Ever wondered how it is Southerners took to the hog so devotedly? The answer lies in our relatively recent pioneer past. In his great book Eating, Drinking, and Visiting in the South, Joe Gray Taylor explains, "A pig born in the spring was ready for slaughter in early winter, obviating the necessity for carrying anything other than breeding stock over the winter." Further, Taylor notes, "Compared to other animals, hogs were efficient in converting grain to meat. One estimate is that 24 percent of the energy of grain eaten by hogs is made available for human consumption as compared to 18 percent for milk products and only 3 1/2 percent for beef and mutton." [Squeamish readers beware: Graphic hog-butchering photos after the jump.]
Although some parts of the hog were hurried from barn lot to cookstove and eaten on hog-killing day, people in the pig business in Appalachia have forever cast an eye to the future, anticipating the delayed pleasure of year-old hams, canned pork tenderloin, and sage-seasoned sausage. Why Appalachia? Certainly the practicing of hog-killing and preserving meat extends to other areas, but the climate of the Appalachian southvery cold winters, followed by mild springs and tolerable summersmakes the area ideal for salt curing.
If you want to learn about hog-killing in detail, Taylor's book offers great descriptions. Likewise, The Foxfire Book by Eliot Wigginton has a huge amount of information and detail on the practice. For now, you can learn more about the modern-day ham and bacon curers of Kentucky by visiting the Southern Foodways website.
Or, if you're game, enjoy this hog-killing photo essay and introduction by Evan Hatch.
These photos were taken at an annual hog slaughtering held at Ronald Lawson's farm in Short Mountain community near Woodbury, Tennessee, in January 2003. Since these photos were taken, this annual tradition has ceased. In preceding years, the day began the process of butchering and curing enough meat for its participants and their families to subsist for the year. These men slaughtered these hogs in order to preserve a centuries-old, once-common farming tradition that has largely disappeared. But there were other reasons for continuing this tradition. These men practiced an economical way of feeding their families while economically using almost every part of every animal slaughtered. The hogs were bought at 80 to 90 pounds for 30¢ a pound and then raised on the farm to 300 pounds. These men also practiced their own quality control on the food they ate by raising the hogs on corn and feed they provided. This guaranteed them high-quality, hormone-free meat.
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