casing. Tie the
long casing off into sausages of the length you fancy, hang
up in a warm dry place–this is important–not
warmer than 70° F (21° C). A steady 60° F is
what you should aim at. If you have an Aga that never goes
out nearby that is ideal. Now if you have a big open
chimney, or any other kind of smoking device, hang the
sausages up in it after say a week of drying and smoke them
for a day and a night. Take them down and hang them in a
well-aired dry place and forget them for six months. They
will grow a white mould over them. Hooray. Give them at
least six months (if you can wait) to mature. Eat them raw.

But the meat will shrink a lot, and if you use large
casings you will have to squeeze the meat down hard into
one end of the casing once or twice during the drying to
keep it tight. Then tie the skin off to keep it tight. It
is a good thing also, with big sausages, to tie them round
with string like Malvolio’s cross garters, and to tighten
the strings from time to time to keep the sausage
compressed. I have seen fine sausages made like this using
the pig’s bladder, and I think this would be a very good
use for the bladder, rather than filling it with lard or
blowing it up like a balloon and giving it to the children
to clown about with.

If you don’t like so much fat don’t use so much. If you
don’t like garlic don’t use it. The casing is important:
you can’t use plastic, for the reason that it cannot
breathe and the meat could not dry out. Bacterial action of
a benign sort takes place within the sausages also and that
needs the controlled transpiration that natural animal
membrane can give. Remember: nothing is cooked. It is all
raw. It may seem an insuperable obstacle that you have got
to find animal large intestines, but if you go to any
slaughterhouse they will give you guts galore, and all you
have to do, remember, is turn the guts inside out, scrape
the lining off with the back of a knife, wash well, and
pack down in dry salt until you need them. Pack down close
and away from air.

Our getting a deep freeze, and a bigger farm, put paid to
our Continental sausage-making activities. It is so much
quicker to shove everything into the deep freeze. But there
is nothing to touch well spiced and smoked and well matured Continental sausage: it is perhaps the most delicious
food there is. And next time you see some in a shop just
inquire the price of it–perounce–let alone per
pound! And it is very easy to make after all; the biggest
trouble is mincing the stuff and for that you must have a
good mincing machine. Kenwood has a mincer plus
sausage-filling attachment.

Fresh Pork

Your true porker is a much smaller pig than your baconer. A
baconer can be nearly a year old, a porker say four months.
If you have a deep freeze, to kill a porker is all very
well (you do it in exactly the same way as you do a
baconer), or also if you make Continental sausages. But it
is better to take your pigs on to bacon weight and then get
what pork you want out of them before baconing or making
sausages of the rest. Pork, like all other meat except
offal, should be hung in a cool draughty place for several
days before either cooking, or putting in the deep freeze.

But about this time it is more than possible that
Methodist parson will pay you a visit. It is
remarked in
America that these gentlemen are attracted by the squeaking of pigs, as the fox is by
the cackling of the hen.–William Cobbett,
Cottage Economy.