Foxfire, a Chainsaw and a Pigbyglynndah©
This story is completely true and happened exactly as presented. I changed nothing but the names. Good little witch's honor.
It was a hot 3-day weekend in 1979. I think it was the 4th of July. (Ooh, I sounded like Chicago for a minute there.) To take advantage of the time off, our friends decided to have a pig roast. My husband-to-be and his older brother volunteered to butcher the pig. Of course neither one of them had ever done this before, but since they had read the Foxfire books, and it didn't look all that tough, they were willing to give it a shot.
The host for this event was Ron, a former Vietnam vet who was building an A-frame home on a patch of ground, mostly wooded and very hilly with terraced walkways built from railroad ties, on the edge of, or perhaps actually in, a nearby state park. His Army buddies had staked out a stretch of flat land, cleared via chainsaw and bush hog, for their tents. His parents lived next door. His mother's garden club had quite often enjoyed lectures my boyfriend gave on edible wild plants and flowers and would be meeting that Saturday afternoon in the A-frame to provide the side dishes for the anticipated feast. His wife was a budding entrepreneur and enjoyed a brisk trade in the burgeoning field of "recreational and natural pharmaceuticals".
The pig arrived via battered pickup truck and three local farmers, a father and his two sons. The men looked over the operation with great interest. There was a picnic table with a couple of beer mugs, a filet knife, a hatchet, a 12 pound sledge hammer and of course, the Foxfire book, held open for reference by way of a large rock.
They also looked over the guys in charge of the pig roast with the same amount of interest. Jeff, the older of the two, was a tall stocky guy about twenty-one dressed in a pair of what might have a long time ago been overalls but were now missing a substantial amount of denim in the knees and the lack of underwear was readily apparent through another rip in the seat. The solitary buckle left held up one shoulder strap. The other dangled behind rather like a tail. Jeff wore a white cowboy hat on his long blond hair and army boots on his feet. His younger brother, Tim, my future husband, wore a ragged t-shirt from a bar he used to visit as a teenager when he lived in West Germany, a pair of cut offs, Pumas, also souvenirs from his travels, and a baseball hat from the restaurant where we all worked together.
"So," the father of the group asked, "have any of you boys done this before?"
"No, sir," Jeff replied, "but we used to chop the heads off the banty roosters our old scout master gave us out behind the IGA store. We reckon the basic principle's the same."
"Besides, we've got this book to go by," Tim said. He pointed to the battered copy of Foxfire, a book of reminiscences from the hill folk of the Appalachian mountain region of the United States.
The three farmers exchanged very skeptical looks.
"I guess that could work. How do you boys propose to go about killing that pig?"
"Well, sir," Tim said, pointing to his older brother who was petting the pig on the nose through the side rails of the pick up truck, making smacking noises and feeding the pig bits of white clover blossoms, "my brother's going to hit the pig in the head with that 12 pound hammer. "Jeff, stop making friends with that pig. You're going to have to hit it in the head in just a minute.
Jeff, who had spent his first two years as a football player in college and was a pretty big guy, ignored his younger brother and went on feeding the pig. "Kiss, kiss. Pig, pig."
"Boy, if you hit that pig on the head with that hammer, you're gonna end up with 250 pounds of pissed off pig. Junior, fetch me the .22."
Bubba brought the pistol back and a shot was fired point blank into the pig's skull. The pig shook his head and looked around for more clover.
"Hit him again." Another shot and this time the pig went down and stayed down. The pig was quickly strung up by his back legs and hoisted onto a bar between 2 trees.
"Jeff, grab the bucket." Tim slit the pig's throat and collected the blood in the bucket.
"Uh, boys. What are you going to do with that blood?" The younger farmer asked nervously.
"We're going to collect the blood and make blood sausage," my husband-to-be answered. (By the way, if you ever want to do this, be sure to pour some vinegar into the bucket. According to my grandmother that will prevent the blood from coagulating. A big problem with their technique.)
The three farmers looked at each other and talked amongst themselves for a few minutes. "Would you boys mind if we stayed to watch?"
The college guys said it was fine with them and the farmers hauled out a couple of battered lawn chairs for a front row seat for the morning's entertainment. "Our wives won't mind if we're a little late getting back." His two sons nodded in agreement.
About this time one of the partygoers stumbled down the hill. Slick was wearing flip-flops, swim trunks and carrying what at first glance appeared to be a beer mug full of water, but the half-dozen olives in it were a dead giveaway that it was a pint or so of gin.
"So, can I help?" Slick asked.
"Yeah," Tim said, handing him a 5-gallon pickle bucket and a teaspoon. "Dig the eyeballs out of this pig's head with this spoon, will ya? I'm making head cheese later on and I don't want any eyeballs in it."
Plink. Plink. Slick made a couple of very tentative taps with the spoon and turned even more fish belly white than usual. He tossed the spoon back in the bucket and headed back up the hill to the cabin where he remained for the rest of the day.
I passed him as I was coming down the hill. "Hi. What can I do to help you guys?" I asked, kissing my boyfriend and handing both of them a beer.
"Take this bucket up to the house. One of the women in the kitchen can get it ready for the head cheese." I carried the bucket up to the cabin where the host's mother's garden club ladies were meeting. The pig was a brown-eyed red head, by the way. I know this because she stared at me from that bucket all the way up the path.
I left the bucket in the hands of the ladies who said they'd take care of it for me and went back to the pig station.
"So, how are you boys going to get all the bristles offen that pig? You don't have any big kettles going any where." The farmer looked around for any signs of boiling water.
"Well, sir. Ron's going to be roasting it so we're going to just skin it out and wrap it in lots of layers of aluminum foil."
"You boys got a grill to handle that pig? She's a pretty good size."
