October 19, 2008

Daft Laddies – The heord’s pig killin

Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on.

By Clive Dalton & Donald Clegg

An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton & Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact donaldclegg@btopenworld.com

Within three days of launching into me forst job (DC) as hired Daft Laddie on a North Tyne farm, I was involved in one of the great annual farming rituals – the pig killin’. Every farm and most farm workers, especially the heords livin’ ootbye kept a pig. They used to say that an ootbye heord lived on deed sheep i’ the summor, an’ deed pig i’ the wintor. I don’t believe a woord of it but every backend, the pig’s time was up and it became an important part of the winter menu.

A typical shepherds cottage on the hill in the middle of the farm
 The pig in question belonged to the heord that lived in an ootbye “butt and ben” on the backside of the fell, a place called Sandy Sike, (now a holiday cottage). It was a low, single-storied hoose built of local sandstone with a slate roof and planted solidly on the slope of a rigg above a bitty burn, mair of a sike really. It had a bit garden for vegetables, tetties, blackcurrants and rhubarb, and fenced roond wi nettin’ te keep the hens and sheep oot. Ne bush or tree grew within miles, the unhindered west wind saa te that – nowt but bent and heather from front door to as far as the eye cud see. That was on a fine day! Here and there a Blackie yowe wandered, heed doon amang the reshees.

The hoose was a dual porpose affair. At one end were the livin’ quarters – a square kitchen-cum-livin’ room with a stone flagged floor. Open beams were hung wi’ hams and various bits of heordin’ gear like leggin’s, an aad oilskin coat with binder twine for fastenings, a short length of rope to halter a beast when needed, and the aall-important selection of waalkin’ sticks for heordin, lambing and the mart. A collie dog lay on a proggy mat in front of the open fire blazing in the owld cast iron range, with an oven on one side and a set pot for het wattor on the other.

Apart from a solid wooden table, a wooden armchair, a settle and a grandmother clock on the waall, the room was bare but cosy. It smelt of dogs and moss and byres as did all heords’ cottages in those days. The few remaining ones still do! The bedroom which was even more sparsely furnished with only a bed, a weshstand and a lopsided wardrobe completed the heord’s accommodation.

The other half of the building, reached from the cottage door by way of a cobbled cassy, was windowless, and the half-door was on the west-facing gable end. It was stone-flagged like the hoose, with a grip (channel) and a raised area alang yen side, partitioned off with rough wooden boards to provide staalls for two or three cuws. Abun this was a half loft to howld hay and feed for the cuws, hens and the pig. As it was the backend the byre was empty, dry and clean and ideal for the operation of killing the pig.

Porky lived in a rough cree made of corrugated iron sheets with a netting fence surrounding it to prevent her wandering off, but to give a bit of freedom to root amang the reshees, and te git a bit exorcise – not ower much, mind as the heord was tryin’ te git hor fat, not slim hor doon!

Pigs at farm steadings lived in proper stone-built pig styes (often a pair together) with a warm hoose and sma’ yard. They were a stonemason’s masterpiece complete with a stone funnel through the wall to deliver Porky’s regular meals from the outside into a stone trow inside.

Porky had been fed all year on scraps from the hoose, cabbage leaves, small tetties and various vegetables from the tiny garden, as well as a small but regular ration of bran, meal and occasionally skimmed milk when they made butter.

By the backend she was gitten like a miniature hippo weighing thorty stone at least, with a three inch layer of fat and the promise of succulent hams, chops, sausages, bacon, black and grey puddin’, trotters, potted meat and a multitude of gourmet spare parts. The aim was te use ivorything except hor squeal and the corl iv hor tail!

Photo: preparing for the pig killing (photo Bellingham Heritage Centre collection)

On the day of execution a motley group of hardened hill men assembled at the cottage. Andy the farmer, Bob the hind, his brother Bill, Wattie the heord and most important of aall – Billy Butcher from Laneheed. Only the Daft Laddie felt that this was to be his initiation into the mysteries of killin’ the pig. A big fire was built at the end of the cottage near the byre door and a great iron set pot, full of wattor was balanced ower it to heat up for later use. A big clean sack was spread oot on the grund next te the setpot in readiness for the carcase.

Aall that remained was to bring Porky to the place of execution. Porky, by this time realised that all these visitors tiv hor cree, estimatin’ hor weight, were not there for the good of hor health, and she’d started to squeal as only a pig can – loud, lug-piercin and non-stop.

The bit rope from the beam in the kitchen was somehow manoeuvred with great difficulty and a flood of illuminating expletives roond her top jaw, and the free end passed to the Daft Laddie hopping aboot on the fringes of the melee. His job was to keep the pig’s nose pointed in the direction of the byre some 50 yards away, while the others pushed, smacked and gollared from the rear to propel her forwards.

As soon as her enclosing fence was opened, Porky made a determined dash for freedom - straight at the Daft Laddie! “Hing on! Divvent let hor gan! Give hor slack, man! Nuw pull! Git on, woman! Git by, Moss - hadaway an’ lie DOON!”

