Revo­lu­tion-era farm­ing re­called

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert R. Wood

Pork in its many forms — fresh, salted, smoked and pro­cessed into sausages and scrap­ple — sup­plied the needs of the first New Hanover fam­i­lies. Any sur­plus could be bartered at the village store such as Brendlinger’s Store in Swamp. The pork that wasn’t sold lo­cally by the store­keeper could be put down in bar­rels un­der brine and sent to the city for ex­port. Salt pork was, from the ear­li­est times, a ma­jor ex­port from Philadel­phia.

Pigs were ev­ery bit as im­por­tant as cows in the early days of this area. In the lo­cal econ­omy, pork was al­ways more ex­pen­sive than beef, and lard was a bit more ex­pen­sive than pork. Lard was made at butcher­ing time by boil­ing pig’s fat in large iron ket­tles. The con­nec­tive tis­sue floated to the top of the boil­ing fat, was skimmed off and be­came “crack­lings.” Scooped from the pot later and left to cool was creamy, white lard, the uni­ver­sal short­en­ing for all bak­ing and grease for fry­ing. Lard makes every­thing taste right! Mod­ern Crisco, a hy­dro­genated vegetable oil, is a poor sub­sti­tute for this real thing.

As de­tailed last week, in the 18th cen­tury, there was so much mast in the primeval for­est — chest­nuts, acorns, beech nuts and suc­cu­lent roots — that pigs were left to roam and for­age on their own. Th­ese pigs were de­scribed as long, thin and semi-feral and pro­vided lit­tle lard or meat when butchered.

How­ever, en­ter­ing into the 19th cen­tury, as the sup­ply of wild mast di­min­ished, hogs started to be penned and fed year­round. Pigs breed eas­ily and have short ges­ta­tion pe­ri­ods, gen­er­ally known to be three months, three weeks and three days. Sows could man­age two lit­ters a year of about a dozen piglets each. Of course, pig pens, sei schtall in the di­alect, were now built on most ev­ery farm and, too, in many a back­yard in village and town.

Most farm­stead build­ings, such as barns, sum­mer kitchens, wagon sheds, priv­ies and such, were built with a com­mon un­der­stand­ing of what the fin­ished struc­ture should be and how it should look. Not so the pig pens. Prob­a­bly be­cause there was no com­mon an­tecedent, of all the build­ings on the farm­stead, pig pens had the great­est di­ver­sity. At first they were lit­tle more than a roof with a few boards nailed onto posts to form sides, but by the mid-19th cen­tury, pig pens of ev­ery size, shape and ma­te­rial were found. Some­times they were built against the barn or un­der the fore­bay. Some were tim­ber framed, some stone, some lit­tle more than ram­shackle sheds. Of­ten they were lo­cated near the barn­yard to keep the smells lo­cated at one place! At our farm and oth­ers, the privy was built by the cor­ner of the pig pen near­est the house.

Later, some frame pig pens had a lit­tle sec­ond floor that served as the chicken house with a small door in the upper gable and a “chicken lad­der” lead­ing to the ground. Most of th­ese pig pens had an out­side door open­ing to a nar­row walk­way along the pens lead­ing to the stairs, which went up to the chicken pen.

Selec­tive breed­ing with choice Euro­pean boars along with bet­ter feed­ing and im­proved man­age­ment cre­ated 19th cen­tury pigs that were pro­gres­sively larger and, just as im­por­tantly, fat­ter. Swine of mam­moth size started to be shown at live­stock shows and county fairs. In 1812, an an­i­mal was slaugh­tered that weighed 834 pounds dressed. Fre­quently, news­pa­pers made note of lo­cals butcher­ing huge pigs. One 1924 note in the Ly­coming Gazette and Bul­letin de­scribes a PolandChina bar­row (cas­trated boar) that weighed 1,202 pounds when just 28 months old.

The old farm fam­i­lies formed a com­mu­nity of neigh­bors who were well aware of each other’s do­ings. Pride was taken in ar­row straight rows in the fields, weed-free gar­dens and sleek, well fed live­stock. In an ar­ti­cle on pig pens in a 1970 Penn­syl­va­nia Folk­life, Amos Long Jr. nar­rates the fol­low­ing rem­i­nis­cence: “The writer re­calls be­ing told how his grand­fa­ther would com­pare his pigs with those of the neigh­bor­hood nearly ev­ery week­end to de­ter­mine the progress they were mak­ing. Since it was my grand­mother’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to feed the pigs, as it was the woman’s chore in many fam­i­lies, he would say, ‘Du geb­sht selle sei may fooder, si woxa net wie si setta.’ (You must give those pigs more feed. They are not grow­ing the way they should.) He was de­ter­mined to be among those who had the nicest and largest pigs. Of­ten grand­maw would say, ‘Wo is da pap wid­der?’ (Where is pop again?) The re­ply would be, ‘Draus im sei schtall mit de sei’ (Out in the pigsty with the pigs). He seemed to find spir­i­tual de­light in the pigsty with the pigs.”

Start­ing late in the 19th cen­tury and on into the 20th cen­tury, cheap land in the prairie states and the cheaper corn pro­duced there made it pos­si­ble to pro­duce pork at half the cost of the lo­cal farms. This, in com­bi­na­tion with re­frig­er­ated rail cars that could ship dressed pork east along with huge meat can­ning plants in Chicago and other places, led to a sharp de­cline in east­ern pork pro­duc­tion. Most farm­ers, though, con­tin­ued to raise a few pigs for home use.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.