Sometimes things happen with no rational explanation. That is how I agreed to scald a pig for a customer last Thursday for this past Monday. Lisa asked her husband Andy to pick a pig out for their daughter Stella’s 3rd birthday party the Sunday after Thanksgiving with the help of their friend & chef Michael who would video the whole thing. I agreed and then thought about how to do it. How hard could it be?
Pee Wee had scalded pigs maybe 40 years ago. JR had helped scald pigs about that long ago. I called Friedel who had done it two years ago but whose real knowledge was probably 40 years or so ago. Friedel called his older brother Robert about using ashes in the water to help loosen the hair. Jimmy was gung-ho to see his first slaughter and talked to Friedel’s younger brother Leon Whitehead about borrowing his tank to scald it in. Leon’s back had been acting up so he didn’t stop by until it was over. Herman was the last player in the cast and includes butcher in his resume although he is now retired.
I called Marlene whose husband Larry and son Kyle have considerable experience who said, “Huh? When? Why don’t you skin it? Do you have a thermometer? You will need bells to scrape off the hair. Do you have them? You don’t? I can borrow all those. Monday? Sorry but they are in Laneville and I can’t get them that soon. Don’t mess it up. It is not easy.”
Larry had to work so I called Kyle who said, “Why don’t you skin it? Do you have bells? No? Well the temperature is important so do you have a thermometer? No? I am going deer hunting. Talk to you later.”
I figured boiling that much water would take the longest and thus be the critical path so I had Jimmy cut enough wood while I went to the farmers market in Bloomington on Saturday. Sunday Jimmy and I set the barrel up on some concrete blocks and I asked, “Don’t you think those blocks might break from the heat?” It seemed that is what ‘everyone’ uses so Jimmy left to get the tractor. He moved the hog hauler down to the field where the pigs were so we could load one first thing the next morning.
I got up early and started the fire. The committee started showing up pretty quickly so I made coffee. There was a water mark on the barrel about a third of the way up which we decided that would be a good place to stop filling it with water. A good size pig would pretty much fill the tank enough to push the water to the top.
Kyle showed up and said, “Did you find any bells? No? How about a thermometer? Oh well? Shouldn’t we go get a pig?”
We were thinking of about a 160 pound or so pig but decided it is just as easy to butcher a larger one since there was no intention of roasting it whole. We don’t have a scale but the guesses ranged from 275 to 325 for the one we chose. A sense of cockiness was now permeating among the testosterone and it was decided we might as well take along a smaller pig with a lame leg and butcher it also.
The heat from the fire had busted all four concrete blocks and the barrel of scalding hot water was teetering. The rest of the committee who had stayed behind were standing back a safe distance when we returned. We wrapped a chain securely around the barrel and raised it with the front end loader just enough to get out the broken blocks and replace them with some boards and flat bricks. I noted none of the old timers were anywhere near the barrel while we did this.
The pig would be killed with a 22 rifle and Kyle was the designated shooter. The large black pig’s head is shaped a little different than the ones Kyle had previously killed so I held my finger to mark the correct spot. I had seen perhaps a few dozen pigs killed and it is not always a pleasant experience. Kyle wanted to wait and give the pig a chance to relax and asked me to move my finger and step back. Our pigs have a very good life except for one bad day. I would want Kyle to be the one to shoot me if I could chose to have only one bad day. It was the best kill I have ever seen and the pig died immediately in the spot where it fell.
Kyle also stuck the knife perfectly to bleed the pig. One deep plunge to the right of the wind pipe and he twisted and pulled the knife out and repeated the cut of the artery from the other side of the wind pipe. It is important not to cut the windpipe in order for the pig to completely bleed and to not get blood internally.
Friedel told me earlier that his dad, Rupert would dip his finger in the water 3 times to test the temperature. The water was the correct temperature if he could barely do that.
