Tuesday evening, with the Blood Moon shining down on us, we harvested our first pig on the farm, joining a long line of tradition, all those who came before us in raising animals with love, and taking their lives with gratitude and respect. This is the exact time of year when animal slaughters have always begun – it’s cold enough now not to need refrigeration, and the abundant harvest foods for the animals is depleting.
Personally, we feel that as omnivores, we should participate in the actual taking of life, and take responsibility for our part of that relationship. We’ve slaughtered chickens before, but a large mammal feels very different. As someone who has now witnessed birth and death, I truly think that if your heart is open, you can find beauty and awe in both. Warning: this post does contain some “graphic” photos.
With friends, some of our staff from Wheatberry, and the help of an experienced young man named Felix, we began by giving thanks. I said a blessing for the pig, her spirit, and the nourishment she will provide us, and we went around the circle and introduced ourselves and talked about something we were grateful for. I was really thankful that Felix really encouraged everyone to remain emotionally present, to keep returning to gratitude. At this point, Ella wanted to go inside for the actual kill, so we went in and watched from the window.
(Before all of this, actually, we prepared by making food for all our helpers, and by giving the pigs some beer to get them drunk – Ben’s idea.) Felix talked everyone through what would happen, and then opened up the paddock and everyone got ready. We had a large bucket and a whisk ready, to catch the blood and whisk so it wouldn’t coagulate (to make blood sausage with – more on that another day).
Ella and I watched from a window inside – it was dark and the pigs were all sleeping. Felix took aim carefully between one pig’s eyes, and shot her, then quickly cut her jugular to bleed her. One of our fantastic helpers whisked as the blood came out, while other folks pumped the pig’s legs to help it all come out quickly. Then they carried her out of the paddock on a pallet. She was much bigger than we’d expected!
At this point, Ella wanted to rejoin the group, so we went out and watched as they singed off the hair and scraped with knives to remove it. This is more commonly done by dunking the hog into scalding water (or pouring water over the hog) and scraping it – which is what I think we’ll do next time. Unfortunately, the singeing method really charred the skin (which otherwise could be cooked up as cracklin, and left on most of the cuts of meat), so that we had to remove all of the skin from the cuts of meat. It was quite a sight – we had our first snow that day, which made a dramatic backdrop. One of our helpers, a loyal Wheatberry customer, was the torch-wielder.
I brought the blood inside, strained it, and immediately froze it in jars – we weren’t making sausage for a few days, and blood is extremely perishable (it’s illegal to sell in the US).
Back outside, they finished scraping and brought the pig into our garage/barn, where they tied up one leg and hoisted her up using one of the rafters. The next step was the make the belly incision, to release all of the internal organs and cool down the body cavity. This part, which could have been very “gross” was actually really amazing, in large part due to Felix’s knowledge and clear love of teaching all about the anatomy and incredible miracle of this pig’s body.
He made a careful, slow incision through the skin and fat, and then through the connective tissues, allowing the intestines to come out. The heart and lungs had to be released, which he did by reaching in with his hand. Soon enough, everything was in a big bucket, and Felix proceeded to walk us through each organ, talking about its function in the body, showing some of its beauty and also talking about how it could be prepared.
Isn’t the caul fat beautiful?
Next came the most incredible part of the night, in my opinion, which Ben luckily caught on video. This was one of those moments where we truly got a glimpse of the incredible Mystery that is in us and around us, the beauty which is all through us. You might not think that watching someone inflate a set of pig lungs would be an amazing experience, but it was, and I really encourage you to watch this video.
At this point, we were putting the various organs into jars and taking them inside to freeze. I took the small intestines inside and starting cleaning them out to use in a few days as sausage casings (rinsing them several times with water, then tying one end, filling it with water, tying the second end, and placing them in a jar filled with water. After a few days, open them and the inside lining should flush out, and they’re ready to be used or frozen until you’re ready to use them.)
Gabriel finally fell asleep in the Ergo, and Ella stayed awake until after 9, totally interested in everything that was happening. A few helpers left, and folks came in and out of the kitchen, eating the food I had prepared (to my surprise, no one’s appetite seemed phased). Finally, Ella was ready for bed, and I put both the little ones to sleep. While I was upstairs with them, out in the barn, the crew used a saw to cut the carcass in half, remove the feet and head.
I came downstairs and starting cleaning up the kitchen, making space for the meat I knew was about to start coming in. I made a brine bath in a large bucket, and we put the head, trotters (feet), ears, and snout into it, with some herbs. I cleaned out some more intestines, started rendering some of the lard in the crockpot, and wiped down the table. In the barn, they cut the pig into quarters and brought them in. (The camera got really foggy coming in from the cold barn). At this point, it was almost midnight.
Because we are going to be salt-curing almost all of this first pig, we left the meat in primal cuts – front shoulder (called Pork Butt in America, cured it will be spalla and coppa), back shoulder (ham/prosciutto), belly (bacon), loin (lonza), jowls (guanciale – jowl bacon). We spent another hour or so starting to trim off the skin (due to the charred aroma, which we were worried would penetrate the meat), rub everything down with salt, and pack it away. We cooked up the two tenderloins with some fresh rosemary and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar – it was delicious, and vibrant.
Finally, at 1:30 am, we called it a night. We had an extra fridge designated to become the curing fridge, which we carefully plugged in a few weeks ago to be sure it was working (yes) but when we plugged it in on Tuesday – 60 degrees. Luckily, it was refrigerator temperature in our outside porch, so we crammed a lot into the fridge and put the rest outside. I wiped down the kitchen and fell into bed. The next morning, the fridge looked like this:
We moved some things around, froze some ribs, etc, and now the fridge looks like this – packed to the gills with salted pork. We’re having a charcuterie party tomorrow, making blood sausage, head cheese (worst name ever), stuffed stomach, and country pate! So many things I’ve never done or tried – we’ll be sharing them with you, too, so stay posted . . . And have a great weekend!