Recollections of a Small Town
A recently published dissertation on the merits of liver mush as
food or abomination prompted recollections of hog killing time on the farm.
The event was high drama to a small lad, some of it remembered clearly,
but perhaps some less so.
The day arrived when weather promised sufficient chill to bring the
thing off successfully and with assurance against spoiled meat before proper
curing could begin. The day began very early because much work was required
before bedtime. To that end, a fire was started in a ring of stones in
the back yard and a large black iron kettle filled with water was hung
When first light appeared some two hours later it was time to kill
the animal selected to be so honored. The first one I recall starred Sam
Bohler, a large black farmhand, who strolled into the hog pen and smacked
the victim between the eyes with a sledge hammer. The hog fell over and
was dead before it hit the ground. High drama for a freezing morning.
The hind legs were trussed to a single tree and pulled by mule power
to the scalding pot. The truss was attached to a pulley above the kettle,
the hog was hoist, positioned and dipped into scalding water. Softened
bristles were scraped away with a sharpened hoe as the hog was raised from
the water. Then the process was repeated after rearranging the hoist to
dip the other end.
Buckets of water were used to wash away clinging bristles and the
hog was slit open from neck to groin, with internal organs and blood collected
in a waiting wash tub. All beheld this with awe, but nary a yuch or turning
away. The thing was normal for farm people in providing meat for the colder
The long day, the first of three, had barely begun.
Entrails and some other organs were meted out to the assisting farmhands,
the carcass carved into portions carried into the house and displayed on
our sturdy dining room table. There the earnest work of carving was performed
by parents with long experience. Hams, shoulders, slabs of side meat for
bacon were reserved for curing. Other parts were reserved for grinding
into sausage, fat was cubed for rendering into lard—a process which required
many hours of boiling, stirring, ladling, and straining.
Little was lost that we appreciated and others had rewards they appreciated.
Our family’s rewards were both short and long term. For three days we could
enjoy fresh ham steaks, pork chops, and fried liver (excepting a few who
opted out of that treat). Over the long term, there was marvelous ham,
bacon, and sausage well into the summer to follow.
Nothing bad about any of that because bad fats and cholesterol perils
were yet to be discovered. Some seasonal products or by-products included
souse, liver pudding, blood pudding, and hoghead cheese. For the squeamish,
if the name wasn't a turn-off, the taste did it for me. Besides, it was
full of fats and other terrible things we now know as dietary devils. But
liver mush was always a treat, browned or stuck in a sandwich. And healthy
It ain’t half bad, by golly: Low fat, low cholesterol, high fiber
stuff provided by corn meal to hold it together. The commercial product
sold in groceries these days doesn't quite measure up to Mama's, but such
is the price of "progress."
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