The husbandman all day goeth to plough
And when he comes home he serveth his sow;
He toileth and moileth all the long year
How can he be merry and make good cheer?
Eighteenth Century Nursery Rhyme
When I was very small, as I think I may have said before, we lived down Church Lane. Opposite our house in a little red brick cottage lived an old chap who kept a pig in a shed at the bottom of his garden. On fine afternoons he took this pig for a walk and almost as soon as I could walk I went with him. It is one of my earliest and most treasured memories. We went up to the church and back and on the way there the pig would have a good roll and scratch in the grassy bank on the side of the road. It wasn’t until many years later that it occurred to me that every year the pig was a different one.
November is the traditional month for the slaughter of animals – blod-monath – ‘blood month’ to the Anglo Saxons. Until the Agrarian Revolution of the eighteenth century there was simply not enough food to keep animals alive over the winter, so they were killed and the meat was preserved – usually by curing and salting, to provide winter protein.
My mother remembers the pig killing days of her childhood very well. My Great Aunts all shared the work every time their families killed a pig. Each Aunt had her special skill, one made sausages, one made pork pies, one started off the bacon in cure and so on. It is hard to underestimate the importance of this wonderful, economic and versatile animal to our forebears. The pig has certainly made its way into the language very forcefully, when we want to be rude about someone they can be hoggish or a swine – and live in a pigsty and I still remember poor Piggy in ‘Lord of the Flies’ with total horror.
This is sad because pigs are famously intelligent. Here’s a lovely snippet from Gilbert White’s diary:
‘From long experience in the world this female was grown very sagacious and artful: when she found occasion to converse with a boar, she used to open all the intervening gates, and march, by herself, up to a distant farm where one was kept and when her purpose was served would return by the same means.’
How delicately put!
There are dozens of nursery rhymes and poems about this the most domestic of farm animals. Ted Hughes’ poem ‘View of a Pig’ is so affecting I couldn’t bring myself to choose a few lines to quote here. There are also lots of accounts of pig killings in literature, of which the episode in Flora Thompson’s ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ is probably the best known.
My Mum tells me that on the day of the pig was butchered, enamel plates of ‘fry’ were put aside to give to neighbours, each plate covered with a veil of caul. It was vitally important that the plate was returned unwashed, otherwise some dark consequence would follow.
This handsome pig belongs to my friend Susan. It has my name on it – or rather a quarter of it has. Unfortunately it’s not ready yet, so Mum and I ( she's staying with me at the moment) made sausages with some pork from my very good local butcher. I’ve made sausages before and I have a little kit that attaches to my kitchen mixer and enables me to fill the skins. So here’s our attempt at Lincolnshire sausages via East Yorkshire via West Cornwall.
Home Made Pork Sausages
A piece of good belly pork - ours was 2 1/2lb
2 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Handful of finely chopped herbs - we used chives, sage and marjoram from the garden, my Grandma used dried herbs, oregano will do as a marjoram substitute.
2oz fresh white bread crumbs.
Sausage casings - beg them from your butcher when you buy the pork or you can get them online, you need about a yard to a pound of mixture.
Skin the pork, remove any bones and chop into chunks, then mince on the fine disc of your mincer. Add the breadcrumbs, herbs and seasonings. Mix it together with your hands, it needs to be quite soft, so add some water if necessary. We like a looseish mix so the sausages are crumbly inside.
Test your seasoning by frying a little dab of mixture and having a taste. Under season rather than over season to begin with. I used a bit less salt than most recipes suggest.
Soak the sausage casings for about 45 minutes then thread onto the sausage pipe of your little device - otherwise thread onto the end of a wide funnel. Leave a 'tail' but don't knot the end - otherwise it blows up like a balloon. Turn on the mixture to the slowest speed and watch the sausage meat come through into the skins. It helps to have another person holding the skin horizontal with the pipe. Try and keep it uniform and free of air bubbles. When you've got all the mixture into the skin you might need to smooth it with your hands so your sausages are roughly the same thickness. Twist the skins to form the individual sausages. Leave in a cool dry place for 24 hours. My Mum says her Mother left the sausages in the larder until they were high - they tasted better then! I do not recommend this...
Alternatively just make up the mixture and cook it in little patties or make delicious sausage rolls...
I've posted some photos of our efforts below.
“…therefore would I rather be a swineherd.... and be understood by the swine, than a poet and misunderstood by men.”
From 'Either/Or' by Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)