Monday, February 21, 2011

From Pig to Pork

Carefully wrapped in brown paper packages and frozen in the chest freezer of the red barn are beautiful cuts of meat labeled SHOULDER, RIBS, and FRESH BACON. As I look at the parcels of pork and think of the wonderful meals to come of them, I look back to the day of the slaughter, and think of how this meat got here in the first place.
I remember staring through the crack in the door, watching as Beth and Josh wrestled a 200 lb. pig to the ground and slit its throat with a sharpened kitchen knife. The late morning sun beat warm on my back, though the temperature was still cold enough to keep me breathing clouds of steam while I looked on at the scene of the slaughter.
Once the pig had been stuck and ceased its struggle, its front and hind legs were tied to a long pole, and the three of us hefted the weight of the inverted carcass down the path and up the road to the garage, where a gambol hung from a pulley and sat next to a large butcher block. We lay the pig out lengthwise across the table, then hosed it down with hot water and proceeded to scrub the bits of blood and hay and mud from its body, in preparation to skin the animal and remove its organs.
With all the certainty and precision of an experienced surgeon, Beth lifted her sharpened blade and made her first incision down the middle of the pig’s chest and belly, revealing the yellowish white layer of fat just beneath the skin. She tied a piece of twine around the pig’s tail and anus, to protect the meat from being contaminated by any errant fecal spillage which may occur while removing the pig’s intestines and other internal organs. Then the two of us set to work removing the tough skin from the rest of the body, careful not to cut too much of the fat away from the meat. The warmth of the animal's body was enough to keep my bare hands from freezing as I worked, but the chill of the air carried with it a bite that kept me reaching for my gloves whenever I had a chance to warm up.
Eventually, the pig was hung upside down by its rear tendons, hooked into the wrought iron gambol, naked, except for its head and its hooves. Beth made a deeper cut into the abdominal cavity, exposing the vast system of organs beneath the surface. She collected them all neatly and gently into a wheelbarrow, cutting away tissue as she worked, then finally removed the head, hide, and hooves with a meat saw and wheeled them away into the woods to be scavenged by coyotes. The meat remained, suspended and now sawn in half, to spend the night freezing by the light of the moon.
The next day, the pork was cut into smaller pieces and wrapped into the familiar brown paper packages, to be frozen and then eaten over the course of the winter. But that night, we ate fresh liver with some adzuki beans and sautéed cabbage. I have never been much of a fan of liver, but this time, having watched it get cut from the chest cavity of the dead pig’s carcass only hours before, I couldn’t resist. I must say that it was delicious. Thank you, Pig.

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