There is hardly anything homemade anymore. Eve r y t h i ng , for the most part, is store bought unless you are into internet shopping which can bring to your doorstep a milkshake if you like. Everything we need today pretty much comes in a box or a can. We can do wonders with that mouse on our computer, but we would be hard pressed to fashion something functional with a handsaw and a hammer, which our grandfather would do. Or our grandmother with a needle and thread or a rolling pin. What will life be like for our great-grandchildren? Will artisans, technicians and craftsmen become extinct? My guess is that gardening will survive and flourish. Nonetheless, I fear what technology will bring about. The reason we hark back to the past, the reason we reminisce with such affection is that life was simpler then. Recently, I read a story in a regional magazine about a longstanding tradition, now extinct, with which I was very familiar — hog-killing. This time of the year was for hogkilling, which brought several families together for this ritual which was critical for helping feed everybody in the coming months.
Hog-killing days came about before refrigeration, which makes you aware of the impact of that old saw, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Meat, to be put up for the subsequent months, had to be cured. There were a few refrigerators. Rural folk couldn’t afford such appliances anyway. Freezers would become standard with the passing of time, but hog-killing remained a way of life into the fifties.
When you killed hogs, it was often a community affair. Neighbors and families joined hands to butcher and dissect the pig, finding use for everything including the old boy’s feet. Pickled pig’s feet were considered a delicacy with many. “Many” did not include this farm boy.
I did not care for chitterlings either. Maybe you have never heard of chitterlings, but “chitlins,” the colloquial expression or to be more graphic — the hog’s intestines. Blood pudding? Forget that. I didn’t even care for eggs scrambled with the pig’s brains, worrying that I might wake up one morning and start rooting around the flower bed.
Even the women folk enjoyed brains and eggs. I took a lot of goodnatured ribbing but was happy being a finicky eater when it came to pork products unless it were sausage, bacon, ham and pork chops.
The hams were smoked, rubbed down with salt and hung in a smokehouse to cure. Simple enough, but you had to worry about the skipper fly which could infest and ruin a whole shed full of hams. Farmers have always had to worry about some natural nemesis. There was the boll weevil which destroyed their cotton, there was the chestnut blight which killed off the chestnut trees. Chestnuts once fatted their hogs better ‘n any food known to exist. Skippers often invaded a cured ham, which would go a long way toward feeding your family when the crop was laid by. The infected hams were thrown out to the birds because a dastardly insect found its way into your smokehouse.
Today we don’t have to worry about most of the insects which threatened our way of life back in the old days, but as the coronavirus heavy-handedly made us aware, some things are worse than fighting an uphill battle with crop and food threatening insects. At the time, I didn’t realize it, but now appreciate what those family and community exercises did for the rural society. When we came together to build a neighbor and his family a house, via a log rolling (forerunner of continued from page
the modern day Habitat for Humanity), hog-killing to help feed families, quilting parties to make quilts for the winter, we were giving of ourselves for others.
Those were social outings — we enjoyed ourselves while we worked to be good neighbors — and we invested in community service without realizing it. If was natural. Many folk learned to read by reading theBible. Wegainedthe ultimate in satisfaction in making do.
We expected ourselves to share, to be good neighbors and to be inclined to help get our neighbor’s ox out of the ditch.
For the record, however, I would have been willing to starve before I would eat chitlins, souse meat and pickled pig’s feet. A country boy knows how to survive and to live off the land, but he can also find a way to sustain himself without eating the worst parts of a hog.