After every stage the carcass looked more and more like food. It was a truly incredible transformation.
The last step was to cut the carcass in half down the spine. Pete scored the back with his knife and then with the Sawzall cut down the spine from the inside of the pig. Neil held the two sides apart to make the cutting easier for Pete and I braced the pig with my shoulder so it wouldn't move quite so much. Since Pete had the saw out, he went ahead and took off the front trotters, which were added to the pile of offal.
Now it really looked like food; like something that could be hanging in a butcher's window.
Pete drove the tractor, the two halves of the pig still hanging from the bucket, up to the barn where he had set up some planks on scaffolding to hang the meat from. Getting the sides of pig off the stretcher and onto the hooks they would be hanging from overnight was definitely a three man job. Pete and Neil got the side of pig is some sort of bear hug and lifted it off the hook of the stretcher while I acted as a counterweight. I had to hang on the stretcher, my feet off the ground, to keep the other half of the pig from crashing down. Once Pete and Neil had wrestled the side of meat off the stretcher they had to work the hook under the tendon and then hang the hook from the beam all without letting the meat hit the ground--not an easy feat considering its weight and how slippery it was due to all that exposed fat. They managed it, of course, and got the second half off and hung just before I thought my arms might fall off. The meat would hang in the barn overnight and Pete and Neil would butcher it the next day, assuming nothing got to it in the night. Pete's story about the raccoon that frequented the barn was not particularly reassuring, but there was nothing we could do about it.
The first pig was done.
We got the second pig on the stretcher and hanging from the tractor. Pete and I started to skin it and Neil went over the road to fix us all some lunch.
While Neil was off fixing lunch, Pete and I skinned pig and chatted. I learned about his new standing seam roof. He told me about his ex-wife and his new romance and the amazing story of how he was able to buy the farm. And he tried to set me up with his nephew. I was glad to have impressed him favorably, but not glad enough to agree to a blind date with his nephew.
Neil came back out with a pot of potato-leek soup. He offered to take over my knife for a while and I took him up on it. I got myself a cup of soup and went into the house to warm up a bit. I am a big fan of the rubber boot, but they don't offer much in the way of insulation. In the house I took off my boots, placed them near the fire and sat in a chair propping my feet as close to the wood stove as possible. The soup was too hot, really, but it was probably after 2 by now and we'd done a good morning's work, so I went at it without even bothering to find a spoon.
My feet having regained feeling, my hunger somewhat abated (any my mouth a bit blistered) I headed back outside. The pig was almost skinned and Pete and Neil were taking a break for soup and, in Pete's case, a cigarette.
We finished skinning the pig, cut off the head, scored and ripped the belly all without incident, but when it came time to tie the bung there seemed to be a small problem. The first pig had been a girl. This one was a male. Somehow the difference in anatomy had confused Pete and he had mistakenly cut off the anus while he was skinning, exposing some feces and making tying the bung more difficult. He and Neil nervously and carefully cut around the hole and Neil was able to get ahold of enough of the tube to contain the feces and tie it off. Crisis averted.
The rest of the gutting went fine and soon there were two more halves of pig hanging in the barn.
We decided to time the third pig. Forty minutes later is was skinned and after 30 more it, too, was hanging in the barn.
It was almost four o'clock and I was feeling that exhilarating exhaustion of a good day's physical labor. Neil said I could go home if I wanted to, but I preferred to stay and help clean up. It wouldn't feel right otherwise. We coiled the hoses and put them in the shed; collected the knives and put them aside to be cleaned; dumped the water we ended up not using and closed the propane tanks. We had to do something with the great heap of skins and heads and offal. Pete asked if either of was wanted to take any of it. Neil decided to keep a liver for making haggis, I thought I'd try my had at pig liver pate, Pete figured he, too, could do something with a pig's liver so Neil went over and rooted in the pile of offal until he found all three livers and put them in a bucket of water.
Pete thought he would just dig a hole in the yard to bury the rest of it. He pulled the tractor into the yard, got the bucket in position, but when he pushed the lever down to dig the hole the earth didn't give. Instead, the front wheels of the tractor came off the ground. He tried again with the same result. He gave up and decided to put the offal under the compost pile instead. I don't know if you're supposed to put that sort of thing in your compost or not, but nevermind, what else were we going to do? Pete lifted the compost with the bucket of his tractor, we each hauled a pig's worth of skin and heads and trotters and entrails over to the compost and threw them in. Pete covered it over, pressed it down, and we called it good.
We were done. It hardly seemed possible, but we were. Neil loaded the rest of his stuff into his car, except his propane burners and tanks, which he would pick up the next day. We said goodbye to Pete. Neil drove home and I followed him on foot with the bucket of livers.
When we got to Neil's he asked me to come in and warm up before heading home. I readily agreed and when we got in Jen was just making a pot of tea. She said she had a feeling we'd be just about done and in need of a cup of tea. She was right. From what looked like rather a stash of holiday baked goods she pulled out a Dundee cake and asked Neil if this wasn't a good moment to break into it. He agreed, that yes, it was and she cut three generous pieces.
Over tea and cake, the perfect thing after and long day outside, we chatted about things unrelated and then Jen asked about the pigs. She asked if I would do it again now that I knew what it was like. I didn't hesitate to say that I would. It was pretty rough and tumble at the get go, but it was all just part of an amazing process--turning animal into food. It is a liberating feeling being able to kill your own food--to see where it's lived, to know what it's been fed, to know how it died. So, yes, I would do it again.
Tea and cake finished, it was time I headed home. Neil thanked me for my help and sent me happily on my way with a pig's liver, only recently cold, in a zip-lock bag on the seat beside me.