On Tuesday evening we rumbled up the dirt driveway of the little farm where El Guapo’s sister JoAnne and brother-in-law Scott live on the outskirts of West Linn, Oregon. It was light enough to wave at a little clutch of chickens and a couple of guinea hogs* to the side of the house. We didn’t climb the hill to see the goats–we were pretty car-weary. We thought we’d make the rounds the next morning.
Not all the chickens are laying, but there were enough eggs for us to plan on omelets for breakfast. That project was getting underway as we discussed potential plans for the day, and then Scott came in to share the surprising news that one of the hogs was dead.
This report stirred things up considerably. What now? There were people to call, questions to ask. “Should we go into Portland for the day?” and “What should we do for lunch?” were replaced with “How do you know if the hog was healthy enough right before death that it’s safe to eat the meat?” and “Do we know a butcher that makes house calls?”
JoAnne put in a call to a mobile butcher,† but no one answered. She managed to reach a meat packing outfit, and they gave her some advice for telling how long the animal had been dead, to help determine whether we should proceed with meat processing or funeral plans.
While Scott brought the backhoe around (it would be needed whichever outcome was likely), JoAnne turned the omelet job over to me and began researching how to butcher a hog.
You can find instructions on just about anything on the internet, from ideas on re-purposing the wires from underwire bras to making car repairs to building a device to enrich uranium, so of course there will be advice on how to process your pig.
Knowing how to do it and being up to the task seemed likely to be two different things, however. For one thing, directions suggested that we’d need to scald the animal. These are American Guinea hogs, a breed of small swine good for homesteaders, but a small swine is still three to four feet long, and weighs a hundred pounds or more. No pot in the kitchen is going to fit the bill. Does this call for a steel barrel and a bonfire?
Pondering on do-it-ourselves meat processing went on for just a short time before Scott came in to report that he thought the pig had probably been dead longer than originally thought, and it might not make sense to proceed. As these animals were being fed and cared for with the understanding that they would eventually feed and thus care for the family, this was discouraging, but at least we no longer had to figure out how to scald the pig, or do any of the subsequent steps.
JoAnne collected the knives that she had sent outside and returned them to the knife rack, remarking that they weren’t actually all that sharp. We talked about the fact that they wouldn’t have been very helpful in the butchering process, and she replied, “That’s a good argument for keeping a really sharp knife. You never know when a pig’s going to die.”
There are doubtless some deep thoughts waiting to be discussed regarding the complex issues of raising animals that you plan to eat, about stewardship of the land, vegetarianism, etc. But they’ll have to wait for another day. I close by noting that we were sad that the pig had died, but relieved that we didn’t have to figure out how to divide it into chops and roasts.
And I can’t help thinking that the right musical number to accompany this story is “Mona,” by James Taylor.
*The breed is American guinea hog, not to be confused with guinea pig, an entirely different critter. After doing a bit of research, I learn that the distinction between a pig and a hog is largely one of age and weight. The dear departed wasn’t very old, nor very huge, so might still have been called a pig, despite the name of the breed. For more on swine terminology, try this list from righteousbacon.com.
†Of course this makes sense–it just strikes me as one of those unexpected job titles that might lend itself to irreverent advertising jingles.
[Images: pinterest, benzworld.org, El Guapo]