The Pig-Killer Cometh…

One frosty December morning in the 1920s my sister and I were bundled into the cupboard under the stairs while the deed was done. Mother had such tales of chilling drama to tell about almost everything, and on these occasions it was about someone she’d heard of somewhere who’d bodged the job and the bleeding animal had run amok, charging into the onlookers with such ferocity that the farmer had to shoot it.

It was pig-killing morning, and even if the pig escaped and came charging into the kitchen, we’d be safe in the cupboard. The main reason for this banishment, though, was to protect our innocent ears from the squeals of a terrified animal being slaughtered.

The big kitchen range was already hot, and huge pans and pansions were scrubbed and waiting.

Soon, we were allowed out of the cupboard: the job hadn’t been bodged.

Outside in the yard it was quiet except for the chatter of the men as they admired the mighty carcass. In the 1920s and 30s pigs were bred for size, and an animal weighing 30 stone or more was greatly prized, never mind how much fat there was.

Fat was good for you, and if a slice was hidden under a slice of lean and eaten together it went down unnoticed – or so mother said.

In came the offals and lumps of fat. This had to be diced for rendering into lard. The ‘scraps’ or ‘scratchings’ were the delicious crunchy bits left when the hot fat had been strained into pansions. What a delight these were when cold, sprinkled with salt and pepper.

In one bucket were yards and yards of ‘tharms’ (intestines). These had to be thoroughly scraped and washed, then rinsed through again and again until they were absolutely squeaky clean as these were the sausage skins.

Around mid-morning the pig-killer went home and said he’d be back in the evening to cut up the carcass (now hanging in a shed) when it was cold.

Mother sorted the odd cuts of meat the men carried in – one pile for sausages and another for pork pies. Then she prepared plates of ‘pig cheer’. This was a generous helping of ‘pig’s fry’ for neighbours, and consisted of diced pork, pieces of liver and kidney covered with a piece of lacy ‘pig’s apron’ (stomach lining). The recipients must not wash the plate before returning it, as this was considered very unlucky.

Pie pastry was made with hot water and raised expertly by my mother using solid round blocks of wood.

In the evening the pig-killer returned and cut the carcass into joints, which were individually salted in a long wooden tub. Saltpetre was rubbed into the knuckle joints and left for a month.

There were great goings-on in the kitchen for a couple of days. Brawn bubbled on the top of the black-leaded range and pure, proper sausages, well-seasoned and saged, without additives, shot out of the hand-turned machine to be linked, and were hung in rows in the cellar.

Wonderful golden pork pies came out of the oven and the lard had set, all snowy white, in the pansions. The pantry was full. Everything from a pig was used – except its squeal.

What a feast everyone had! The pig-killer was rewarded with the princely sum of five shillings. It wasn’t his main occupation, I hope!

In the New Year the kitchen was decorated with flitches and hams hanging from hooks in the ceiling.

I got many a pig out of the way myself in the 1940s and 50s, but the custom went out of fashion.

Sausages, pork pies and hams have never tasted the same since,