Warning: if the title wasn’t clear enough, the following post contains photos of our family handling very large quantities of unprocessed meat. If you’re squeamish about these things, you may want to skip this one.
For as long as I can remember, my extended family on my dad’s side has gotten together to butcher a couple of hogs every year. It’s a Mennonite tradition carried over from their childhoods in Mexico. It always happens in someone’s garage, and there’s always chili for lunch. Always.
No one in my family has ever raised pigs before this year (at least, not in Canada). My parents and aunts and uncles always pitched in to buy them — already killed, cleaned, and cut in half — from the local butcher.
This year was a special year: my parents raised their own pigs for the first time. They kept six pigs out in pasture, to roam freely and wallow in mud, the way pigs were meant to roam and wallow. After the pigs finished destroying the area of pasture they were given, they were fed organic oats that my uncle got from the local Heinz plant where he works.
In recent years it has become increasingly important for me to only eat healthy animals that have lived happy lives and been killed humanely. (The same goes for the animals whose milk and eggs I consume.) If I’m going to eat meat, I don’t want to participate in torturing animals. If tortured animals are the only ones available to me, I generally refrain from eating meat. (That’s why I order off the vegetarian menu at restaurants.)
I also like to be as involved as possible in the processing of my food, to ensure its quality and to maintain a connection to the food that sustains my body.
I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents have always raised their own cattle and chickens — always free-range, in the great outdoors. I was absolutely thrilled when they decided to add pigs to the menagerie. Now I can also eat pork with a (mostly) clear conscience. (I’m never completely comfortable with my omnivorous ways.)
I thought I’d share some photos from butchering day, in case that kind of thing interests you.
Note: my parents had the pigs killed and cleaned (i.e. degutted) by the local abattoir; they came to us in halves (lengthwise). We took it from there.
We did three pigs in one day, with nine pairs of hands helping.
We began by cutting the hog halves into manageable pieces, and then removing the skin and fat.
The fat was ground up in a meat grinder and put into our huge cauldron (I don’t know the English word — in German, it sounds roughly like mew-groopin, and it exists for this sole purpose), to render into lard. The process takes several hours, with constant stirring and supervision. The bits of remaining meat turn into cracklings (which we call griven), which are strained out of the lard.
Meanwhile, the meat was divided and turned into different cuts — ribs, roasts, and chops. A good amount was ground up and seasoned for sausage.
On to the smokehouse:
Preparing the fire for the smokehouse:
Preparing the sausages for smoking:
After smoking for about two hours, they’re ready to package.
And what would an old-fashioned Mennonite hog butchering day be without liverwurst?
The liver gets ground up with other bits of leftover pork (cooked and raw), seasoned, and made into thick sausages using the large sheep intestine (rather than the small intestine):
Sounds gross, but I tell you it is absolutely delicious on homemade bread with jam.
Last, we packaged the lard. Not everyone wanted theirs, so I got more than my share. I took home about 5 gallons of the stuff. Can you believe my luck?! (I use it for frying and making flour tortillas, mostly. It is literally impossibly to buy pure lard around here without preservatives, especially organic. This is a real treat.)
There you have it! Any questions? Have you ever done anything like this??