Our two cute little piglets grew rapidly, becoming destructive nuisances who spent the past few weeks locked in a stall to fatten on scraps, stale bakery bread, and all-stock. We even had a big box of pecans from our yard back in Texas to finish them on. Finally, yesterday was the big day. Ham was probably about 200 pounds and Bacon 160. But we had had about enough of the pigs--it was their time. We enlisted the help of one of my students, who has done quite a bit of hunting, and a parishioner, together with his two oldest boys, who shared the costs with us.
The process began by feeding them for the last time on Friday morning. By Saturday, they were making quite a racket. We let Ham out first, enticing him with some bakery buns in a closed barn in case he decided to make a run for it. The idea was to shoot him behind the ear with the .22, aiming for the opposite eye. Stunned, he would drop on the straw, where I would slice his carotid artery while two others spread his front legs.
Alas, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men/ Gang aft agley,/ An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,/
For promis'd joy!" the poet Robert Burns has said, and he's right. The first shot gave Ham momentary pause, but he simply grunted, got up, and resumed eating. The second shot dropped him with a little more force, but it took a total of four shots to stun him sufficiently to turn him and grab his legs.
I made a cut, "us[ing] the breastbone as a fulcrum," just as the butchery book instructed, but suffice it to say that the carotid artery is a little deeper than one might expect. It was a process, involving a few cuts before the real blood began to flow.
In the above picture, Ham is no longer above the straw. He took off, which left us happy that we decided to do this in an enclosed space rather than the yard. We were much more efficient the second time, with Bacon.
Once Ham stopped twitching, we dragged him from the barn to a patch of concrete and scrubbed him down. Eventually we switched to the shade for the skinning of the belly. I hadn't taken into account the sun. We didn't scald and scrub them, as I wasn't overly concerned with getting all the skin and fat, and as it would have been too much work to gather all the necessary supplies. Instead, we turned them over on their bellies and skinned them, as one would a deer, before hoisting them up to finish the skinning and to eviscerate them.
It was quite a process hoisting up the pigs, especially the bigger one. I expected that 200 pounds would go up more easily than it did. I suppose it was a combination of a lot of weight and our desire not to embrace the pig too tightly. In any case, we got the pig up part-way, stuck a table under him, and then hoisted him up the rest of the way. We proceeded with the skinning. Then I opened him up at the top, exposing the body cavity. Closing the anus proved far more difficult than the YouTube videos that I watched. The string that I tied it with kept slipping off. Nonetheless, we kept the evisceration relatively clean.
We kept most of the edible innards--the lungs, the kidneys, the liver, the heart, etc. I also kept the small intestine--all thirty-some feet of it--for making sausage casing. Right now it's partially cleaned and in saltwater in the refrigerator. I'm a bit intimidated by the amount of work that will go into making encased sausages/brats if I continue with that process. After the evisceration, we decapitated the pigs and split them in two using a meat saw. We then carried the carcass halves to the garage to be further broken down.
We ended up keeping both heads, as nobody else wanted them. This morning I finished making head cheese with Ham's head. It's actually a rather simple process. The head needed to be skinned and cleaned. Then Rosemary placed it in a big pot and simmered it late into the night, until the meat started coming off the bones. It was still warm this morning when I picked off the meat and the fat, the brain, etc. I even cut the tongue up into little pieces. Then I brought all these things to a boil, added salt, pepper, and other spices, and placed the concoction into freezer containers to congeal into a dish that is traditionally considered an expensive delicacy. It should be good spread on cornbread.
We had two break-down stations set up in the garage. I had read a butchery book carefully, but it was decidedly harder to discern the different cuts during the actual process. Many of the pieces Rosemary simply labeled as "roast" or "boneless roast."
There were a few parts that we noted appropriately. We have baby-back ribs, spareribs, trotters, loins, etc. Most importantly, I separated off the pork belly. Rosemary made three or four different seasonings, and has the pork belly in plastic bags in the refrigerator, where it will sit for the next week or so while I figure out how to smoke it.
As we finished cuts of meat, we rinsed them and either placed them in the cooler of the family who was taking half a pig or in a container to bring in to Rosemary, who would package and label them. Then they were destined for the freezer.
One diversion after butchering the first pig was blowing up the bladder and making it into a kick-ball, as some of you might recall from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods:
"[Pa] was blowing up the bladder. It made made a little white ballon, and he tied the end tight with a string and gave it to Mary and Lauara to play with. They could throw it into the air and spat it back and forth with their hands. Or it would bounce along the ground and they could kick it."
I simply couldn't resist. I remember the scenes from that book vividly from when I read it as a child, and I especially had them in mind because it's one of the books Rosemary and I were reading to Cyprian during the summer months.
Here is Rosemary prepared her meat grinder, which we've never before had the chance to use. She is planning to grind up trimmings and fat for sausage later this afternoon.
Yesterday evening, we couldn't resist taste-testing the fruits of our labor. These are some meaty ribs blazing away on the grill. They tasted great.
Here's Cletus at the work table, waiting for his ribs. The whiskey and the salt were part of one of the bacon recipes that Rosemary used.
Rosemary poses proudly with some of her bacon. We hope it turns out!
While Rosemary washed dishes, I worked late into the night cutting up the trimmings and some fat for our sausage meat. We should have plenty of sausage.
The last items on the table yesterday. Then it was off to bed, with a good night's rest well deserved.