The guys pointed across the hill where a couple of oil drums had been cut in half and welded to frames.
"That should do," the farmer agreed and then asked, "Where's your bone saw? You're gonna need something hefty to butcher that pig with."
"We're going to use this," Jeff replied, picking up a battered old chain saw from beneath the picnic table. It had been used to clear brush and cut down trees to form a clearing where the Vietnam vets were currently camping for the weekend. It, of course, was absolutely filthy, covered with chain oil, tree sap and bits of bark.
"It's awful dirty," the elder farmer commented, taking a drink of his soft drink. His sons, who were drinking beer and paying more attention to the coeds dressed in cut-offs and halter tops than to the pig, shrugged
"Don't worry. We're going to sterilize it. Fire it up, Jeff."
The chain saw roared to life after a brief sputter or two. Tim took a large swig from the open bottle of Jack Daniels and then poured the rest of the bourbon over the running chainsaw. Alcohol, chain oil, and who knows what else sprayed the butchers and bystanders alike. If you were standing in just the right place right then, the resulting splatters looked like freckles, or so I discovered when I looked in the mirror later that day.
"Voila," Tim said, "perfectly clean and ready to go."
Jeff ran the chain saw down the backbone of the pig. It now swung in 2 parts from the cross bar.
"Tim, grab hold of the piece. I don't want it falling and getting dirty when I cut the other way." Tim did as he was told. A couple of horizontal strokes later and the pig was now in 4 quarters.
"By golly, boys. That's a pretty slick trick. I'm gonna have to remember that for the Knights of Columbus shindig. That's a whole lot quicker and easier. We might want to use a new chainsaw, though."
The 2 college kids looked at him as if to ask why and then shrugged. Some people were just too fastidious.
The pork was cleaned, skinned and prepared for roasting. The intestines were dropped into another bucket and were carried by me to the spigot where a short coil of garden hose was attached.
"What are you doing with that? You aren't going to eat those, are you?" One of the younger farmers asked in disgust.
"Sure are. We're planning on making a couple of different kinds of sausages and stuffing it into them. Natural casings, you know."
"Um, you do know that's full of ..., well, pig poop," one farmer asked.
"We know. That's why Glynndah and Dave are going to blow them out with the garden hose and clean them up for us. Then the women up at the house are going to grind up this part here, mix it with pepper, sage and a little bit of brown sugar and we'll stuff the whole mess back into the intestines. We've got it all planned out."
Easy for him to say. He wasn't the one trying to hold onto miles and miles of very slippery and very stinky pig guts on the end of a garden hose. I was operating the tap regulating the water with one hand and keeping a firm grip on the slimy casing with the other. The hose was cracked and worn, sputtered and sprayed just about as much water on me as was going through it. Not enough pressure and the casing didn't get cleaned out. Too much and I lost my grip on the intestines and nasty stuff spurted all over my feet and legs. Way too much pressure and the casing burst. Do you really need a description of what happened then?
Dave was at the bottom of the hill, guiding the stream of "pig waste" onto a nearby compost heap. It was a 2-person job and proceeded quite well until someone let the puppies out. These were no ordinary little puppies. Timber and Zack were about 6 months old, a cross between an English mastiff and a Saint Bernard. Yes, very large, very playful pups that thought playing tug-of-war with that interesting smelling rope was a grand idea. Max, a busboy at the restaurant, was soon dragooned into distracting the dogs while the washing continued. Since either of the pups weighed more than he did, that proved a rather daunting task. But it was his first party with the "grownups" and the sixteen year old was giving it his very best.
Finally after much effort on our part, the pig casings were deemed "clean, well, close enough for jazz and besides, we're going to cook them and that should kill off any thing you might have missed." The ground pork, sugar and spice mixture was brought down to the picnic table and the old-fashioned sausage stuffing tube was attached to the hand grinder clamped to the edge of the table.
Everyone around took turns stuffing the pork into the grinder, turning the crank, holding the casing firmly onto the tube or guiding the finished product into yet another pickle bucket. Most of us worked together in the same restaurant and there were always plenty of these handy containers around the place. It was decided to twist sausages at regular intervals and tie them off with white twine, but to leave them in long strings because "it really looked cool that way, and besides, that's how they always did it in the old cartoons."
By now, it was lunch and the bulk sausage was fried up with scrambled eggs to feed the crew. It was delicious and enjoyed by all. The blood sausage, however, was not. Remember earlier when I said we didn't know to add the vinegar? Well, untreated blood doesn't make a wonderful, traditional German blood sausage. It makes a huge, gross scab. Ick! Ick! Ick!
The afternoon continued along the same lines. It takes a long time to stuff the 15 or 20 feet of intestine of the average pig, and even longer when most of the help was in a, shall we say, altered state of consciousness. The spices were frequently changed and experimented upon, most generally with a positive and tasty result. The clove and dill combination was not one of these.
The forearms of the pig were stuffed with pistachios and wrapped in foil. Those would be feeding the crew that night. They tasted marvelous, by the way. The main quarters of the hog would be slow roasted overnight, tended by those members of the crew whose drug of choice was coke or uppers because "they would be awake all night and might as well be doing something useful."
At long last the whole operation was done. The chain saw was stashed away back under the picnic table, cleaned this time by having the dogs' water dish dumped over it. The Foxfire book was wiped off. Any splatters of blood and other things would just be "a way to remember this grand occasion". The aroma of roasting pork wafted over the area.
The farmers got up from their lawn chairs, stretched and turned to Tim and Jeff.
"Are you boys going to do this again next year?" they asked as they loaded their seats and then themselves into the pick-up.
"Probably," one of the brothers answered.
"Well," the father said. "Can we come back next year and bring our wives?"