Saturday, March 10:
There will be no hyperbole today. This is pig butchering.
Find one or two friends who like good, clean pork and working with manure and guts. Raise a few pigs with them, making arrangements to share costs and chores, and when the pigs reach roughly the proportions of an upholstered sofa and the weather takes a turn for the cold, gather all available forces and butcher them. You can find a manual to describe how you find a point equidistant from the pig’s ears and its snout, etc, details which we will not describe here because we do not want hate mail from people who feel sensitive about other people eating piggies. In this post we mean to describe the operation known politely as Scraping Casings and impolitely as Cleaning Hog Intestines.
This job is smelly, tedious and long and reserved for the sissies who spend Hog Butchering in the house making coffee and cinnamon rolls for the Real Men of both sexes who work outside with the blood and guts. These latter are the people who find the point equidistant, etc, and their jobs include blooding, scraping, gutting, hanging, splitting, piecing, grinding, wrapping, salting, and smoking. The inside crew are kept to a tight schedule delivering doughnuts, coffee cake, cocoa, and other, more substantial substantial fare promptly at ten, twelve, three, and six o’clock to the real workers. And, as I say, scraping casings. Less important than the jobs above-named, but indispensable to the making of sausage links, and an art in danger of being lost to posterity. So, we will describe it here.
First of all, before the intestines come inside the real butchers have to separate the hog’s intestines from the other parts of the switch – parts taken from inside the animal – hook one end to a hose pipe, and turn it on, first making sure everyone within a radius of fifteen feet is out of the way. The tap is allowed to run until what issues from the nether end of the intestines is clear water. Then the intestines, which are held by connective tissue in neat loops, are cut at two roughly opposite points, severing each and every loop at both points. If this is not clear, imagine running over a coil of garden hose with a circular saw, leaving a bunch of short lengths of hose of more or less equal length, and you will have the right idea. The resulting mess is submerged in a pan of cold water and sent to the house, where the people are warm and so they deserve it.
What do we do with such a thing in the house? First of all, don’t let it be brought in the kitchen. The smell is not fecal, but it is visceral, and it tends to linger. We use Mike’s kitchen, because he deserves it too. The method of cleaning is this: first, get a baking pan, or maybe three baking pans, and put one in the sink. Now take a wooden cutting board or a length of maple or beechwood plank long enough to span the sink diagonally, the right-hand side sitting in the baking pan and the left end resting on the edge of the sink. If you are left-handed, reverse the sides. Take a length of intestine, to which we will refer hereafter as “casing”, and hold it at the top of the cutting board slope so that three or four inches of casing hang down the board. With a (preferably old and unloved) table knife with a flat cutting edge, scrape firmly down the thick, squishy, pinky-grey tube.
Stuff will come out the end. Lots of stuff, thick, gooey stuff, the lining of the intestines. Remember, this tubing was thoroughly cleaned by the people outside. The guck you are looking at is pig, not pig excrement. Tissue, not poo. Scrape the casing again, more firmly. Keep drawing the knife blade flat down the board until the casing is clear, or faintly pink. You will probably be surprised to see just how thin – much more than paper-thin – pig casings are, and you will certainly be surprised to find out how very tough they are. When you think about what they do, you will realize that this must be so. I mean, suppose you were designing a system where a hose of some really toxic guck was going to run through the interior of a living being, you’d make the hose strong, wouldn’t you? And so it is.
You are going to scrape the whole length of the casing, a few inches at a time, and you are going to scrape it hard. Push the soft lining tissue out at the bottom end (this is the reason for the baking pan). For reasons which will be obvious if you think about it, you will probably want to reverse the ends when you get half-way up the tube. When nothing more will come out, hold one end of the tube over the faucet and run water through it. Keep cleaned casings in another baking pan of clean water. If no one helps you with this job, you are going to have a sore arm at the end of the day; and if you’ve never done this before, it may take you all day, too. But the effort is worth it; natural casings are the only kind worth having, and if you buy them they are costly as sin. Scrape your own casings.
Or be a Real Man and join the people working outdoors.