The first time I heard the expression “hog killing time” was in northern
in the late 80’s. I was
facilitating a Bible study fellowship luncheon, and posing a question to the
ladies just to get the conversation focused.
Given that it was November, I asked them what their Thanksgiving
traditions were. The answers were varied, but for the most part they spoke of
sumptuous meals, family football forays, and shared spiritual traditions. One
lady changed the course of the luncheon topic when she smiled and said,
“Thanksgiving, with the extra days off, is hog killing time.” After a minute or
so of stunned silence, the ladies piped in with all sorts of questions, and she
proceeded to tell us what her Thanksgivings were like. Virginia
There are no pictures here of pigs being slaughtered, butchered, or cured. I never recovered from what I had to do to that piglet in my high school physiology lab. Besides, these critters are known to be some of the cleanest and smartest domestic animals. Use your imagination.
Hog killing took place in colonial times from late November through mid December since they needed to be butchered and cured once cold weather could be assured. Even now, with refrigeration, the tradition has remained.
Once the animals were killed, large kettles of boiling water were prepared for scalding the animal, a process that facilitates scraping the hair from the hide. Then the swine would then be cut into pieces that were more manageable. It has often been said that no part of the pig is wasted – enough said!
There are basically two steps to cure meat.
1. The fresh meat is packed in coarse salt for about six weeks so that the salt can draw out all the water from the meat. The water is discarded.
|Peyton Randolph House, |
Smokehouse, Williamsburg, Va
2. The meat is then hung in tightly constructed wooden sheds with steep roofs, without windows or chimneys while a fire smoldered for up to two weeks to dry it and give it that wonderful smoky flavor. It will remain there for another two years to age.
One can see smokehouses all over Colonial Williamsburg behind houses. If you were to visit practically any 18th century home, other than a city house, you will probably still find a smokehouse nearby. Smokehouses had to be replaced periodically as the salt and smoking broke down the composition of the wood. You may see brick smokehouses on some estates such as Shirley Plantation, but they also need replacing occasionally due to salt damage.
For those of you unfamiliar with country hams, this is not your canned or grocery store ham. (
hams or Edwards hams are two well
known brands) Let
me warn you, take seriously the directions to soak the hams before preparing
your meal. Serve smaller servings; say as you would Italian
All these years later, I sometimes wonder if that family in northern
is still spending Thanksgiving
killing and processing hogs. If so, there must be some relieved turkeys smiling