Most of my Field Notes posts are about my travels and hunting adventures, however, this one is all about community, tradition, sharing and self-reliance. The Jones Mill Annual Hog Killing takes place in early January. People from every station in life gather at the Orr farm for a day of hands-on work of putting meat up the way our ancestors did.
Few people may recognize this simple hand tool, however, if you were raised in the rural south or happen to live in the Jones Mill community of West Tennessee you will know right off that it is a hog scraper. Used one day each January, this low-tech tool has a very specific purpose. Neither the tool nor its job has changed much in the last 100 years. A few careful dips in scalding water loosens the wiry hair on the dead hog so the butchering process can begin.
A clever slogan is chosen for the theme of the hog killing each year. Shirts bearing the slogan are worn by many of the attendees. These shirts have become collectables. Notice the two small hunters on top of the hog that depict the hunting lifestyle of this community and how they view this way of life as living “high on the hog”.
Hogs are fattened and carefully selected prior to the big day.
Fires are built at daybreak to heat the large vats of water to just the right temperature for cleaning the hog. This group of men quickly remove the stiff hair. It is a one hog at a time process but with all the volunteer help the work goes quickly.
Everyone gets involved and everyone has a job, no matter the age. Most years there is at least one family of four generations working side by side.
Sissy McDaniel is the General Foreman and Final Word when it comes to butchering beef or pork. Her family operated a slaughter house for many years; her skills and knowledge are always in demand.
With the hog suspended, Barney and Sissy quickly get it halved and quartered for further processing.
Long tables are set up inside the barn for meat cutting and dividing into various categories. Here Scarlet and I are separating sausage meat from the fat that will go into the lard-making pan.
Although Mrs. Lottie Mae, usually referred to as Grandma, may be in her mid 80’s, she is right in there working side-by-side with the teenagers. Her generation is built out of tough stuff and she is certainly no stranger to hard work.
It takes a lot of hands on deck to get the meat of four hogs ready for sausage making by lunch time.
Weldon, the knife sharpener, is a popular guy. Although everyone brings their own favorite knife to work with, a quick honing sure makes the work easier.
Clint and Allen have the sausage making table organized and ready for grinding the first batch.
The recipe never changes.
“Petey” DeLaney is one of the hosts of the event and an extremely hard worker.
I quickly get busy patting out and cooking the first sausage for the hungry crew.
Mrs. Jerri Lassiter is another lady who has done her share of cooking, canning, and processing pork.
Naomi and Regina are securing and stacking the neat bags of tasty pork sausage.
The plates of sausage and biscuits are ready to go along with the multitude of side dishes everyone brought.
Work is halted and everyone is anxious to dig into the wonderful buffet of home cooked food. There was no way to even sample all the delicious dishes.
These kids were having a hard time making a choice from the desert table.
You can always count on having trays of deviled eggs at every covered-dish get-together.
Big boys and little boys exchange stories of recent hunts and those yet to come over lunch.
After such a hearty meal it is back to work to finish the day’s work.
Jamie Orr works alongside his father-in-law, Barney Valentine, cutting ribs, backbone and tenderloin into package size portions.
Pictured here is Mr. J.C. Orr lending a helping hand to the process.
This little guy found pulling turnips from the patch next to the barn a lot more fun than the meat processing activities.
When the iron pot is sizzling hot, chunks of pork fat are gingerly dropped in to be melted. The end product is lard and cracklings.
The lard cooking process demands constant stirring and watchful eyes for the exact degree of doneness.
The hot pot of liquid lard is poured into this very old strainer that separates the lard from the cracklings and squeezes the last bit of grease from them.
Gay Gallimore test tastes one of the warm cracklings.
Hams, shoulders, bacon and jowls are lightly salted for the night. Tomorrow they go to the salt box to cure for 21 days before being hung in the smokehouse and slow smoked with hardwood for several weeks. By spring this meat is completely preserved without the use of any chemicals whatsoever and will have a flavor that is delicious beyond description.