Readers share their own memories of hog-killing

J. H. Osborne • Dec 7, 2018 at 3:28 PM

I'd never have dreamed so many folks would get such a kick out of my two-part hog-killing column. Thanks to emails, letters, telephone calls, and in-person conversations, I've learned even more about this regional tradition and its connection, for some, to Thanksgiving. Here's a sampling:

Shirley Krell said "My family also always killed hogs on Thanksgiving Day. And canned tenderloin is a fond memory of mine. I had just been talking with a friend about all these memories , just a few days before I read your article. I also remember that in that time in my life we had already had several hard freezes by Thanksgiving. Killing of the hogs , was a family affair in my family. And we worked the meat up for several days. We canned tenderloin, sausage, rib meat then we rendered the skin and fat to make lard to use as fat in cooking all winter. After that we would grind the skins and make cracklins to use also. We used all parts of the hog: ears; tongue; heart; brains; and then cooked the head and pulled meat off to make mincemeat to make pies. It was a lot of work, but good memories."

Walter Cox said his mother, born in Hawkins County in 1926, was raised in Carters Valley or across the state line in Stanley Valley. When working on a Master's degree in Appalachian Studies, Walter interviewed his mother and an aunt about growing up in Appalachia during the Depression. "Indeed, they did kill hogs on Thanksgiving Day, provided it was cold enough. She reminisced fondly about the special treat of fresh tenderloin and biscuits and gravy. My mother's family moved to Kingsport, (the Forrest View area of Bloomingdale) a few years after the war when my grandfather got a job with the Clinchfield Railroad and my mother and sister began working at THE Eastman." But they didn’t stop farming, a tradition his family continued at last part time until his grandmother's death in 1969. "The last hog killing took place in 1968 when my parents and aunt and uncle raised four piglets, which we kids named George, John, Paul, and Ringo, to slaughter size. (I'm pretty sure our family ate Ringo.)"

Jayne Wolfe said "On Hilldale Farm, we butchered at the holiday because my parents taught. School was out then, and four days was plenty of time to dress hams, can tenderloin, render lard, and grind sausage. Your column took me back to several vivid memories: My Dad shot the hogs from horseback — I wasn't supposed to watch, but I saw it all from an upstairs window when I was nine; I learned to use Mother's Singer sewing machine making sausage pokes from unbleached domestic when I was seven; age eight saw me operating the manual crank on the sausage grinder while Mother filled the hopper with fresh meat and added spices; we saw relatives come to visit from all over that weekend — nobody could resist Mother's homemade biscuits, sausage, tenderloin and gravy." Wolfe still lives on Hilldale Farm, in the Yuma community, of Scott County, Va.,"and one room in the house reminds me how highly my family valued our hams. We went to visit family in New York City at Christmastime in 1952. We left our car in the parking lot at Tri-Cities Airport, so it was pretty obvious that there was no one at home. When we returned, our house had not been robbed; however, the lock on the smokehouse had been sawed off. It was completely empty---six hams: gone. We had two more hogs to slaughter, so it wasn't a complete disaster. But my Dad was determined that the next time we left overnight, there would be no repeat performance. In an upstairs room that wasn't heated or used as a bedroom, he put up hooks in the ceiling. From that time on, when we left home, he carried the hams upstairs. Problem solved!"

Bruce E. Gibson, an attorney of 30 years on a second career teaching Legal Studies at Milligan College, "grew up in Lee County, Va., on a farm raising tobacco and killing hogs every Thanksgiving, if it was cold enough. If it wasn’t cold enough to kill hogs on Thanksgiving, then we would grade and tie tobacco. Interestingly, I told this story in my Business Ethics class last week and they loved it. I told them that Thanksgiving had nothing to do with shopping, watching TV (we didn’t have a TV until I was in the 6th grade and we never had cable), or family relaxing. It never turned into a holiday for me or my parents until I was late teens and my grandparents quit raising hogs to slaughter. My dad was a school teacher and Thanksgiving was a weekend in which he did not have to teach so it was perfect to spend a couple of days slaughtering hogs, rendering lard, canning sausage and frying fresh bacon. I don’t miss it, but I do miss the fresh sausage. By the way, Food City’s fresh ground sausage is the closest to homemade sausage that I have eaten."

Nancy Fletcher said "I do not recall seeing one of these events, but I do recall talk about them. She included a photo taken in the Lynn Garden community, circa 1940s. It shows her grandfather, Clifford Greer (he worked for the Kingsport Post Office for 38 years) looking on as another man holds a knife, "obviously preparing to make that tenderloin and sausage others have talked about!"

Joel Davis said "It brought back good memories from my youth ... I can remember the hard work but great rewards as we all looked forward to having platters of fresh sausage and tenderloin for breakfast the next morning. Davis sent along a picture as well, showing his "Pappaw Burt Davis" and "Daddy June Davis" probably after his father returned from service in World War II in the mid 1940's."

Mike Kerney, owner of the Lynn Garden Restaurant, told me he well remembers his family raising and killing hogs on their farm along the North Holston in the Wadlow Gap section of Scott County, Va., in the early 1960s. “Back then, usually everyone was off for the Thanksgiving holiday. We raised 10 hogs each year. We sold nine of them each year ... $60 for a dressed hog. After paying the feed bill, we’d clear one hog and a few dollars. Back then there was no “black Friday” and no sales, and even if there had been most of the people  wouldn’t have been going to them.” That, coupled with the people buying the nine hogs they sold, usually meant a crowd of spectators. “It was like a football game. It was always a good time.”

My cousin Millard Ray Hall, of Jonesville, Va., wrote me a wonderful three-page letter that details the steps of killing, dressing and “working up” a hog. Millard Ray said he was in with “the hog-killing crew” at my maternal grandparents’ home by the time he was about 12 years old and close in age to my uncle Mitchell Wallen. “I can remember him and I begging to shoot the hog with a .22 rifle which was used 95 percent of the time,” Millard Ray said. But they weren’t allowed to at first. Nobody wanted a hog killing to be any worse than it had to be. “Most of the time the hogs were let out of the pen before they were killed,” Millard Ray said. “If you didn’t shoot it with a dead shot it would run and squeal. They you had a problem of it getting too far away from the scalding place. You didn’t want to pull 400 to 500 pounds too far by hand.”


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