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Pork was king in the 1930s

Mickey Starling: Greene Publishing, Inc.

When we think of pork today, pork chops, bacon and ham are quick to come to mind. But, back in the 1930s, pork of all cuts was often king of the dinner table. Other than gathering around a radio in the evenings, many social gatherings in Madison County centered around helping a neighbor with the necessities of daily life. Due to the hardships brought on by the depression, money was scarce and many folks exchanged labor for the supplies they needed.

Combining hard work with entertainment wasn't so hard to do when it came to food. Neighbors would come together on a cold winter morning to have a hog killing. The cold weather was necessary to prevent the meat from spoiling before it could be properly smoked. There was a fair amount of praying for the cold so that this day-long task could be successfully completed. Like most jobs during this time period, killing and dressing out a hog was a day's work, but this task was sure to bring delicious results later on.

Before the anticipated slaughter could take place, preparations were made in the spring, when all farmers planted peanuts. The peanuts were often planted along with corn, since both were great for fattening up the hogs, who were released in the fields once most of the corn was harvested. Of course, people loved peanuts as well and this created yet another opportunity for a social gathering, as neighbors would shell peanuts together. Audrey Leslie recalled, in her book, "I Remember," that the children were told to only eat the immature peanuts. "Who knew, we often ate the good ones," said Leslie. These shellings typically took place at night and the hulls were great for keeping the fire going.

It was a common assumption that nothing got wasted and this was certainly true of the hogs, where the joke of the day was that "everything got used but the squeal." On a normal hog killing day, someone was up early, getting a large pot of water boiling. The hogs would be placed in the pot so that the hair could be easily removed after they had been stuck and drained of blood. After the hair was removed, the hogs were sent to the gallows, where their insides were removed.

From this point, most parts of the hog were separated and used for foods that many of us would now turn green at the thought of. The head was removed in order to make what we lovingly refer to as hog head cheese. The brains were often cooked with scrambled eggs, though some chose to pass on the brains and stick with the grits, biscuits and coffee. After enjoying breakfast together, the women went back to cleaning the chitterlings, a lovely task involving scrubbing the small intestines of the pigs for later consumption. Other women would be preparing the cracklings, which is mostly fat with some skin attached. These are very similar to the pork skins we enjoy today. The men busied themselves with cutting and removing the shoulders, sides and hams. Most other portions were saved for use in making sausage.

While some of these items will never appear on a modern menu, they were savored by people during the depression, because it was not only a way of feeding the family, it was a means of sharing time with family and friends and making memories that lasted a lifetime.

Special thanks to the Treasures of Madison County Museum for making Mrs. Leslie's book available. Much of the information for this article was gleaned from her material.

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