“Well … by then it would be cold enough outside to do it. You have to work at that when it’s cold.”
And, like Times News reader Ann Reyes who’d first told me about killing hogs on Thanksgiving, the Hunts didn’t have turkey dinner. Phyllis’ memories of the day are of biscuits and just-made sausage. And all the work. Everyone pitched in. They did sell much of the end result, but they also canned sausage and tenderloin for later use.
“Gravy and biscuits made from tenderloin is the best thing you will ever put in your mouth,” Phyllis said.
The next day, gathered around my sister’s (Pamela) and brother-in-law’s (Larry Fagans) dining table in Knoxville for Thanksgiving, I heard almost the same sentence.
“Pork tenderloin makes the absolute best gravy,” Larry said.
After dinner, Mom filled me in on what she’d learned by calling various relatives.
My cousin Joyce (Wallen) Ryans said her parents, Jack and Leona, killed hogs on Thanksgiving and my uncles Carson Lawson, Lon Wallen and Mitchell Wallen would come help Uncle Jack outside while my aunt Ova Wallen helped Leona get the sausage made, cooked and canned.
Mom said her own father usually raised and killed three hogs each year, but she doesn’t remember it being Thanksgiving. She does remember the fresh and canned tenderloin.
Cousin Gary Wallen, who gave Mom the canned tenderloin recently, and his four siblings have holiday memories of canned tenderloin, but not at Thankgiving. Gary’s brother Richard and sister Kathy Walton live near him in Sullivan Gardens and they all three garden and can a lot. Richard told me a while back they buy tenderloin in the grocery store and can it. Kathy says its a great go-to item for your pantry because of its versatility. It can be fried, or slow roasted with vegetables, or shredded and made into barbecue.
Richard said one of their childhood memories is that on Christmas Eve each year his mother Gracie (Tankersley) Wallen would open canned tenderloin and they’d have tenderloin sandwiches for dinner.
Of all the relatives I’d asked about hog-killing and Thanksgiving by that point, I was most surprised to have had Larry chime in that it was among his childhood memories. He grew up in Fort Robinson in Kingsport, not on a farm. What I’d never known was his mother’s brother and sister-in-law, Elmer and Annabelle Jeter, had owned a farm in Nickelsville. Larry’s parents, Lawrence and Lena Mae would partner with Elmer and Annabelle each year on a few pigs. And Thanksgiving was hog-killing time.
Larry said that lasted until he was nine or 10 years old and he can remember there being snow on the ground in Nickelsville on some of those Thanksgiving mornings. Like everyone I talked to who had the hog-killing day experience, Larry began casually sharing some parts in great detail. We all asked him to stop, please.
Like Ann, who’d started me on this quest, Larry said it was a work day that didn’t include “traditional” Thanksgiving food. But I guess what I learned from all this is that it did. It’s just a tradition I didn’t know about. I’m glad I’ve never had to help kill a hog. But I feel like I discovered a bit of regional and family history. I’m glad. And sort of feel like I missed something
Since “Part I” published last week, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from readers. Several of them commented that Thanksgiving was a good day to start the annual chore because children (and teachers) were out of school Thursday and Friday and with Saturday thrown in that gave plenty of time to complete the process. I’m going to share more memories from readers next week.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]