PRATIE PLACE

Friday, August 19, 2005

Pigs, circa 1880, Oxfordshire

From Flora Thompson's "Lark Rise to Candleford." See this post for background, if you missed it...
At the back or side of each cottage was a lean-to pigsty and the house refuse was thrown on a nearby pile called "the muck'll." This was so situated that the oozings from the sty could drain into it; the manure was also thrown there when the sty was cleared, and the whole formed a nasty, smelly eyesore to have within a few feet of the wondows...

A good pig fattening in the sty promised a good winter. During its lifetime the pig was an important member of the family, and its health and condition were regularly reported in letters to children away from home, together with news of their brothers and sisters. Men callers on Sunday afternoons came, not to see the family, but the pig, and would lounge with its owner against the pigsty door for an hour, scratching piggy's back and praising his points or turning up their own noses in criticism...

The family pig was everybody's pride and everybody's business. Mother spent hours boiling up the "little taturs" to mash and mix with the pot-liquor, in which food had been cooked, to feed to the pig for its evening meal and help out the expensive barley meal. The children, on their way home from school, would fill their arms with thistle ... or roam along the hedgerows on wet evenings collecting snails for the pig's supper...

When the pig was fattened - and the fatter the better - the date of execution had to be decided upon ... The next thing was to engage the travelling pork butcher, or pig-sticker, and, as he was a thatcher by day, he always had to kill after dark, the scene being lighted with lanterns and the fire of burning straw which at a later stage of the proceedings was to singe the bristles off the victim ... the pig-sticker would pull off the detachable, gristly, outer coverings of the toes, known locally as "the shoes," and fling them among the children, who scrambled for, then sucked and gnawed them, straight from the filth of the sty and blackened by fire as they were.

The whole scene, with its mud and blood, flaring lights and dark shadows, was as savage as anything to be seen in an African jungle. The children at the end house would steal out of bed to the window. "Look! Look! It's hell, and those are the devils," Edmund would whisper, pointing to the men tossing the burning straw with their pitchforks...

Months of hard work and self-denial were brought on that night to a successful conclusion. It was a time to rejoice, and rejoice they did, with beer flowing freely and the first delicious dish of pig's fry ... The next day, when the carcass had been cut up, joints of pork were distributed to those neighbors who had sent similar ones at their own pig-killing ...


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2 Comments:

At 6:47 PM, Blogger melina said...

What is strange to me is that killing was such a normal part of everybody's life bakc then - you had to kill the pig because you had to eat! Nowadays who would imagine doing all that in front of little children?

 
At 5:40 AM, Blogger Tamar said...

Yes. And my friend has grown up understanding that and seemingly with no hard feelings or hang-ups.

 

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