GRAPEVINE, Texas – In preparation for this issue, we examined the upcoming events in Grapevine, and one stood out. It’s quite a unique idea. What we found was Nash Farm’s annual butchering and curing workshop. Let me be very straightforward with you. I had no immediate interest in learning how to butcher a hog. Nevertheless, it sounded different and, therefore, earned a spot in this month’s issue, and a Saturday of my life was spent watching a pig be turned into bacon.
Walking onto the farm grounds, I was greeted by two vats of boiling water and a hog hanging on a tree from its back legs. The hog had been killed earlier that morning, quite humanely we were assured, and the boiling water would be used to scald it so that the hair could be scraped off of the hide. Jim Lauderdale, the manager of Nash Farm, warned us before we even started that this would be the longest step in the process. He was right.
The workshop started at ten that morning, but no one touched a knife until around noon. On top of that, the 180-pound hog had been killed at around eight o’clock that morning, and the fires to heat the water had been going since 6:30. There are easier ways to de-hair a hog–shaving and field-dressing come to mind–but Nash Farm does everything the way the pioneering settlers did it.
Nash Farm was started by a family from Kentucky in the 19th century. Back then, hog butchering was an annual process, and the meat from one hog had to last the whole year. Ever wonder why ham is a traditional Christmas staple? That would be because the hams (the pig’s back legs) are the cut that can be preserved the longest. Butchering was done in early January because the cold temperatures were needed to keep the meat from becoming contaminated. Lauderdale continuously reminded us that this process had to be done “at 44 degrees or less.”
We learned more than how to butcher a hog. The workshop was filled with interesting facts about how early pioneers lived. The settlers would allow their livestock to roam freely and branded them so the owners could claim them when they wandered onto a neighbor’s property. “Ever heard of the Hatfields and the McCoys?” Lauderdale asked. The famous feud “was all started over a hog.” The McCoys went to claim their hog, but the Hatfields wouldn’t give it back.
Nash Farm had “dispatched” the hog that morning, so the first step was to let the blood drain (this was done before we arrived). The hog is then repeatedly soaked in water that is between 145 and 155 degrees. This loosens the hair so that it can be scraped off. Finally, after two hours of soaking and scraping, we had a bald hog.
Next came eviscerating, or gutting, the animal which can most be most-accurately described as AP biology on steroids. With the body cavity emptied, the pig was decapitated and cut in half so the volunteers at Nash Farm could begin demonstrating how to remove each cut of meat. They did one side of the pig and left the other for the surprising number of workshop participants.
The participants spent the next day learning how to preserve all of the meat they had removed from the pig. Nash Farm will use the meat in their frontier cooking workshops throughout the year. As Lauderdale said, “You could go buy your pork, but why not make your own?”
As I watched this pig being turned into someone’s next meal, I couldn’t help but envision Dr. Smith smoking a whole hog for the senior class on the patio at the Dallas Road campus. This workshop definitely seems to be a fit for people like him and Dr. Potts. Who knows? Maybe next year instead of the senior science classes going to Dr. Smith’s ranch, they could head down the road to Nash Farm.
To see this article as it was originally published in the Grapevine Faith RAWR, click here.