Hog Heaven

In my previous blog post I mentioned my prize-winning Poland China hog named Cornpone (the Magnificent), which made me a bit sentimental about pigs. So I went to my archive of photos and pulled out the snapshot I took of him dated September 28, 1957.

Cornpone, Champion Poland China hog, 1957

Oddly, after these 61 years the Kodacolor print has taken on the true color of the subject, a magenta-toned sepia. It lends the memory a certain monumentality.  He is standing by his trough in which I would dump a daily bucket of slops (scraps from our truck stop café across the highway) and mix nice messes of special mash to make him fat.

Cornpone’s pen was a good-sized area next to that for Daddy’s twelve brindle hunting hounds. The picture was taken from the edge of his wallow in the foreground.  I’d also bring buckets of water every day to keep it suitably muddy, and he’d loll around in the muck, grunting and snorting.  That’s where I learned the truth of the old saw “happy as a pig in hot mud.”

We kept our herd of several hogs (the pinker variety) in a pen down past the pasture at the edge of the woods—where their stench couldn’t reach up to the house or yard. It was also my exhausting duty to haul many buckets of slops to them each day and to keep their wallow wet.

Periodically we’d slaughter maybe three of the herd at a time, and neighbor folks from around helped with the hot and heavy work. First, Daddy would lean over the fence with his rifle and shoot a hog between the eyes.  It would drop like a rock.  Then he’d jump in and slit its throat, letting the blood run into the wallow.

A few of the men would drag the carcass out of the pen and up the hill to where some huge iron pots were boiling on wood fires. They’d haul the hog up on ropes over a tree limb and lower it into the boiling water for a moment to scald the hair off.  Then they’d hang it up from another branch for the butchering.

When they’d spit the stomach open, I was always grossed out by the cascade of guts but had to help with sorting out the intestines for sausage-casings. Brandishing great knives, they’d toss slabs of hog-fat into another iron pot to render out the lard and make chitlings (pork rinds).

The butchering would take most of a day, and it was quite a community party. We’d wrap up the cuts of hams, loins, and so on to put in our big walk-in cooler, and folks would take turns on the big grinder making sausage.  The neighbors were happy to get shares of the meat and buckets of lard for their work.  And we had loads of fresh pork to sell in the café.

Cornpone didn’t share the rustic fate of our common hogs. That fall we took him to the Sevier County Fair in DeQueen, Arkansas, where he won the Blue Ribbon.  After his big win, he went to a more sophisticated hog heaven.  Being a simple country boy of fifteen, I sold my champion hog to a meatpacker and bought myself a pair of cowboy boots with turquoise tops.  My young feet outgrew them within a year.

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