For thousands of years people and pigs have had a special relationship with almost all farming families and many in villages keeping at least one pig; some were kept in a hut on allotments in towns. We had our last one in the 1980s.
Acquiring a Family PigVery few farmers had a boar, a male pig. A few more had a sow which they took to the boar to be serviced, usually in autumn; the gestation time for a pig is three months, three weeks and three days. When the piglets were born, usually about eight to twelve to a litter, they were left with the sow for about two months until they were weaned and then most of them sold to neighbouring farmers. The new owner bought the young pig in the spring and took it home to be very well looked after and treated almost as a family pet.
Living accommodationThe young pig, sometimes with its brother or sister, was housed in a stone-built sty bedded with thick straw, with an enclosed yard attached. Pigs are very clean animals and always deposited their droppings in one corner of the yard. Most pigsties had a small field or croft attached where they could root to find worms or anything else they fancied in the soil.
FoodThe pigs were very well fed throughout spring and summer with buttermilk, oatmeal porridge, apples, boiled vegetable peelings and titbits. As well as being able to root in the croft many had the run of the orchard and wood. They grew massively and by the autumn they were big and fat. A pig reaches sexual maturity at seven to eight months.
RationingDuring the war a family was only allowed to keep one pig for themselves; if they had more they were taken by the Ministry of Agriculture, called the war ag. I heard of people keeping their extra rations hidden in a shed away from the farm, or in the attic or cellar. There was one very honest lady who showed the official the bacon from their second pig curing in the cellar; they were not allowed to keep it and the farmer was very cross. I remember grandfather Bob, who lived in a town, going home on the bus with a very heavy suitcase containing an enormous ham.
The farmhouseIn the farmhouse the pantry was called the dairy. In Chapel le Dale this was half underground with four or five stone steps leading down to a stone-flagged floor with stone-flagged shelves, about three feet from the floor, round three sides. In Tatham Fells the dairy was, and still is, on ground level at the cold north-east corner of the house, with stone shelves on two sides.
The pig becomes meatA skilled man came early one autumn morning with a very sharp knife; he assured us that the animal felt no pain; it was hoisted onto a stock, a long triangular wooden slatted structure with three legs.
The procedure was called pig sticking, and was over in a flash. Mother was there with a clean, scalded bucket to catch the blood; and later my brother did this as father fainted at the sight of blood. The blood had to be stirred all the time to prevent it setting; this took ages even when the bucket was put into cold water. Once one of the men in Tatham Fells took something out of the warm blood to prevent it setting, which saved a lot of stirring.
Black puddingThe blood was made into black pudding. There were many different recipes, each one having salt and herbs and small pieces of fat cut up from the pig and one or more cereals which had been boiled until tender; these could be pearl barley or oats. Some recipes included onions, very well boiled and mixed with bread to soak up the liquid. Mother cooked the black pudding in large roasting tins in the oven; in Tatham Fells we steamed the black pudding in basins in a boiler.
Scraping, hoisting and removing the offalOnce dead, the pig was scraped or shaved using special scrapers and hot water to remove all the hairs. The carcass was then hoisted up by the back feet and the innards taken out. The stomach was washed and brought to the house to be soaked in salt water and later boiled for tripe. Some farmers cleaned the small intestine to be used for sausage skins and ate lungs, spleen and pancreas but I don’t remember eating them; they may have been given away to family and neighbours. Grandfather Bob used to eat slices of fried pancreas which he called sweet breads. We used the heart, kidneys and liver and great sheets of fat.
RenderingCutting up of the fat was always the same, it had to be cut into pieces about an inch square and put in the oven in roasting tins for the fat to melt; it was now lard and was poured off into bowls to be used for baking. The remains were scraps, pork scratchings which I loved, to be sprinkled with salt and eaten as they were. Some of my friends’ mothers made scrap pie, pastry at the bottom and top and the middle filled with scraps, sugar and currants; I didn’t like it. The pastry had been made with the lard so the pie was nearly all fat. Relatives came to help at pig-killing time, and we three children all helped with cutting up the fat.
Cutting upOnce the carcass was cold it was sawn down the middle and two strong men carried each half of it onto the well-scrubbed kitchen table to be cut up. The head was brought in separately and the cheeks cut off for bacon - this was all one piece, being wide at both ends and narrower in the middle where it was cut from under the chin. The trotters were cut off and the ham and shoulder put to one side; the back was cut from the ribs as near to the ribs as possible to become bacon. The meat then, apart from what was to become bacon, was cut into joints and some of these were given to neighbours as there was no way of keeping the meat. When they had their pig slaughtered they gave us a joint in return. The head was boiled and minced up into potted meat called brawn. Spare pieces of meat were minced and mixed with herbs and bread crumbs for sausages.
SaltingThe ham, shoulders, backs (called flitches), and cheeks were carried to the dairy, where they were placed skin-side down on the stone slabs to be salted. A layer of rock salt was rubbed into them with saltpetre being put round the ham bone. They were left there to cure, the cheek being ready in about a week, flitches in about a fortnight and shoulders and hams could be a month. During this time they were re- salted as the salt soaked into the bacon. When they were ready the flitches were rolled up very tightly and tied all along with string using special knots. All were hung to dry in a cool dry place. A friend’s father had been ill and unable to roll the flitch so they had it hung up like a curtain to cut pieces off for frying.
During the winter bacon was always a stand-by, with poorer families relying on it to prevent them going hungry or ‘to keep the wolf from the door’ as they put it.
[The picture shows a wooden support for hanging the pig carcass by its hind legs called a cameral (Mary Taylor) or caumerill (Anne Read). It is in the collection of the Museum of North Craven Life in Settle. The word has various spellings such as cammerel(l) (The dialect of Craven by W. Carr), caumeril(l), gaumeril(l), gambrel, cambrel (OED), cambril, and is considered to derive from the word for crooked, curved or arched - in French cambré, Welsh campren (crooked stick), Irish and Gaelic cam, Breton kamm.]
A cameral (courtesy Anne Read, Museum of Norht Craven Life)