Instructions flowed in a constant stream as the pig and her captors sweated, stumbled and cursed their way through the reshees towards the byre. At last, she was in. With the Daft Laddie still hingin’ on te the rope, the pig with hor beady eyes fixed on him pulled backwards against the strain and the men, quieter now, stood in the gloom of the building.

The next stages happened very quickly. Billy Butcher stepped forward to place what looked like a long hafted hammer against the pig’s forehead - except the hammer heed had a hole right through its centre which held a long steel bolt. Bob the hind raised a great wooden mell above his heed and browt it doon with a muckle smack on the end of the bolt. The bolt penetrated the pig’s skull and instantly Porky was doon on the flags.

Men rushed from all sides. The Daft Laddie dropped the rope and was towld te sit on hor hint end te stop hor legs lashing aboot, while from neewhere a basin and a pail appeared, the jugular was cut and bright red blood began pouring and frothing into the basin. As soon as this was filled, it was quickly decanted into the pail and returned to receive more blood from the now quivering corpse.

Bob haadin’ the pail, stirred the contents continuously with a stick to ensure it didn’t clot or the black puddin’ wad be a weshoot. Then the great carcase was pushed, pulled, rolled and heaved ootside on to the sacking mat beside the fire. Quart pots of boiling wattor were poured ower the skin and the coarse bristles were scraped off with the edge of a lang bladed gully. Mair het wattor, mair scrapin’ and eventually the last hairs had gone and the pig lay pink and bald, ready for the butcher’s knife.

A thick rope was attached to each hind leg so that eftor heaving the carcase back into the byre, it could be hoisted with great difficulty up to one of the overhead beams. A great number of dishes, bowls, bins and barrels were produced from the shadows to receive the various portions of the pig as it was skilfully dismembered.

Forst the puddin’s, (intestines) were removed and placed into a large bowl to be ridded and weshed for later use as sausage skins. It often took three lassies to dee the riddin’. One held a pair of knittin needles. No! They warn’t aboot to start mekkin’ a jumpor! The needles wor held tegithor horizontally. A length of puddin’ was fished oot o’ the bowl and threaded atween them then pulled through the narrow gap by lassie number two. This had the effect of forcin’ oot ony mucous or unwelcome contents of the puddin’.

Preparing the intestine casings
Lassie number three’s job was to keep rinsin’ the puddin’s and gettin each yen riddy for its torn in the process. The whole operation had to be repeated ower and ower until the puddins were declared free of aall contents. Then they were given a final sind oot in good clean wattor afore settin’ them to one side riddy to be filled with rich, fresh sausage meat through a spoot screwed on the mincer, firmly clamped on the table end.

The heart, kidneys, liver and lights (lungs) would aall become part of a rich and varied range of delicacies. The pig’s heed was removed and put into a basin on its own. This was the source of pig’s cheek, brawn and potted meat (often referred to as potteed heed). The forelegs, ribs and finally, the hams, were all piled into containers to be taken to the farmhoose where the womenfolk would start the lang job of converting the raw meat into a multitude of culinary delights to supply the winter rations for the heord’s family, and to be shared with Farmer D, Bill the hind, brother Bob, Watty the heord, Billy Butcher, the Daft Laddie and neighbours far and wide. It was often felt by the heord’s family that there was nowt left for them!

As the tractor headed for heame and Wattie took a last look roond the scene, only the dying embers of the fire and the fading echoes of the pig’s squeals remained to remind the Daft Laddie of the day’s dramatic events. But that wasn’t the end of proceedings. Thor was mair woork te dee yit plannin te cure the bacon and hams and it had to be done right. Ending up with rotten meat after all that work was ower aaful to contemplate.

 Curing the bacon
The process remembered by Lawrence Dagg of the Hott was that first you took a pinch (and nee mare) of salt petre (potassium nitride) and sprinkled it very lightly over the meat to retain the colour of the meat. Then all the meat was covered in common salt (sodium chloride), taking great care to rub it into holes where bones had been removed. The Hott used to borrow a lead bath from Minnie Nevin at the Crown at Stannersburn that was about 4-5 foot long and 3 foot wide and felt as if it weighed a ton.

After lying in this bath dry salted for a few days, the bath was filled with wattor and the meat left in this brine mixture for aboot three weeks. Then it was happed in muslin and hung up in an airy place to dry oot and cure. Your nose would soon tell you if things wor gannin’ alright.

Rolling the dry salted bacon sides after curing was not an easy job as the sides were now hard to bend. You needed a twitch to tighten the strings and three hands to tie the knots. Lawrence hit on the idea of using the roller on the hay bogey to reduce the physical effort but he didn’t patent his invention!

When offered a slice of “home fed” for breakfast during the winter you always had to pay it a compliment – but so often it was gey hard te git doon as it was far ower fat and far ower saalty. Plenty o’ fried breed or a fried scone or two helped to dilute the salt or ye wor drinkin’ wattor from the trow for the rest of the day. Ye sartainly cudn’t complain aboot it being “wearsh”!

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