I feel sorry for anyone who never fished a golden-brown 'cracklin' from a lard-rendering pot to sample the most-delicious flavor in the world. If that image leaves many readers clueless, read on as I explain the hog-rendering process and the tasty treats it produces.
A cracklin is a piece of fatty pork skin or hog membrane that's left after the grease is cooked out. The cooking, or rendering, process is done in a large cast iron pot sitting over a wood fire. In the old days when we butchered a hog, much of the fat and scraped skin was cut off and tossed into the pot where it was rendered into hot cooking grease. We strained what was left through cloth into metal lard cans, which cooled into gelled lard, much akin to present day vegetable shortening. The stuff remaining in the pot was called 'cracklins,' a forerunner of today's pork skins.
After the nights turned cold, we checked the signs of the moon and set aside a special day to butcher hogs. In our community - during the 1930s and early 1940s - hog-butchering day started in the early morning when we lit a fire under the hog-scalding barrel. Trucks and cars arrived with butchering tools, curing supplies and numerous squealing, fat hogs. Those days were exciting, and more like a picnic than a workday to us kids.
Next, my father erected a hoist frame to raise and lower carcasses into the scalding barrel and then onto the scraping table. A neighbor brought the scalding barrel, which we leaned against a metal sawhorse to fill it with water. A fire kept the liquid boiling, while another neighbor brought two large cast iron pots for rendering lard.
The freshly butchered hog carcass was hoisted high, dipped into the scalding water once or twice to guarantee the hair would easily scrape off the hide, and then laid on a table made from truck sideboards. After the hair was thoroughly removed, the carcass was hoisted again, butchered into four quarters, and then carried into the barn for further processing.
A portion of the meat was cured, seasoned and wrapped with white paper. Other parts were ground, seasoned and made into sausage. Then the fatty scraps were tossed into the pots for rendering. Butchering hogs is a lot of work, but everyone still managed to have fun as we prepared food for the winter. Adults drank campfire coffee, while we snacked on homemade sweets, gossiped and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the autumn air.
Everyone pitched in, and no one went home empty handed. Those with plenty of meat made sure those with less had enough meat to get through the long winter ahead. Kids helped by feeding the fires, fetching and carrying equipment on demand, and naturally fished those yummy cracklins from the boiling pots at every chance. A dash of salt and the cracklins vanished in one chomp, which probably gave us all a huge shot of pure cholesterol, but the good taste was all that mattered.
Those days are long gone, but the cool fall air will always bring delicious memories of good neighbors working together at hog cracklin time. FC
- Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil's Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164 by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org