-Art's Art-
Recollections of a Small Town Boy


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 above it.

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 season ahead.

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 to boot.

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."

Art Darwin
December, 2001

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