The Old Book says, ” Dehairing. The hair must be removed from the skin at slaughter either by scalding or singeing. In scalding, the ideal temperature for the water is between 145° – 150° F. Under farm conditions it may be difficult to maintain this range, and initial temperatures of about 180° F. may be met with. It is probably better to have the water approaching boiling point and to adjust the temperature by adding cold. Needless to say, an accurate thermometer has a great advantage as compared with the more homely methods of dipping in the fingers three successive times, or placing a drop of blood in the water.” And
“The following information is taken verbatim from a 1919 copy of “Home Preparation of Pork” by Department of Animal Husbandry Kansas State Agricultural College
….. When a barrel or tank is used, the water should be heated to 165 °F. A good test is to pass the fingers through the water three times and if it smarts the third time the water is about right. Some lye or wood ashes may be added to aid in loosening the hair and dirt. When the hog is put in the water it should be kept in motion to prevent the water from burning the skin. As soon as the hair is loose the hog should be removed from the water and the feet and head cleaned first, then the rest of the body.”
And several old references said something like this
“By using a good thermometer you can always know when the water is at the correct temperature, which not only makes scalding easier but eliminates the chance of setting the hair.”
Kyle wrapped one end of a chain around the dead pig’s snout and the other end around the front end loader of the tractor. I raised the pig higher than the barrel and drove forward until the pig was directly over it. The four ‘old timers’ who I had intended to be charge of this part of the butchering watched from the back and critiqued us among themselves as Kyle and I took charge. No fingers were dipped into the water three times and the pig’s hair was set and our proverbial goose was cooked before we removed the pig the first time.
Of course that was not known for quite a while. So the hair was tested and when it did not pull out easily the pig put back into the water for more heat. Little did we know you can not unset the set hair so we repeated the dipping several more time making sure any stray hairs we had missed earlier were also set. I did not realize for sure what had happened until Leon pulled up later and told me that we had set the hair from the get go.
Everyone spent the next couple of hours scraping hair that would not come out or pulling one hair at a time. This is when the ‘old timers’ really shined. They would not give up and never complained as they worked one section at a time until the hair was gone and a splotched but hairless pig was left. It wasn’t pretty but it was ready to be gutted and cut up. About now is when Tony said Michael had to get to work and he would drive him to Louisville. A half hour after he left my phone rang with a sheepish Tony asked if there was any way we could wait until he returned to video the gutting.
I had already put most of a case of beer in the cooler and lots of brats, zesty Italian and Cajun sausage on the grill. Nothing tastes better than pork and beer on a pig butchering day. So talking the guys who had not already left for home into waiting for Tony to return was no problem.
Gutting the pig went fast. Once again Kyle shined. Tony video’d as Kyle carefully sawed through the breast bone and then used one hand to hold the belly (bacon) from the guts and stomach as he cut it from the other side without cutting his hand or the innards. Beautiful. A work of art. He then used twine to tie off the anus at one end and the throat and windpipe at the other end. A couple more cuts and a tug or two and the whole insides were in the tub below it on the ground.
Kyle carefully cut out the gall bladder and tossed it away because its rupture could ruin a lot of meat. The liver was pink and perfect with no white spots that come from worms. The heart, kidney, leaf lard and some caul fat was also removed and saved. The rest of the innards would not be saved this time and given to the dogs that had patiently waited for this moment.
About this time Kyle asked, “Can we just skin this other pig?”
“No way” I answered now remembering the forgotten pig, “Just take him to the paddock with the sheep and we will fatten some more in there.”
It had been a long day and it was getting late when we finally got a piece of plastic and laid the whole pig on it so Tony’s SUV would not get bloody. We said goodbye and it was time to reflect on the day. I called Chris at Sanders Processing and asked how much he would charge to kill, scald and field dress a pig? The answer was, “Thirty dollars”. Thirty dollars for what we did must be about the best value for ones money in America. I think that was the last pig we will butcher and scald on the farm. Too bad because I think I have it down now!
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