Hog Killing

This photo, submitted by Juanita R. Johnson, shows a hog killing in the Dogbluff community of Horry County in the 1930s. Pictured left to right are McRoy Barfield, J.T. Barfield, Charles Vander Johnson II, Claud Lilly, Frances Barfield, Lucille Sarvis Johnson, General Ottolia “Otto” Johnson, Blanche Sarvis Skipper, Charles Vander Johnson Sr. and Wright Johnson.

The first crisp days of fall once signaled a rite that sustained Horry County families through the long, cold winter months -- hog killing day.

The tradition of slaughtering hogs goes back to the very beginning of Horry County. Without the benefit of refrigeration, settlers depended on cold weather and smoke from fires to cure meat.

As late as the 1960s, hog killing days were a common occurrence in Horry County.

An article in the Vol. 18, No. 2 edition of the Independent Republic Quarterly, written by Lou Floy Milligan, recalled the days on her family’s farm when killing hogs translated into survival.

Hog killing day usually took place well before Christmas when the weather was very cold and the moon was in decline.

The farm family prepared for the event by making sure that wash pots, washtubs, big pans, barrels and drums were cleaned spotlessly. Knives were razor sharp.

Before the slaughter began, big iron wash pots were filled with water and put on a hot fire to bring the water to a boil.

After the hog was slain and drained of its blood, three or four men picked up the hog by its legs and stuck one end into the pot of scalding water. Then the carcass was pulled out and the hair scraped off.

The process was repeated for the other half of the hog until all of the hair had been removed.

Very little of the hog was discarded. Ears and feet were pickled along with the curly tail.

“The brains were removed to cook with eggs for breakfast; the jowls were saved to cook with peas on New Year’s Day: and the head was used to make hoghead cheese,” wrote Milligan.

Even the intestines became useful to the farm families. Some were cut into small pieces to cook as chitlins, and long pieces were cut to use for casings for sausage.

Fat was cut into small pieces and cooked in a large washtub where it became lard.

The hams, shoulders, backbone and pork chops were rubbed and covered with salt and left on a bench in the smokehouse from a few days to a month.

After the salt was rinsed off, the pork was prepared for smoking.

A hole was dug in the middle of the smokehouse’s dirt floor and a fire built out of oak, hickory or rotten branches, to smoke instead of flame.

According to Milligan, people used different seasonings, but common ingredients included salt, black pepper, saltpeter, borax, red pepper and brown sugar.

The meat was hung from poles in the smokehouse for a few days.

“I can still see my mama going to the smokehouse to cut a slice of ham for breakfast,” wrote Milligan. “I often enjoyed the fabulous aroma on my fingers as I sat in school.

The family smokehouse continued to feed the family throughout the remainder of the year.

“Any hands, kin, strangers or hobos knew where there was plenty of food,” recalled Milligan. “When we came in from school, the old safe was a beautiful sight with the platter of fried ham, platter of biscuits, platter of cornbread, bowl of cracklins, plate of hoghead cheese, and a pan of baked sweet potatoes.”

Nowadays, most folks get their pork at a grocery store neatly wrapped in plastic.

There are those in Horry County who still recall with great fondness those crisp fall mornings when families gathered for hog killing day.

Reach Hannah Strong Oskin at 843-488-7242 or follow her on Twitter @HannahSOskin.

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