Tuesday, December 04, 2012


I'd like to dedicate this piece, written a decade or two ago,
to the important contributions of Green Mountain College
to the thoughtful and necessary procurement of food.

And, also, to Monte Winship, a consummate artist in that field.

It was a gray and drizzly dawn...  But three porkers in a pen were happy in spite of it, snuffling along the ground with their flat snouts and sometimes giving a happy-go-lucky jump when they found another bit of goodness, and a twisting squeal to warn the others off.  Life was good, but it was to be short.  

Because, meanwhile, a mere few hundred feet away, Monte Winship –  our partner in meat – bustled around his portable pig-to-pork production line that consisted of the bed of his one-ton truck, a rope-and-tackle hoist lassoed over a sturdy branch of the old apple tree spreading overhead, and a portable, car-battery-powered Kerosene heater that fed a fire in a used tire rim that supported a fifty-five gallon ex-oil drum full of water, heating.  Steam from the drum, which was suspiciously the size of a short pig, melted into the gray spitty air.

 "Used to try, huff, huff...," Monte yanked on the rope to make sure it was anchored, "...to use a tub, but found it wouldn't keep the water hot enough."  He's rusty bearded, in his late thirties, wearing a long yellow oilcloth apron.  "Been doing this since I was fifteen," he said, testing the temperature of the water with a thermometer.  So fluid and matter-of-fact were his movements that I hardly noticed he'd taken one of the rifles from the back window of the truck on his way to the pigs' pen.  It bode ill for the pig, but well for our freezers, which would shortly be full of whey- and apple- and corn-fed pork.  I turned away.


Soon Monte trudged back, apron flapping, dragging the pig with a hook that looked as though it had come straight out of Stephen King's horrors.  Without any fuss he'd hoisted the pig tail first above the steaming drum.  It was dunked and up and lowered again with the hoist, and sloshed by the handle of its tail.  Back out again, rope hoist half-hitched to the tail of the truck, the legs were cleaned of hair in the blink of an eye.  "Some people make the mistake of getting the water too hot," he said.  "Makes it hard to get the hair and that first layer of skin off."

A cookie cutter with a short handle was used to scrape the rest of it.  "They call this a candlestick," he said with a twinkle, unhooking the pig from the hoist and hooking up the other end.  Up and down, slosh, slosh, scrape, scrape, and what had been a pig was close to being pork.  Harsh, perhaps, but a fact of all meat-eating lives, only not hidden on plastic-wrapped styrofoam. 

A little girl with saucer eyes appeared.  "So you finally get to see this pig, eh Brown Eyes?" Monte bantered.  "She's been waiting since five o'clock this morning," he explained. 

The little girl observed, with unwavering eyes on the pig whose toes and between them Monte was delicately manicuring, that the pig couldn't talk anymore.  "But the pig never could talk, could he?" Monte chided gently.   This also is harsh – the process by which farm-children learn precariously to balance the two truths of life and death, and a third, food. 

By now the pig was gutted of the tumbling, hallucinogenically-hued machinery of life.  Almost all of this could be used, although not many people catch the blood for sausage or soup anymore, nor clean the intestines to use as sausage casings or to cook for chitterlings, nor do they crave the spongy texture of pink and gray lungs.  The kidneys could be skewered and grilled, and the heart - rich in vitamins - poached.  The liver should be sliced and sautéed with onions for a blast of iron and good taste, and the gauze of caul fat that wraps the stomach should wrap sausages or stuffed chicken breasts.  The cheeks should be smoked into tiny "cooking" hams, the hocks make soup and then, wrapped in bread crumbs, grilled for a delicate treat.  And for sure, the ears, the snout, the tail and the feet will make a wondrously elastic stock. 

By now the pig had become not-pig, the white gullies of its face like a medieval painting, an artifact, patient, symbolizing the human desire for meltingly rich, tender pork from scrupulously-raised and -killed hogs.  I'll use as much as I can, in honor of the life that went snuffling along, in honor of the pleasurable wriggle and the piggish squeal I've quietened by my demand.  And when I do, I'll give a little toast to the expertise of Monte Winship.
Monte and Paul Courcelle unload a carcass at the Wallingford Locker
photo by Donna Burke Wilkins (c. 2007)