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South Texas Living

‘The day of the pig’ at Grandpa Castro’s

‘The day of the pig’ at Grandpa Castro’s
Grandpa with some family members at one of the outings at the farm

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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
November 28, 2012
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There were two very important events around this time of the year that happened at Grandpa Castro’s home at the Blake farm when our kids were small.

One was Thanksgiving. Henry says that when he was a young boy, Grandpa raised turkeys. There was a big enclosure made of wire with a high fence all around and also on the top, so the turkeys couldn’t fly out. They would tie a bell around the neck of one of the turkey hens. She was the leader when they were let out of the pen. But someone still had to be with them and guide them. It was either Henry or Reynaldo. Grandpa would set aside two young turkeys in September to be cornfed and get them ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Henry remembers that they made a special trough just for them.

As the years went by and Cristobal and Carlos went off to war, Grandpa started phasing out the turkeys and eventually did away with them after that. For those special days, he would buy young turkeys from another farmer and finish raising them. When the family started getting bigger in numbers, the Thanksgiving turkey had to be at or close to 40 pounds. Henry and I and the kids, the first six, had Thanksgiving out there from 1955 to 1961. By then, Grandpa had gotten a television set, and the kids would sit on the floor watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while waiting for lunch.

Grandpa would invite not only his sons and their families, but also any of the grown grandkids and their families that wanted to go.

Mila was in charge of the turkey and dressing, and Ramona, Buddy’s wife, helped her since they lived “next door” to them. Of course, they made other dishes and desserts. The rest of us women made other side dishes and desserts to take out there, too.

The men would eat first. The table was cleared and then the children would eat. In between shifts, the dishes would get washed because there were no disposable dishes at Mila’s house. Not even a sink. We would wash the dishes in one pan and rinse them in another one and dry them right away. At last we women would sit down to eat. We took our sweet time -- talking, laughing, and just enjoying each other’s company. Then we all pitched in and helped clean the kitchen and put away leftovers. Later we would go for a walk to work off some of the calories we had consumed. Some of the kids would join us. Sometimes Buddy would hook up his trailer to the tractor and take us for a ride. We had to go in shifts. Those were memorable times for us. For the kids it was never a good time to come home. They always wanted to stay longer.

I guess you may be thinking that the other event was Christmas. Not so. Christmas was spent at home because of the kids and the opening of gifts on Christmas morning.

The other event was butchering a hog. Grandpa again would invite all the family. The idea was to get all the help he could get. Henry would leave early in the morning on that eventful day. There is no phrase in Spanish to describe that day so I will call it “the day of the pig.” Henry would go and help Buddy get everything ready. They would build a fire to boil water in the big black kettle (la hoya). They needed it to clean the pig after it was put to sleep. First they would drain the blood. Mila would use it later for making the morcia. They needed to work fast to scrape the bristles from the pig. They had to keep pouring hot water over it. That’s where they needed more help because their arms would get tired. Another team of two or three would take over. The pig would be hanging from a hoist and weigh between 450 and 500 pounds. It would usually take about two hours to clean. The head and feet they would just partially clean. They would be cut off and left for Mila and Ramona to finish cleaning. The head would be used for tamales for Christmas and the feet would eventually go in menudo.

The men had big tables set up outside where they would cut up the meat. Henry would come pick me and the kids up as soon as he had a chance so I could go help with the cooking. There were other women from the family there by then. Mila would tell the men that she wanted the ribs first. These would go in the oven. Then we would cut up small chunks of meat to make with a chili gravy. There would be plenty of mashed beans and mashed potatoes and baked sweet potatoes.

The men would be working on cutting up the rest of the meat into different cuts. And, of course, cutting up the skin with the fat for the chicharrones. After the men ate they would start cooking the chicharrones in the hoya. It would take most of the afternoon. They didn’t mind because by then they were relaxing and sipping their beer.

Still later in the afternoon Mila would go about making the morcia. She had taken the pig’s stomach and washed it thoroughly. Then she chopped up the kidneys, liver, and heart. These would go into the stomach along with the garlic and cumin that someone would grind up in the molcajete. She would add salt and pepper and mix this with blood and pour it into the the stomach while someone held it. Then she would take a special big needle and string and proceed to sew up the opening. Then it would go into a pot of water and boil slowly. She knew how long to cook it. Mila always saved a piece for Henry, but after it cooled. I never acquired a taste for it like Henry. Of course, he grew up on it.

We would anxiously wait for the chicharrones to finish cooking. Of course, they were very hot when they pulled them out. We would all get a taste when they cooled enough, but you can’t eat too many like that. They are delicious but very rich. Each family would go home with a small bag of chicharrones and a chunk of pork meat. And the fat from the chicharrones was stored in big cans after it cooled and was used year-round by Mila and Ramona for all their cooking.

After Grandpa, Mila, Buddy, and Ramona and their family moved to town, they continued the tradition, since they lived on Goliad Road and not in the city limits then. It continued even after Grandpa passed away. Our boys grew up and got involved, some more than others. Sometimes it was just hanging out with the others and watching and learning.

One year after Larry bought the mobile home park on the corner of 181 and Sutherland Springs Road, a bunch of the Castro cousins got together at the far end of the park and they slaughtered a hog and did everything like they had learned.

There hasn’t been a “day of the pig” in quite some years. I hate to think that the family tradition has been lost. The younger generation should experience it.

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is

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